Emily Grund’s life changed in the blink of an eye. In less than a day, she went from student-athlete to cancer patient, turning her world upside down. Grund, 21, is part of the UNC-Chapel Hill dive team, and was in training in September when a teammate noticed a bruise on Grund in the locker room.
âIt was a big bruise, and I couldn’t remember how I could have had it,â Grund said. “I called the coach, and they told me if it got worse, got darker, or started to swell to come back.”
The next day, the bruise was piped and had tripled in size. And stranger yet, Grund noticed new bruises from ordinary activities – sitting on a chair, carrying her backpack. She was brushing her teeth when he got dizzy.
“I felt like I was going to pass out,” she said. âI couldn’t get up or sit down. I knew something was wrong.
Grund’s teammates took her to the UNC Health emergency room, and the diagnosis returned as quickly as her sudden decline. She suffered from acute promyelocytic leukemia, a rare form of cancer.
âI asked my doctor how long I had had it, and they said it had only been a month. The symptoms are very everyday things, feeling sick all the time, lethargy, tiredness, but more than usual, âshe said. “It wasn’t until I bruised easily and bled profusely that I thought something was wrong.” Just because all my life I get sick all the time. I’ve always been like that, and I didn’t think about it at all.
Grund’s parents made the trip from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to Chapel Hill to support their daughter, and her dive mates were on hand to keep her spirits up. Grund has seen a number of doctors so far and his healthcare team is spinning. She saw the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Dr Hendrik van Deventer, Dr Christopher Dittus,and Dr James Coghill.
âBeing a young adult with cancer is difficult,â said Grund. âYou are not young enough to be a child, not old enough to be an adult. I cannot befriend other patients who are going through what I am going through.
Raise awareness and find support
Grund had never heard of her cancer before, and she wants to do something about it. She shares her story with other student groups in Carolina to help spread the word to others and support UNC Lineberger AYA Cancer Program, which focuses on the physical, mental and emotional needs of young adults aged 13 to 39 with cancer.
“I had no idea. I needed to raise awareness, âshe said. âBeing a young adult with cancer is tough. You are not young enough to be a child, not old enough to be an adult. I cannot befriend other patients who are going through what I am going through.
Towards the future: life after cancer
As a young athlete, Grund thinks about her life after cancer, when she can dive again and how chemotherapy will affect her body. She is able to ask the AYA team questions that she is not entirely comfortable asking her doctors.
“I’m 21, can I have a beer with dinner?” They provided a heartwarming environment to ask these questions, âshe said.
What comes next is always on Grund’s mind. She has been diving since the age of five, something that has been a big part of her life and has taken her all over the world. It also brought her to Carolina, and Grund said she knew it was the perfect place for her from the moment she visited campus.
âI fell in love with everything about the school, not just the team, but the campus, and the way people treated people, I loved everything,â she said.
And her team is a prime example of the connection she felt on her first visit to Chapel Hill. Grund said they were shocked at his diagnosis, but often visited him in the hospital, bringing dinner and good humor. The team even stood outside the hospital windows with signs of support for Grund.
âThey were more than supportive. It was a shock to them, but the amount of love and support I received from them was incredible, âshe said. âIf you have a good support system, it makes a difference. “
This support is essential for Grund. In addition to her parents, who alternate their visits, she also benefits from yoga and mindfulness activities offered by NC Cancer Hospital. She said it helps keep her from thinking about her cancer and helps ease the pain.
Grund said she saw improvement, both mentally and physically, over the course of treatment. She said she has had a lot of tough days, but she can see herself getting better.
âI’m 21 and have cancer, and it’s a tough pill to swallow, but once you accept it it gets easier,â she said. “I would think ‘my life is ruined’, but I know I’m going to get past that and live my life and everything will be fine.”
Grund is currently cancer free and is being monitored on an outpatient basis at NC Cancer Hospital, but she has not forgotten her journey and all the people who brought her there.
To help support its fundraising and awareness efforts for the AYA Cancer Control Program, visit unchf.org/spikeoutcancer.