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From overcoming cancer to climbing mountains

SPONSORED — Vickie Grams, a Kent resident, knows what it’s like to be in survivor mode. After 13-years with breast cancer, Grams is sharing a journey she wasn’t sure she’d be around to share. Today, thanks to the dedication and perseverance of her medical family at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Grams is doing a whole lot more than telling stories.

“I’ve lost 60 pounds. I’ve climbed Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams. And next weekend I’ll go for my MixxedFit certificate — a form of dance that incorporates hip-hop and boot-camp type training.”

Throughout her journey — from the clinic to the tops of Washington’s most spectacular mountains — Grams has had one inspiring person by her side: Dr. Julie Gralow of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

Gralow, director of breast medical oncology at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, provided Grams with more than medical advice and therapies. Grams met with Gralow after another area hospital misdiagnosed her late-stage 3 inflammatory breast cancer. Wanting a second opinion, Grams, instead, found a partner to help her through the hardest challenge of her life.

“I can say that it was a situation where I went from an uncertain situation and feeling like a lack of trust at that point to being enveloped and enfolded into a situation where I had total trust,” Grams recalled. “That’s a huge benefit when anyone is diagnosed with cancer… My mind went from, ‘Oh, cancer, I’m going to die,’ to ‘OK, I see maybe a pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel and I’m going to go for it.’ Something Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and Dr. Gralow afforded me was that pinprick of hope. She let it be a beacon.”

According to Gralow, the network of resources and facilities at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance provides her the means to treat each patient with a customized treatment plan reflecting the latest, most leading-edge therapies.

“It’s an interesting mix of research, clinical care and education,” she said. “Working there allows me to provide the most state-of-the-art care, the most up-to-date in terms of our thinking. We are what’s moving forward the fight against cancer.”

Part of that work might feel like climbing mountains — literally. Gralow is passionate about encouraging physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle with all her oncology patients and survivors.
“I watched Vickie have a lightbulb go off that said, ‘I really do need to change my life. I need to get healthy. I’m not going to die of breast cancer, and I don’t want to die early of other things.’ All of a sudden, one day she was all ready to go exercise and lose weight and set goals and do some crazy things she never thought she’d be able to do,” Gralow said.

After 25 years in the oncology world, Gralow knows firsthand that sometimes, all patients and survivors need is a little boost in the right direction.

“You can never tell someone too many times that we need to be practicing a healthy lifestyle,” Gralow said.” One day, the light bulb might go off and it might sink in.”

For Grams, it sunk in deep. After 13 years, she’s free to think about diet, exercise and the next mountain she’ll climb — all thanks to a doctor and friend who encouraged her to focus on life not death.

“It’s my honor, privilege and responsibility to show up every day to give it everything I have to make my life an example that,” said Grams. “Keep going. Put one foot in front of the other. I’m not down. I will get up if it’s at all possible. I was encouraged in that by Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and Dr. Julie Gralow.”

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