‘Her spirits are good, she’s crazy strong’: Meet Grayson Goodwin, Warrior of Hope

Grayson (far left) pictured with her siblings, her twin Jameson (standing), and sisters Abby and Chasity at their family Christmas in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Renee Hodge)

CULLMAN, Ala. – For mother Renee Hodge, the world changed Jan. 10, 2020 when her 16-year-old daughter, Grayson Goodwin, complained of chest pain.

Grayson was rushed to Cullman Regional’s Urgent Care, where an electrocardiogram (also known as EKGs or ECGs) wasn’t working; she was taken to the emergency room.

She shared, “Chris, my ex-husband, he calls me and says, ‘They’re going to send her to Children’s (of Alabama) because something’s wrong with her heart.’ And I said I’d be there in a minute.”

Renee said Cullman Regional’s Dr. Chunyen Liu recommended Grayson be transported to Children’s of Alabama.

Grayson was transported by ambulance to Children’s and admitted into the Cardiac Critical Unit for three days, from Jan. 10-13.

Through testing with EKGs and other labs, doctors found fluid around her heart.

They met Dr. Katie Metrock of Children’s Hematology and Oncology departments, and she shared with them, “Grayson’s labs are looking a little off, and I’m just letting you know we’re just keeping watch.”

Hodge said she hoped she didn’t see Metrock again.

When they arrived at Children’s, Grayson’s white blood cell count was at 37,000 and within a span of 24 hours, it jumped up to 97,000.

Hodge shared, “On Sunday (Jan. 12), the doctor came in and said, ‘So, the lab department, that we need to verify what think, is off because it’s the weekend, but it’s looking more like it’s a rheumatologic thing, like rheumatoid arthritis or leukemia.”

On Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, Metrock returned to their room after they were moved to a different floor.

Said Hodge, “She came in, sat down on the bed and said, ‘Grayson, I have to tell you, you have leukemia. It’s Acute Myeloid Leukemia, but we can treat it.’”

Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) is a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow with excess immature white blood cells. It progresses rapidly, with myeloid cells interfering with the production of normal white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.

On Jan. 14, Grayson had a central line placed and bone marrow test and spinal tap to make sure the cancer had not spread anywhere else and that it was just her blood that was affected by her AML.

Those tests came back negative.

Shortly after, Grayson started her first round of chemotherapy treatment with three different chemo meds. After 10 days, she had a break and went into count recovery.

Hodge shared, ”I’m not going to say it was a picnic, but compared to some of the other people here, we’re a weed in a garden and we don’t mind being a weed, because if you’re a weed, you get treated and you get to go home.”

Grayson’s first hospital admission lasted 28 days. She was able to go home Feb. 7, 2020 where she got to stay for nine days before returning to the hospital for the second round of chemotherapy.

She noted that the second round lasted eight days and was “a lot less mentally draining.” Her count recovery after the second round lasted 20 days.

Hodge shared how the current COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has affected the family, saying, “She can’t have visitors; she has a twin brother and two other sisters and she can’t see them unless through video chat. Chris and I have to be screened when we come in to make sure we don’t have a temperature above 99. They’re taking the necessary precautions, but our nurse practitioner came in just a while ago; Grayson is getting screened for COVID-19 today (April 10), not because she has symptoms, but to make sure that there’s not anything. They’re doing that with all patients.”

Grayson’s chemotherapy will be five rounds; currently she’s has finished her third round and is on count recovery.

Hodge shared, “I’m not sure how many days these next two rounds are going to be.”

Grayson is technically in remission, but Hodge clarified, “We still have to come once a month to make sure her numbers are where they’re supposed to be.”

She said of her daughter, “Her spirits are good, she’s crazy strong. I wish I could’ve been like her when I grew up. She doesn’t complain about anything, she’s just, ‘Let’s get this over with, tell me what I have to do and let’s get this over with.’”

Grayson is receiving “super-shakes” to help her gain weight, as she’s lost 6 pounds from her treatment.

Hodge smiled, “We’re trying to bulk her up. She’s here getting fluids and 1,000-calorie shakes and she’s getting better. We have the best doctors in the world.”

She said of cancer, “You don’t think it’s going to happen to you because you don’t have a family history of it. People who think that, I was like that, I thought, ‘This doesn’t happen to people in my family.’ Well, surprise-surprise. It happens to anybody. It doesn’t matter your background, doesn’t matter your education level, economic status, skin color or language. It doesn’t matter.”

Hodge was extremely thankful for Dr. Liu, smiling, “Dr. Liu saved her. I work at the hospital (Cullman Regional) and so I emailed one of my bosses and said, ‘I need you to find Dr. Liu and just find a way to thank him,’ because I really think he saved her. He saved her and I will be forever grateful.”

Dr. Wayne Liang and Dr. Sara Claire Hutchins of Children’s are Grayson’s primary oncologists.

Hodge said the family is also thankful for the continued support of their family friends and church family from Desperation Church and Aaron Knight from Redemption Church.

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Maggie Darnell