Archive for Thursday, August 9, 2001

Eudora pilgrim makes final voyage

Brooke O’Grady dies at 15 after five-year battle with cancer

August 9, 2001

When Brooke O'Grady was confirmed at Holy Family Church in Eudora, she chose Peregrine to be her confirmation name. The name, said the Rev. David Rabe, means pilgrim. Tuesday, Brooke journeyed to Holy Family one last time, a final stop after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Last Friday morning Brooke died at age 15, ending her pilgrimage though life.

Brooke O'Grady (in orange) laughs with friends at her final Relay
for Life in June of 2000.

Brooke O'Grady (in orange) laughs with friends at her final Relay for Life in June of 2000.

Friends and family said goodbye to Brooke Tuesday with funeral services at Holy Family Church, Eudora. Rabe conducted the ceremony, recalling Brooke's battle against Hodgkin's disease. With Brooke's battle over, Rabe talked about the struggle her mother, Judi O'Grady, would now endure from the loss of her youngest child.

"(It's) every mother's worst nightmare becoming all too real," Rabe said. "In the heart of her mother, there is a great, Brooke-shaped emptiness."

Though Judi's battle will continue, it's also a bittersweet victory, she said.

"I can't begin to imagine the amount of pain and torment she had," Judi said.

Brooke's battle started in November 1996, when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. She underwent treatment, which led to remission of the cancer in September 1997. A relapse of the disease began in January 1999 and Brooke received a bone marrow transplant that year to fight the cancer.

The procedure bought some time but didn't fully heal her. On April 13, 2000, doctors found masses of tumors and gave mother and daughter the devastating news.

Judi said she remembered the day clearly.

"That's when she was told there was nothing that could be done," she said. "That's one of those days that gets imbedded in your mind. She just sat there and cried."

Devastated, the pair decided not to let the prognosis keep them from getting the most out of their time together. Judi said her daughter was the first to emit a positive outlook, even minutes after learning she had little time left.

"She turned to me with tears streaming down her cheeks and said, 'Let's go shopping,'" Judi said.

After that day, Brooke seemed determined to prove medical experts wrong. She continuously surpassed any timeline doctors gave her, each time living to see her next goal. Five months ago, she watched movies during the day and kept tuned to the TV to keep her occupied.

Judi said there was another reason for her to keep as active as possible.

"She (was) afraid if she went to sleep, she wouldn't wake up," she said.

One of her last goals included being alive for her brother Trevor's graduation from Eudora High in May. Another was to see Eudora's Relay for Life this year. Doctors told her she wouldn't live to see either one. Brooke was alive for both.

At Tuesday's service, Eudora West Elementary Principal Rod Moyer recalled his encounters with Brooke as she battled cancer during the fourth and fifth grade. As chemotherapy caused her hair to fall out, Brooke started wearing a cap to school a strict no-no for other students, Moyer said. An exception was made for Brooke, in turn making an impression of courage to Moyer, he said.

"I never did hear her complain," Moyer said.

Moyer also commented on her friendliness and charm, despite the pain she was in.

"Brooke had this innate ability to like you and make you want to like her," he said.

Judi recalled her daughter's persistence, especially when it came to Eudora's annual Relay for Life. The relay is a fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society to raise money for cancer research and helping patients with costs. The O'Grady family has remained active in the relay over the last three years, Judi said. Sometimes family members would discuss not participating as heavily in the relay because of the amount of involvement it required. According to Judi, Brooke never entertained that idea and always pressed those around her to continue.

"She'd say, 'What's the matter? Doesn't anybody care?'" Judi said. "The remarkable thing about her was, she didn't think she did anything."

Brooke's persistence has fueled Judi to not give up the fight, she said. Judi plans to continue to find ways to search for funds to fuel research. But for now, Judi's plans are more simplified she's working to make it though each day and deal with the loss of her daughter. After cleaning the house on Monday, Judi started to check on her daughter out of habit, she said, then remembered she wasn't there.

"It's been so long and so bad and so mentally consuming," she said. "It's just going to take me awhile where I can accept the reality of it."

Until that day when she accepts that reality, Judi faces the difficult task of coping with the "Brooke-shaped emptiness" in her heart.

"I'm going to give myself a week and then I don't know what I'm going to do," Judi said. "I just don't know. I do know I'm going to focus all my energy to fighting children's cancer. We have to go on."

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