Every Sunday at Peng to the Point, we talk about the world away from the San Jose Sharks.
Amazing Gray is on her way.
Last November, Graysen Hooper, the three-year-old known in the San Jose Sharks organization as “Amazing Gray,” dropped the puck on Hockey Fights Cancer Night at SAP Center.
#AmazingGray is the daughter of two of our coworkers. She was diagnosed with leukemia last November.
And she just did the most adorable puck drop tonight.
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) November 3, 2019
The daughter of Heather and Patrick Hooper, both team employees, Graysen was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia two years ago.
For this Hockey Fights Cancer month, San Jose Hockey Now caught up with Sharks Foundation director Heather Hooper to check in on “Amazing Gray.” Not that long ago, Hooper had spoken with us about how the San Jose Sharks were contributing to the California wildfire relief effort.
“If all goes to plan, she’ll be done with treatment in March 2021,” Hooper said. “Then we’ll start a five-year period of time where we’re monitoring to make sure it doesn’t come back or other cancers don’t show up.”
According to Hooper, treatment is going well. But she cautioned: “March is definitely a milestone. But we’re not out of the woods yet.
“Based on the initial two-and-a-half years of treatment, between 80 and 90 percent of kids her age with the type of cancer that she has are cancer-free after the initial treatment.
“After five years, those same kids, 60 percent of them are still cancer-free. So there’s a small percentage of kids that get a different kind of cancer or the B-Cell ALL [Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia] returns.”
As Hooper offered, “Keep our toes and fingers and arms and legs and everything crossed, prayers up and good vibes out that she’ll be cancer-free for life.”
And here’s what makes Gray so amazing.
Let’s start with daily chemotherapy in the form of pill after pill.
“There are certain days when she has to take up to 13 pills,” her mother reported. “She’s a normal three-and-a-half-year-old that has things she wants to do, things she doesn’t want to do. Some days are more challenging than others, especially if she’s tired.”
That’s a lot for an adult, much less a child.
But according to Hooper, any resistance is the exception and not the rule — because Gray is exceptional at turning a negative into a positive.
“Most days, she does it. She’s a rockstar.
“We don’t hide the medicine from her. She’s fully aware she has to take it.
“We try to congratulate her, make it a positive experience. I know that sounds funny.
“She uses yogurt most of the time, puts the pills in it. She’ll make faces and formations out of the pills. Make it something she can smile at.”
Then, there are the monthly clinical check-ups.
“She goes in once a month, gets chemo put into her spine. They take samples of her spinal fluid and blood, monitoring what her counts are,” Hooper said. “It’s not a fun process.”
Gray has also had to shelter in place for the last eight months due to COVID-19. Because of her compromised immunity, Patrick and Heather Hooper have to be particularly careful.
“She asks me regularly, Mommy, have the germs gone away yet?” Hooper shared. “And I have to say, no, we can’t go to the park or places that she’s used to. She used to love going to the grocery store with me, and now, I have to leave her at home when I go. She’s a very social girl, so there’s definitely things she’s missed.”
Gray is coping though: An avid dancer, shelter-in-place has definitely spurred more dance parties. Hooper says Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” and Dua Lipa’s “Break My Heart” top the playlist now.
“When you face something like this with a loved one, you watch them go through it, you realize how grateful you are for time. You don’t sweat the small stuff,” Hooper said. “We appreciate every day that we have together as a family. You just don’t know.”
Help San Jose Sharks Fight Cancer
Hooper shared some of the initiatives that the San Jose Sharks and her family are supporting for Hockey Fights Cancer:
“I Fight For” shirts are almost gone!
— Sharks Foundation (@SharksCare) November 21, 2020
Camp Okizu is a local camp for children with cancer.
According to Hooper, Okizu’s “summer camp was completely devastated by the fires.”
You can also check out what the Sharks Foundation is auctioning for Hockey Fights Cancer here or display the name of a cancer fighter, survivor, or victim on the SAP Center marquee throughout November.
Kids & Art uses art to help children with cancer.
Jacob’s Heart provides support for families of children and teens fighting cancer.
Austen Everett Foundation seeks to empower kids with cancer through the strength and support of sports.
“Mommy, it’s Erik Karlsson!”
Who’s Gray’s favorite San Jose Sharks player?
I asked Hooper, who revealed Gray’s obsession with Erik Karlsson:
“It’s a tie.
“Brent Burns has been one of the most kind and thoughtful and generous people to our family, and specifically, to Graysen. She really appreciates that.
“But for whatever reason, in addition to Brent, she’s kind of obsessed with Erik Karlsson. It was mind-boggling — last season, any time he was on the screen, she’d be able to point him out. She would even be able to see the back of his jersey — and she couldn’t read at that time — and she’d be like, Mommy, it’s Erik Karlsson!
“It’s Brent and it’s Erik, so maybe it’s something to do with long-haired defensemen.”
Sheng’s Travel Fund
Help fund Sheng's travel! Every dollar goes to the cost of getting to and from Sharks road games.