Stephen Kenneth Griener is the 3rd of our 6 children, and what can I say…he’s adorable. He has always loved life and loves to play. It has always been a rare moment to catch him without a smile on his face. When he was young, he would beg to stay home from school and play. As soon as he got home from school he would run outside and stay out there for hours at a time just playing. He has been super active his entire life and I think his constant level of physical activity and fitness is really blessing him now. Some of the things Stephen loves to do are play any sport, crack jokes, tease brothers and sisters, and just enjoy life all around. From the time he was little, he played baseball and football, but his real love was swimming. He started swimming for HAST in American Fork when he was 6 years old. All that swimming helped him when he started playing the trumpet in 7th grade. The amazing lung capacity he had built up in the pool made playing the trumpet easy for him! He has always had a tender and spiritual side to go along with his playful self. His playful side had to learn how to be quiet sometimes. He had a habit of giggling during prayers (which he told us he finally learned to control while on his mission.) Some of his other talents and quirks include: talking like Donald Duck, puffing his cheeks out HUGE, making funny videos, playing with any little children that come around, speaking Spanish, and making people laugh. He is also an Eagle Scout, earned his Duty to God award and is a great student. Stephen graduated from Lone Peak High School in May 2008.
After attending BYU for a year, Stephen was ready to serve a mission for his church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On July 15, 2009 he left on a mission to the New York, NY South, Spanish speaking mission. He really loved his mission and his mission leaders, President Nelson and his wife . During his time on his mission he was able to meet people from all around the world. He loves NY. In November of 2010, after having served nearly 18 months, he started getting sick fairly frequently. Each time he got sick it seemed to be something simple like a cold or sinus infection, and he was treated and seemed to get feeling better, but only for short periods of time. In January of 2011 he started to feel even more sick and this time he was not getting any better. If you know Stephen, you know he has an incredible ability to ignore pain and just keep doing whatever it is he wants to do. When he was in elementary school he use to come in from recess with blood all over and he didn’t even realize he was hurt. He just focuses on what he is doing, and on his mission he just did the same thing. By March it was evident that something was seriously wrong. He had lost about 20 pounds, was anemic, had a continuous fever, night sweats, a cough and extreme fatigue. He saw doctor after doctor and none of them were able to figure out exactly what was going on with Stephen. At this point, he had gotten so sick that no matter how badly he wanted to be out doing missionary work, he simply didn’t have the energy. After talking to President Nelson, we decided he needed to come back to Utah for further testing even though he only had 4 months of his mission left and he wanted to stay there so badly! The tests that had been done in New York had pointed to possible cancer. During this time, Jeff and I were living in Santiago, Chile with our 4 other children. We found out on a Friday evening that Stephen would be coming home to Utah, and knew that we had to be there before he got home. I quickly called Delta and luckily got the last 6 tickets available to return to Utah. Saturday was spent packing up everything we had with us in Chile, Sunday morning we went to church and said our good-byes to the friend we had made there, and that afternoon we were at the airport! Our flight from Chile left Sunday evening, and we arrived at Salt Lake International Airport Monday at 11:00 am. Stephen arrived that night only 6 hours after we had gotten home. Before moving to Chile, we had sold our home in Alpine, so my parents had their basement ready for us to move into. I knew Stephen was sick, but I didn’t realize how sick he was until we saw him at the airport. He was skinny, grey and running a high fever. That night we all sat in the basement in shock. He was home from his mission, we were in the USA, and Stephen was sick. It was a crazy time.
Early the next day, Stephen met with Doctor Nibley at Utah Cancer Specialists. Stephens’s mission president had been the former CEO of IHC and had put us in contact with the best doctors he knew and had personally called Stephens doctors to make sure he received prompt treatment. He had a CAT scan on Wednesday, met a surgeon on Thursday, had a lymph node surgically removed on Friday morning, met again with Dr Nibley Friday at noon and we were given his diagnosis of Classic or Nodular Sclerosing Hodgkin Lymphoma. We learned that he had two large tumors pressing on his heart and lungs, and the doctor felt like it was important for him to start chemotherapy immediately. He didn’t take the time to do a bone marrow biopsy at that time. His staging was III-SB or possibly IV-B if it was in the bone marrow. The treatment was the same regardless of the staging. He was sitting in the Chemotherapy chair by 3 that afternoon. Needless to say we were again in shock. Just one week before Stephen had been living and serving in New York City, and our family had been in South America, and yet here we were, at the infusion center watching our son go through his first of many chemotherapy treatments.
The first Chemotherapy he received was ABVD. The majority of Hodgkin Lymphoma patients receive this therapy and are cured. At first, it looked like this would be the case for Stephen as well. As time when on, his scans looked less promising and after he finished all 12 treatments on August 31st 2011 he had his final PET scan. This scan revealed that his cancer had begun growing again. When cancer has grown through a chemotherapy treatment, the next line of defense is to do a more aggressive chemotherapy followed by Stem Cell Transplant or BMT for Bone Marrow Transplant. This brings us to the stage we are at the beginning of this blog. He will have 3 to 4 treatments of ICE chemotherapy, followed by a month hospitalization where he will have very aggressive chemotherapy. This chemotherapy kills the cancer but also kills your bone marrow. Following the chemotherapy in the hospital they infuse previously harvested stem cells from your own body, back into your blood. These stem cells then return to the bone marrow and begin producing new blood cells. Because this is such an intensive and aggressive form of chemotherapy, it is highly successful, but also has a lot of potential risks and adverse side effects that can come from this. In order to avoided any of these adverse effects, Stephen has to stay in the hospital in a sterile/filtered room for one month, and then we have been told to plan at least 100 days of recovery time after, in which he will have a weak immune system and will have to have someone with him 24 hours a day just in case. In most cases it takes at least one year if not more for patients who undergo this procedure to begin feeling back to normal.
Stephen has a lot of faith and is such a fighter, and you are all a big part of that. We thank you for all of your prayers, fasting and help in Stephen’s behalf. He has received a lot of notes, snacks and phone calls over the past few months, and I can’t tell you what a great emotional boost they have been for him as well as the rest of our family. It has definitely been a mental battle to keep a smile on everyone’s faces.
We have had several people who have offered to help raise money for his transplant and we will be organizing something soon. We will set up a bank account and post information on the blog. Insurance pays the majority of the costs but there will still be upwards of $20,000 that the patient needs to pay for this one procedure.
We LOVE you all and THANK you from the bottom of our HEARTS for helping us SUPPORT STEPHEN!
The Griener Family