MIDDLEBURY — Randy and Michelle Grewe’s Christmas was marked with tears and uncertainty.
Their son, Sam, a 13-year-old Northridge Middle School top student and athlete, had been diagnosed with cancer in his right knee just a few days before.
The approaching holidays had first made it difficult to schedule medical appointments for Sam, with many doctors taking vacation time that week, but after his diagnosis, the holidays created another difficulty: when to tell their son.
“We had decided we were going to wait until after Christmas, but emotions got the better of us and the waiting didn’t happen,” Michelle Grewe said.
Sam, a seventh-grader, started off the school year playing football for Northridge; then after a day’s break from sports, started basketball season. It was during basketball that he began feeling pain in his right knee. After being told it was a thickened iliotibial band, a tendon, Sam started physical therapy, but with no improvement.
That’s when his family scheduled further X-rays and a biopsy. Though doctors at first thought it was Ewing’s sarcoma, tests eventually showed that the cancer was osteosarcoma, the less rare and more treatable of the two, that had also damaged the bone.
As word spread of Sam’s diagnosis, the Middlebury community came forward to show their support for Sam and his family.
Ronnie Thomas, Sam’s football coach and a teacher at Northridge Middle School, spoke of the quality of Sam as an athlete and person and of his family.
“He did everything for us,” Thomas said. “He’s a natural athlete.”
Sam had complained about some stiffness after some games, Thomas said, but no one knew what was actually causing the pain.
“Ever since then, there’s been a huge rallying because he and the whole Grewe family do so much for, not just athletics, but everything” in the Middlebury community, he said.
That support has come from friends and neighbors and others beyond Middlebury.
The father of a boy from Concord Junior High School who was diagnosed with the same cancer a little over a year ago stopped by Randy Grewe’s Old Hoosier Meats to talk about what to expect of their coming journey, the Grewes said. A local friend of Bob Knight’s arranged for the basketball legend to have a photo taken with Sam while Knight was in the area to broadcast the Notre Dame men’s basketball game against Pittsburgh. Northridge Middle School Principal Robby Goodman called up the Purdue University athletic department, which sent Sam a package of Purdue items including a basketball signed by the men’s basketball team, T-shirts, hats and more.
Friends of the Grewes are also organizing fundraisers, sending care packages, gifts and support, while the Facebook page “Sam Grewe Updates” approaches 700 followers. The Grewes can share story after story of doctors and others who have shown care.
“It’s really very humbling,” Randy Grewe said.
Michelle Grewe added that Sam and his 16-year-old sister, Audrey, are both learning life lessons through the family’s journey and the community’s reaction.
“I just think there are a lot of life lessons that can come out of how others have responded,” she said.
Sam completed a first round of chemotherapy at Riley Hospital for Children Jan. 10 through 12, followed by several days of feeling tired and sick. The typically active and witty boy returned to school Jan. 17, but will likely be out again next week for a second round of chemotherapy. Sam’s white blood cell count has been low lately, though, so that round of chemo may be delayed.
After several more chemo treatments in the coming weeks, doctors will do surgery on Sam’s knee to remove the tumor. Depending on doctors’ analyses at that point, Michelle Grewe said they’ll either continue chemotherapy or, best case scenario, continue only driving to Riley for check-up scans.
The Grewes are more used to fundraising for other causes — Northridge sports, high school music programs, Middlebury Summer Festival and more — and said that whatever money from fundraisers is left after Sam’s treatments and related expenses will go on to another family with medical expenses.
Lisa Kirkton, a friend of the Grewes, is organizing a “Yellow Out” night for this Saturday, highlighting yellow as the ribbon color of osteosarcoma, according to Kirkton.
A benefit meal in the Northridge Middle School cafeteria will begin at 5:15 p.m. The dinner, catered by Rulli’s, will cost $5 per person.
During the meal and the basketball games to follow, people can participate in several activities, including voting with money for which of three Middlebury men will have his hair buzzed off during halftime, buying tickets for raffle items and more.
People are encouraged to wear yellow and the first 400 Northridge fans through the doors will receive a free yellow T-shirt. Kirkton and friends will also be selling yellow wristbands at the middle and high schools the week leading up to the fundraiser and during the game, if any are left.
Other fundraisers are also coming together to help cover Sam’s medical costs and show the community’s support.