Twelve-year old Grace Bunke of Marietta has grown used to second glances.
Her mother Vicki says,"I think sometimes you just do a double take. 'Did I just see? Wait, her foot is on backwards!'"
Because Grace's left leg doesn't really look like anyone else's. The Cobb County sixth-grader says, "Some people ask me, 'Will your leg grow out and turn around?' I say, 'No, this is just how God made me.'"
In August of 2014, after weeks of leg pain, Grace was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, in her left femur. Her parents and doctors at the AFLAC Canter Center at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta broke the news in stages.
First they talked about the cancer. Then, the chemotherapy.
Then, with Grace's little sister Caroline there for support, they told Grace about the surgery.
Grace says, "I remember my doctor sitting next to me and saying, 'You have three choices.' And I got really mad."
Because Grace lived her life without limits. She was a runner. A soccer player. A natural athlete who pushed herself hard. She says,"The only thing I want to do is run. That's the only thing I want to do."
None of the three choices would be easy. She could receive an artificial knee that would keep her leg intact, but would likely end her running career. Or, she could have her leg amputate above the knee and be fitted with an artificial knee and lower leg. Or, she could choose a relatively new surgery known as a rotationplasty, that would radically change the way she looked, but allow her to the best chance of staying active.
Vicki Bunke remembers, "When they described what she could do with it, I think her choice was immediate and automatic."
In the procedure, a Children's Healthcare of Atlanta surgeon would remove the cancer and Grace's knee joint. Then, the surgeon would reattach her ankle and foot backwards,creating a new knee joint that could be fitted with a prosthesis. But first Grace had to get through weeks of chemotherapy. She says, "I had doubts about it. Like, 'Should I do this, or should I not?' Like, because it was a pretty hard decision."
She chose to go through with the procedure, becoming one of 11 pediatric patients to undergo a rotationplasty at Children's over the last 2 years. Her mom says, "She went to school a week and half after her surgery, with her foot turned backwards."
After close to a year in a wheelchair, undergoing intense physical therapy to strengthen her new knee joint, Grace was fitted with a prosthetic that slips right onto her new knee. It took time to adjust to it. She says, "I didn't trust it at first, when I would land on it. But I got used to it."
Grace is determined to run again. Until then, she's found an new sport. Swimming. Competitively. She recently joined a team and is training for her first meet. She says, "I want to show everyone there that even though I have a disadvantage, I can do the same thing they can do."
Grace has grown comfortable with her new body -- because of what it can do -- both in and out of the pool. Her mom says they've grown used to Grace's new look. She says, "She's great. She's extremely happy. I really don't think about it anymore. I don't notice it. I think, that's just Grace."
Maybe not "just" Grace. Maybe, amazing Grace.
On Monday, September 28th, Grace returned to the AFLAC Cancer Center at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta for a checkup and some follow up scans to see if her cancer has returned. She got the best possible news. Doctors found no evidence of cancer.