Hope, faith, warrior mindset … and silver linings
“I want to have this warrior mindset and I am going to overcome whatever happens.”
– Hunter Graham
This is a story of a family who overcame bad news with hope, mindset and faith; today, they are appreciating life’s silver linings.
Two years ago, Courtney Graham’s focus was largely on work. As a chief people officer for a global tech company based in Boulder, she was a busy executive overseeing human resources, benefits, culture and learning. A call from her son changed her and her family’s life forever.
Graham’s eldest son Hunter, then 19 attending CU Boulder, called her and said, “Mom, don’t panic.” Snowboarding at Eldora Mountain, Hunter had fallen and hit his head and thought he had a concussion. His friend insisted that they get him checked out. Graham drove to the mountains where she met Hunter who had already been released by the doctor. The paperwork said her son had a concussion but also a lesion on his brain and that a follow-up appointment was required with a neuro-oncologist.
Initially, the Grahams dismissed it thinking that Hunter had just hit his head really hard.
Subsequent appointments showed that Hunter did, in fact, have a glioma – a brain tumor in his right frontal lobe. He had no prior symptoms. Surgery was recommended.
“As a parent, it was terrible…your worst nightmare,” said Graham. Hunter took the news with his usual optimism and mental strength.
Graham explained that growing up, Hunter was always resilient. He was not shaken when he struck out at the plate; he won leadership awards in wrestling, and coaches told her that he was a dream to have on a team.
“It’s weird to say,” she remembered, “but if this was going to happen to somebody, Hunter is made to overcome these challenges, mentally.”
Graham did a deep dive into educating herself on brain tumors, the best doctors and finding support in the community with parents who had also experienced pediatric cancer. Hunter had a grade 2 glioma, which is a slow growing tumor. Brain cancer is classified as “grades” not “stages,” with four grades in total.
“We were really blessed,” added Graham. “Grade 2 glioma is honestly one of the better brain tumors to get.” Surgery was scheduled at Swedish Hospital in April 2022.
When Graham learned she couldn’t stay with Hunter the night before surgery, she admitted to having a “massive meltdown,” and showed up at 5 a.m. the following morning with donuts to hopefully soften the nurses and the rules.
When she asked her son how he was feeling, Hunter said, “Mom, I am awesome. I had a long talk with God last night and everything is going to be fine.” He added, “I need you to promise me something: if something goes wrong, do not cry in front of me and do not feel bad for me. I want to have this warrior mindset and I am going to overcome whatever happens.”
After the surgery, which was a success, family perspectives changed. Hunter wanted to take a gap year and see the world. He did an Outward Bound hike through Patagonia in Argentina. This past summer, the entire extended family went on safari in Kenya.
“We are trying to make a lot of memories together just because of life; you never know when something could happen,” said Graham. “Things at work that would keep me up at night do not have the same weight as what really matters.”
Today, Hunter is doing well and enjoying his junior year at CU in the Leeds School of Business. Due to advances in research, Hunter did not have to have any aggressive treatments like chemotherapy or radiation. Rather, he will have scans every six-to-12 months in perpetuity.
“It’s this balance of not making it your identity and also being involved with finding the cure,” said Graham, who recently joined the board at the Morgan Adams Foundation (MAF), an organization that focuses on pediatric cancer research and helped the Grahams throughout the process. Hunter is an ambassador for MAF.
Graham realizes the silver linings. “One, how lucky that we found this and it and it didn’t take his life. Two, we have all of this preventive stuff at our fingertips to be prepared in the rare case it comes back,” she concluded. “Hunter is such a gift to me. He finds the bright side to everything.”
To learn more about MAF, visit morganadamsfoundation.org. A Chili, Booze & Brews fundraiser is on November 11, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Highlands Masonic Temple in Denver.
By Hollen Wheeler; photos courtesy of Courtney Graham