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Teenage Kokomo torchbearer finds reasons to give thanks despite fighting for his life again

KOKOMO, Ind. (WISH) – If you are having a tough time finding reasons to give “thanks” on this Thanksgiving, the strength of a young man in Kokomo might serve as good inspiration.

In the last 12 months, his dad suffered a heart attack, two other relatives passed away, a twister hit his home, and cancer that he had as a small boy returned, stealing his chance to help Indiana celebrate its history.

Despite his setbacks, he still smiles and says there’s much to appreciate.

“I’m really thankful that I won’t have to be in the hospital for Thanksgiving”, said Gradyn Rogers with a grin.

With such good cheer after a truly lousy year, Gradyn is clearly a remarkable young man. He’s an Eagle scout, a good student, and a multi-sport athlete. He’s also an enthusiastic volunteer, and he has earned honors from President Barack Obama and was named a torch-bearer from the Indiana Bicentennial commission.

Those successes may be helping him handle the fight of his life, once again.

Gradyn’s dad, Randy Rogers, explains how the current situation is a repeat of the past.

At age three, Gradyn developed Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Years of intense experimental treatments battered his body but ultimately healed it, up until this year.

Years after the family thought the fight had been won, Gradyn now regularly returns to Riley Hospital for Children for treatments. Unlike the first time, some of the treatments are also happening at his home in Kokomo.

As part of a clinical trial, Gradyn carries a backpack full of medicine all day, every day.  It has a strap for his shoulder and a tube for his arm.

“It has his IV in it,” Randy Rogers explains. “And he stays hooked up with it for 30 days at a time.  Sleeps with it, and wherever he goes he has to leave it hooked up.  Takes a shower, has to hang it outside the shower.”

Cancer treatments are hard and can hurt as they heal. The routine is rough, but it’s far Gradyn’s only burden. In recent months, Rogers barely survived a heart attack, two other family members passed away, the September tornado that badly battered Kokomo damaged his family’s apartment, and what was supposed to be a highlight of 2016 never even happened.

Gradyn was poised to carry the torch in Howard County, but his health went south and he had to sit out the relay.

Randy Rogers says his son handled the news that he could not carry the torch much like he handles everything else, with grace and strength. Now, Gradyn often wears his Bicentennial hat and shirt during treatments.

“I wear it because I want to show people that they can have hope, too,” he says. When asked about his attitude, Gradyn pointed to his head and explained, “It’s all up here. If you just think negative then it’s not gonna make it better.  Stay positive, have faith, and take it a day at a time.”

“His cancer is responding to the treatment and he’s heading in the right direction,” said Randy Rogers.

Father and son say the prognosis is for a long fight ahead, with lots of reason for optimism but no guarantees.

Gradyn says he’ll handle it one treatment at a time and one holiday at a time.

“I’m just really hoping everything goes well so I don’t have to be here (Riley Hospital) for Christmas.”

People from the Rogers’ hometown have been helping the family in several ways. Another example is coming up soon, there’s a fundraiser on Nov. 29 at the Dairy Queen on Sycamore Street in Kokomo.