Journal entry by Vicki Bunke
Over the past 8 years, I have been asked various versions of the following question: “How has your family been able to stay so positive through Grace’s illness, treatments, and death?”
I always struggle with how to answer this question. I struggle because I don’t want to sound self-righteous. I struggle because I don’t want it to appear as if we don’t feel the pain and loss of Grace’s death. I struggle because I don’t want it to seem as though it is easy. I struggle because there are no words. No words that are true enough, right enough, strong enough, or grand enough to explain it. I find myself rambling and rummaging around for the right thing to say, but everything sounds too vague or too insincere or too pious.
In reality, however, the answer to the question is simple – and it is this: “Because Grace was a believer. Because we are believers.” I vividly recall providing that answer to a similar-type question posed to me in an interview with CNN’s Carol Costello back in November 2017. She didn’t seem to buy it. She kept probing as if there was a Part B to my response. There wasn’t, and there isn’t.
Anyone who knew Grace knows that her faith was the foundation of her existence. She knew that her faith was more than an idea to be thought about, it was a life to be lived, a story to be told. As such, Grace’s faith and life story are inextricably linked – as is our entire family’s. That’s why it is impossible to tell one without speaking about the other.
And like all compelling stories, Grace’s life story is directive – it teaches us our lines and provides us with directives and instructions. Bearing witness to the unfolding of her life story demands that I change. I must be different, and more importantly, I must act. I must do something. I must change the plot line of my own life. Why? Because nothing kills a great story more quickly than a passive protagonist. In so doing, I do not give up who I am. Rather, I become more of who I was always meant to be.
This is exactly what prompted and inspired The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour 2021. And because of everyone’s support and generosity, The Amazing Grace Swim Across America 2021 raised over $180,000 for cancer research!! Portions of those fundraising monies have benefited research efforts at the local beneficiaries associated with the 14 cities that The Amazing Grace Tour visited last year.
Additionally and something that would bring a smile to Grace’s face, $50,000 has been specifically awarded to Dr. Nancy Gordon and Dr. Richard Gorlick at MD Anderson Cancer Center. This grant will fund a study examining the bioinformatics of sarcomas (including osteosarcoma) to determine new targets for intervention and treatment. As Grace boldly shared with all of us, the grand sum-total of advancements in the treatment of osteosarcoma over the past 40 years is exactly equal to zero. Therefore, it is beyond exciting to know that all of the miles that members of The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour traveled, all of the strokes that we swam, all of the speeches that were given, all of the stories that were shared, and all of the dollars that were raised will help fund and support the development of better treatments for the disease that took Grace’s life.
Given that any story worth telling is worth telling twice, I have decided to continue The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour this year. Although there are far fewer stops along the way, there is just as much enthusiasm for and commitment to the mission of Swim Across America and the sharing of Grace’s story of hope and faith. I made a video that hopefully captures the spirit of this endeavor – you can watch it here: The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour 2022
Although there is a Team Amazing Grace participating in the inaugural Key West event on April 9th (how fun does that sound?!?), my first stop is Houston where I will be able to see Dr. Gorlick and meet Dr. Gordon along the shores of Lake Longhorn.
And if anyone asks me along that shoreline how we can smile and feel joyful in Grace’s absence, I will simply say, “Because we are believers.” As time moves on, I am more convinced that our best apologetic to the world is not a clever argument to prove our faith and beliefs. Rather, I think we can share our faith by how we respond when we take it on the chin. Our testimony given amid grief and sorrow might resonate more loudly because it comes at midnight. Anyone can sing when the sun is shining. But if you can still sing at midnight, the world might hear you differently.
That’s what Grace taught me. That’s the answer I will give. That’s the story I will tell.
If you think this is a story worth telling and want to support The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour, you can click here:
The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour
Go tell the world about me
I’ve gotta go now for a little while
But goodbye is not the end
(“The Commission” – Cain)