An 18-year-old Valencia student whose doctors have given her less than three months to live will be honored with a community parade and homecoming on Saturday.
Melissa Grason, who has Down Syndrome, was also diagnosed in 2010 with Stage IV Wilm’s Tumor, a deadly cancer affecting her abdomen, chest and lungs. After aggressive surgeries and chemotherapy in 2010 and again in 2011, and experimental treatment this spring, Grason stopped responding as the cancer continued to grow.
“The doctors have estimated that we will lose our battle with this damned disease within the next 90 days,” Grason’s father Jim Grason wrote on his daughter’s Caring Bridge online donations page on June 20, after he and his wife Marianne received the bad news from her medical team at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. The day before, he wrote, “We met with Hospice to plan the in-home services that will be required during the period of decline we now face.”
On Saturday morning at about 10:45, Grason and her family will take a drive around Santa Clarita in a vintage automobile, a ’57 Thunderbird driven by Mark Latner and Jackie Hartman, so she can see the local sights one last time.
Members of the community are invited to gather at and around the Grasons’ home at 27965 Skycrest Circle Drive in Valencia at 11:15 a.m., so when Melissa arrives back home about 11:30, she will receive a warm welcome and show of support.
“Everyone who comes out, please wear bright pink — it’s Melissa’s favorite color,” said Marisa Watkins, a friend of Grason’s who helped promote the event. “Bring signs, wave pom-poms. She loves to be the center of attention, so let’s make this come true and be there for Melissa for the time remaining she has.”
Watkins, an 18-year-old Stevenson Ranch resident, has Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. She holds 53 gold medals as a Special Olympics athlete in a variety of sports including snowboarding and skiing, and serves as Global Ambassador for Special Olympics Southern California – Santa Clarita, speaking at schools and fundraisers designed to raise awareness of its services and resources for special-needs students in and around the Santa Clarita Valley. A Sequoia Charter School graduate this summer, she is now in the Transitional Learning Center program at College of the Canyons.
“I met Melissa a few years ago at Fun Life, a special needs (event),” Watkins said. “She has been a great friend to many who had the opportunity to meet her. She has a great sense of humor and is so loving. She is a joy to have around. I recently went to camp with Melissa and she was not doing well, but I was glad that she had the opportunity to go to camp with all of her friends and be surrounded by the love of God and the people who were with us. She has wonderful parents who are so giving and have been so helpful to Melissa while she has been fighting this cancer.”
“I’ve got a beautiful dress and a tiara and a sash that says ‘princess,’ and we just wanted to make her feel really good,” Marianne Grason said.
She said she and her husband were “beyond amazed” at the response from the community.
“We just can’t even believe it,” Grason said. “We’ve lived here 11 years, we’ve been quite involved in Special Olympics, but nothing…nothing like this has ever happened. So we’re truly amazed. I just feel blessed to have these memories. I mean, not everyone gets them.”
Watkins urges all local residents to join her at the Grasons’ home on Saturday.
“Hopefully there will be so many people there, the parade route will stretch for blocks,” she said.