Five years ago, Naperville resident Grant Hedrick, was a regular teenager: busy with school, his high-school volleyball team, and a part-time job at Giordano’s. But Thanksgiving weekend while on the job, he suffered a seizure — a symptom that led to a brain cancer diagnosis and several years of surgeries and treatment.
Through it all, the 2009 Neuqua Valley High School graduate’s managers at Giordano’s stuck by him, even keeping him on the schedule and payroll when his ability to work diminished to a few hours a week because of side effects of the treatment.
“He’s a really nice, happy kid,” says John Van Steenis, general manager of Giordano’s on Route 59. “Even though he’s been dealt a bad hand, he takes everything in stride.”
Everything, it turns out, includes radiation necrosis or injury to healthy tissues caused by radiation treatment. As a result, Grant requires a home health aid to care for him.
In his initial diagnosis and treatment, Grant and his parents, Russ and Debbie Hedrick, looked hard at the options and consulted experts from hospitals and clinics around the country. Ultimately, they followed a course of two surgeries to remove visible tumors. And at Grant’s request, they chose to follow that with radiation treatments.
At first, the treatment appeared successful. Grant completed it in time to head off to college on a volleyball scholarship.
But it was too much for him. Instead he returned home and attended school locally, playing on a college club team.
Gradually his abilities diminished. MRI’s revealed an unusual mass. Doctors performed surgery again.
This time they discovered not a tumor but radiation injury.
According to Dr. Kelly Nicholas, director of the Neuro-Oncology Program at the University of Chicago Medicine, the damage could not have been predicted.
“For reasons we don’t understand, (Grant’s) brain is super sensitive,” he explains. “He had a phenomenally good response to radiation with regards to tumor control. Unfortunately, (and perhaps because of this), he also had radiation injury.”
Over time, the injury spread outward from the tumor site, eventually crossing from the left hemisphere to the right.
In all, Grant underwent four surgeries — two to remove tumors and two to remove injured tissues. For now, treatment has stopped, and it appears both the tumor and injury are gone.
Grant continued to work at Giordano’s throughout his treatment until the damage to his frontal lobe compromised his ability to make decisions and moderate his behavior.
For a time that meant taking phone orders, working part-time hours. Then later, handling lighter tasks. It helped him immensely to get out of the house and be with his co-workers at Giordano’s.
“That was like a second home to him,” says Debbie Hedrick, Grant’s mother. “Giordano’s was his second family.”
Van Steenis agrees.
“It’s a real family environment here,” he says. “You get to know the parents, too. You want to help them any way you can.”
Today Grant, often accompanied by his grandfather, continues to visit his friends at the pizza shop. And he remains upbeat in spite of all he has been through, never complaining.
“He essentially didn’t look back,” Nicholas says. “He was very aware of the options he had. He made a rational choice.”
Grant’s parents also emphasize the desire not to second-guess.
“We ourselves did a ton of research,” Dad Russ says. “You have to do due diligence. And include the patient in the decisions, because you have to be comfortable. There is no going back.”
He and his wife remain hopeful and positive.
“Every day we smile, we laugh, even though there is stress,” Mom Debbie says. “You’ve got to find the good in everything.”