4th grade teacher makes lasting impact on student

DHS senior Jeremiah Gray speaks from the heart about how cancer has affected his family.

Inspired him to raise money to fight cancer

On a night of celebrating those who have courageously fought cancer, Destrehan High School senior Jeremiah Gray showed a great deal of strength himself.

Gray stood in front of the crowd assembled at World of Deliverance Outreach Ministry for the Saturday night event he organized, “An Evening of Love,” aimed at benefitting cancer warriors. Gray gave some heartfelt testimony while speaking about why he took up the cause.

Having lost both his great-grandfather, Leroy, and grandmother, Geraldine, to cancer, Gray has already too often seen the damage cancer can inflict both physically and emotionally.

“I’ve seen them struggle, taking painful medication that was hard on their bodies … the cancer wore out their bodies,” Gray said. “I watched my grandmother suffer and suffer again just to be able to pay for one bottle. It was hard to do.”

During his speech, he was overcome by emotion and had to take a moment to collect himself, but he did just that to finish speaking candidly on the toll the illness can take on not only those diagnosed, but also those who love them.

Luling Elementary teacher Kellie Growl listens to a speech given by her former student, Jeremiah Gray, at his Evening of Love event.

“Cancer has a way of destroying families,” he said. “It hurt me to my core to see my grandmother laying in a hospital bed … fighting cancer is a hard thing to do … you stop going to work because you’re going to the doctor every day. You lose your job, and your money, and you can’t pay for what you need to survive. It costs you directly and indirectly.

“Doing things like this helps us all come together as one. People (battling cancer) need our support.”

Through his event, Gray offered some of that support in his own way, as did those who participated.  Some who attended the event won prizes and all enjoyed some good food and company. Along with his family, Gray sold tickets to the event in the weeks leading up to it, and overall his efforts raised $2,000 to help offset medical costs for the event’s guests of honor, Kellie Growl and Michelle Fields. Growl, a teacher at Luling Elementary School, was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 and has endured a long battle since then. Fields, of New Orleans, was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in July and just went through her first chemotherapy treatment.

Fields, a longtime advocate of self-checking for lumps or other signs of breast cancer, learned of her illness while reeling from another tragedy, a car accident that in June claimed the life of her best friend.

“Fighting cancer is a hard thing to do. You stop going to work because you’re going to the doctor every day … and you can’t pay for what you need to survive.” – Jeremiah Gray

“I thank Jeremiah so much for doing this, because talking about it saves lives,” said Fields to the group in attendance. “Eleven percent of women under the age of 45 are diagnosed every year. Self-check.”

Fields had volunteered to speak at the event, and did not know until after her speech she had been chosen as one of the event’s two beneficiaries.

“She didn’t know until the event. We wanted her to know she wasn’t in her fight alone,” Gray said.

Growl, meanwhile, was Gray’s fourth grade teacher at Luling Elementary, and he said she made a truly positive impact on his life.

“When I was a new student at Luling, I was young and didn’t have many friends … I had gone to St. Rose Elementary before,” Gray said. “She took me under her wing. She was very helpful and always understood when I needed help in my classes. Whenever I got in trouble or needed her for anything, really, I knew I could go to her. She was always there and she was such a part of my early development in school.”

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