Grayson’s wish fulfilled: Six-year-old fighting cancer was ‘over the moon’ at Days of ’76

Grayson Chapeau, of Spearfish, South Dakota, displays his buckle emblazoned “Faith”, which was given to him by Glee Nett, founder of Childrens Western Wish Foundation. Chapeau’s mom Chelsey said he has a belt to put it on, but prefers to keep it in the velvet box and sleeps with it each night. Photo courtesy of Chelsey Chapeau

Days of ’76 Rodeo was really Day of Six-Year-Old July 28. Grayson Chapeau, of Spearfish, South Dakota, was dubbed honorary Days of ’76 Committee Member by Chairman Rob Burns.

He received a shirt declaring his title and spent the day in the company rodeo queens and Hall of Fame members, as well as attended the PRCA rodeo performance.

Made possible by Children’s Western Wish Foundation, Grayson was flanked by his family, father Jeremiah and mother Chelsey, brothers Josh, 7, and sisters Saray, 7, and Hannah, 4. His youngest brother Caleb, 7 months, sat out.

When Grayson was four-and-a-half, he was diagnosed with an inoperable and cancerous brain tumor called astrocytoma. The family seeked medical attention when they noticed changes in the usually early-bird. He began sleeping more frequently and occasionally getting sick.

“I was home with Grayson and I could see him laying around more than usual,” Chelsey said. “He’s very, very active so for him to be a little more laid-back made me go, ‘Hmm, I wonder what’s going on?’ He came up and laid in my bed all day and just slept. I would get close to his face and have to yell, ‘Grayson,’ and his eyes would flutter open and then shut. I called Jeremiah and said, ‘I think we have to take this to the next step; I think he’s in survival mode.’”

He was taken to Rapid City Hospital Emergency Room, where blood work and tests were conducted. They all came back negative, as had his three prior doctor visits, and in further consulting pediatricians, a CT Scan was ordered.

“This was at 2 in the morning Oct. 11, 2014. They did a CT and found the ventricles in brain enlarged and swollen. They didn’t tell us there was a tumor,” Chelsey said. “They told us they had a LifeFlight scheduled for University of Minnesota in an hour. Our whole world went upside down. The whole time Grayson was laying on this little cot and slept through the whole thing. It was awful to say the least.”

“At first, it was a big shock,” Jeremiah said in an interview with Black Hills Pioneer. “We were devastated and horrified, but we also had faith that God was going to get him through it.”

Children’s Western Wish Foundation Founder Gell Nett heard Grayson’s situation and contacted the family to honor him at Days of ’76 in Deadwood, South Dakota.

“Grayson loves cowboys. I have an uncle and aunt, and he calls them real cowboys or real cow people. My aunt barrel races, and my uncle is a bronc rider,” Chelsey said. “He dresses up in cowboy hat, jeans, button-up shirts. He loves it. We talked about going to a rodeo in June and it never really happened. He was a little disappointed and bummed, but we said hopefully we would get to go.”

Jeremiah and Chelsey kept an element of surprise in tact for Grayson.

“We told him we were going to a rodeo, but just to do fun stuff and hang out. In the mail, Glee sent Grayson a pair of boots that light up and have spiderwebs; he had just outgrown boots this summer,” Chelsey said. “She sent cowboy shirts and wranglers. He was over the top about that stuff, but he was still thinking we were going to rodeo for fun, which we did. We had a ton of fun. Grayson got to be in the Days of ’76 rodeo opening that night. He was fascinated by all the cowboys and got to meet Miss Rodeo South Dakota. He was just hugging her; his way of loving is hugs and kisses.”

The fun continued for the “one-of a kind” six-year-old, as his mom describes him.

“Glee pulled me aside and had two buckles to pick from to give to Grayson. One had faith and one had a horse. Not just our journey but Grayon’s journey is of faith and hope and hope for a future. It was really incredible she had that one picked out for him. The hall-of-fame members signed his hat, which he wears every day. It was pretty spectacular of the committee and Glee to do all of that for Grayson. Five guys presented Grayson with that buckle and he got to ride out on a horse with two other gentlemen on either side of him on horses. He was just glowing. He just talked about his buckle. The most amazing thing is they could have just taken him around the arena, and he would have been over the top. They kept adding cherries to his already full bowl of ice cream.”

Jeremiah said Grayson’s wish being fulfilled was a huge honor and blessing.

“We’re very happy to be here,” Jeremiah told BHP. “We live in an awesome community where people are so very willing and able to help out. We’re very thankful and humbled.”

After an initial round of chemotherapy and radiation, Grayson is now continually being treated with a daily experimental targeting drug. Unrelated to the cancer, he broke his leg before the rodeo, but it’s barely slowing him down, his mom said.

“Most kids are wearing out the knees in their jeans, Grayson is wearing out the bottoms of his shorts scooting around,” Chelsey said.

Grayson enjoys being outdoors with his siblings and friends and riding his bike. His dad said Grayson has always been active. “He’s always been up early. He’s always ready to go and play outside, go play with his friends, or go try something new,” Jeremiah told BHF.

Grayson’s current focus is sharing God’s love, whether to family or strangers. His sister Hannah turned 4 earlier this week, the same age Grayson was upon learning of his cancer.

“He said, ‘Hannah, you’re 4 now, you’re a big girl. What do you want to do today? Want to get donuts?’ Grayson has a real heart of compassion. He is just always thinking of others, very aware of others. He knows that he is called to love others like Jesus loves us,” Chelsey said.

Jeremiah said silver lining of the situation is that it has “grown our faith. It has made us more thankful and appreciative for the things that we do have,” he said to BHP. “It’s also been an awesome experience because of the way that Grayson has handled everything,” he said.

“It was so amazing, from day one, I would ask him how he was doing. He always, always, always says, ‘Great’,” Chelsey said. “If he would throw up, I would ask him and he’d say, ‘I’m a little bit great.’ He just oozes joy and it’s pretty phenomenal.”

Grayson’s current goal is to collect 150 pounds of aluminum pull tabs to deliver to the Ronald McDonald House in Minneapolis in October.

“We’ve never had to use the Ronald McDonald House since I have family in Minneapolis, but in this process, but we could have had to,” Chelsey said. “We are blessed to be a blessing. One alone might not be able to make much of a difference, but when we pull together, we can make a difference. When we come together, that’s when it adds up, that’s when we make a change.”