Imagine you have a stomach virus. You schedule a check-up with your general practitioner, well aware of the suggested remedy of rest and antibiotics. Now imagine that your seemingly routine appointment reveals an ailment far more severe than a fever or the flu; a number of tests and doctor referrals later, you learn that you have cancer.
The life-altering diagnosis grows increasingly taxing as medical bills accrue, income halts and day-to-day activities become anything but normal. On a mission to alleviate these stressors is local nonprofit Daniel’s Grace Charitable Foundation. The foundation is dedicated to sustaining the lives of cancer families by offering support and financial assistance.
“When you, a family member or a friend are struggling through the emotional and financial hardship of battling cancer, it is hard to see the light,” writes the Daniel’s Grace team in their Giving Back Awards submission form. “The Daniel’s Grace Foundation breaks through that darkness and provides the relief that allows cancer families to be able to survive and thrive. A person should not have to choose between living or having a place to live, so we provide them with the resources to be able to have both.”
Since its conception in 2014, Daniel’s Grace has made significant financial contributions to cancer families to assist with both medical and lifestyle needs. In 2019 alone, the organization raised and donated over $330,000 to allocate to families’ insurance premiums and COBRA plans, rent and mortgage payments, car payments, utilities and scholarship funding for students impacted by cancer. While its heart is big and passion is endless, Daniel’s Grace holds a limited reservoir of funds for an ever-growing number of struggling families.
To be eligible for a grant from Daniel’s Grace, hopeful beneficiaries must complete an exhaustive application that outlines the severity of their needs, both financial and emotional. Included in the hefty submission are a signed application, official copies of all income sources, bills, creditor statements, federal tax returns and a written letter sharing the applicant’s journey with cancer. Once completed, a nurse navigator or social worker then submits the package on behalf of the applicant for assessment by the Daniel’s Grace team.
In June 2019, Daniel’s Grace received an application from one Dorian Gramajo, a 46-year-old father of four and avid Latin dancer at Norfolk’s Mambo Room. Gramajo had been diagnosed with stage three multiple myeloma just two months prior and was rapidly falling victim to the terminal disease. Gramajo, riddled with bone lesions, constant nausea and failing internal organs, assessed his family’s dwindling financial situation while he awaited a stem cell bone marrow transplant.
“Our family financial situation is not good,” explained Gramajo in his application. “The household income has been cut by more than half because my wife is the only one working and her work hours are limited because she is taking care of my medical needs. We have three children in the home ages 4, 4 and 7 and we financially support a son aged 13 from my previous marriage.”
Cancer stripped Gramajo’s life of all normalcy. It fragmented his routine, replacing family dinners with hospital feeding tubes and daily dance lessons with chemotherapy and dialysis treatments. Furthermore, cancer plunged Gramajo and his family further into financial uncertainty. The Daniel’s Grace team examined all of Gramajo’s statements—cell phone bills, electric fees, mortgages, cable costs, insurance, grocery receipts and the like—to determine the organization’s giving capacity. While under review, however, the assistance Gramajo once requested from Daniel’s Grace drastically changed.
After months of undergoing numerous aggressive, yet unsuccessful treatments at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, Gramajo and his wife, Tracy, sought the expertise of a multiple myeloma specialist at Duke Health. Dr. Cristiana Costa’s treatment plan nurtured hope for the Gramajos, but their optimism was swiftly fractured by a series of hospital moves prompted by insurance inefficiencies. Gramajo’s health continued to decline as he transferred between Norfolk General and VCU Medical Center, and ultimately returned to Duke’s Adult Bone Marrow Transplant Clinic in August. He was scheduled to undergo a sequence of chemotherapy treatments and transplants, but for weeks his condition fluctuated from better to worse. Finally, on Sept. 24, having exhausted all potential remedies for his deteriorating state, Gramajo passed quietly in the late hours at Duke University Hospital.
A Little Help from My Friends: Founder Jodi Newland with volunteer Missy
The role of Daniel’s Grace then shifted from covering medical and living expenses to arranging and funding a cremation for Gramajo. Without hesitation, Jodi Newland, founder and executive director of Daniel’s Grace, assembled a team to secure a funeral home near Duke University that would cremate Gramajo’s body, distribute the cremains across two urns and ship the cremains back to Virginia in time for his celebration-of-life event to be held at the Mambo Room, all within a strict $2,000 budget. The team completed the task in less than 24 hours, allowing Tracy the time to properly grieve, celebrate and reflect on the life of her late husband, Dorian Gramajo.