Maddy the Mighty, a Young Girl with Cancer, Inspires Others to Serve

Contributed By Valerie Johnson, Church News staff writer

  • 30 July 2015

Maddy Grayless poses for a school photo. She had just finished third grade when she was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer and passed away two weeks later.  Photo by Studio Five.

Article Highlights

  • Eight-year-old Maddy Grayless was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer.
  • Despite the terminal prognosis, Maddy’s parents felt the strength of the Lord almost immediately.
  • A Facebook group called Maddy’s Mighty Minions has inspired people all over the world to serve others in her honor.

“There have been people paying for other people’s groceries, there’s been the Delta flight crew spreading the news and sharing the story on their flights, there’s been people passing out water in 110-degree heat to strangers.” —Brian Grayless, Maddy’s father

LONGMONT, COLORADO

Around the time that eight-year-old Maddy Grayless was making a Mother’s Day card, she decided to make one for her dad. “That was the kind of person that she was, always thinking, ‘Hey, Daddy, can I draw you something? Daddy, can I do something for you?’” said her father, Brian. “She just loved spending time together and loved doing things for and with people. That was the essence of her character.”

Toward the end of March of this year, Maddy came home from school complaining of a sore knee. “She was with a couple other kids on a slide and had kind of gotten pushed down the slide, and it bumped the inside of her knee,” said her mother, Jessica Grayless. After several weeks of visiting doctors and a physical therapist, Maddy’s knee continued to swell. “She was walking on it less and less to the point that she didn’t even want to use her crutches to walk on it; it was hurting. She lost a lot of range of motion, couldn’t straighten her knee at all. So we were starting to grow increasingly concerned,” Sister Grayless said.

Then on the night of June 1, Maddy got a nosebleed that wouldn’t stop. “That’s when we ended up in the emergency room,” Sister Grayless said.

Overnight, doctors began running tests and sent Maddy to the Children’s Hospital in Denver, Colorado. By 6:00 a.m., the doctors gave them Maddy’s diagnosis: osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer.

Sister Grayless said, “I kept thinking this can’t be happening. They took the x-rays. She was fine eight weeks ago, not even eight weeks ago. This can’t all be happening.”

On June 4, Brother Grayless said the doctors essentially told them, “There’s no point in doing the scan because the evidence we have now shows that [the cancer is] throughout her entire body. It’s in all four limbs. It’s destroyed her right leg, and it’s also in her lungs, and there are so many tumors that we can’t even count them.”

Despite the terminal prognosis, Maddy’s parents felt the strength of the Lord almost immediately. “Although it was hard to accept,” Sister Grayless said, “I literally felt, even in the hospital, like I was being carried, like I was being lifted with a strength that was definitely beyond my own at that point.”

Brother Grayless described his feelings as being put in a place of trust. “I kind of felt like Peter. Like [asking God to] take this from me, and He [said], ‘No. I’m not going to take this from you. But I’m going to give you all these other tender mercies on the side that are going to … show you I am God and I’m in control.’”

Many tender mercies did follow. One came from trials that prepared them ahead of time. “We’ve had a series of pretty big trials over the last few years from job loss to a frivolous lawsuit … that have really kind of pushed us to trust in the Lord whether we wanted to or not,” Brother Grayless said.

When the Union Ward of the Longmont Colorado Stake heard of Maddy’s diagnosis, the members got to work. “We’ve only lived in Longmont for seven months … so we kind of still felt like we were pretty new in the ward and were still getting to know people,” Sister Grayless said. “But it felt like the minute that everyone in the ward heard that [Maddy] had cancer and I was in the hospital with her in Denver, the compassionate service leader moved right on it.” She arranged for meals to be delivered to the Grayless family and playdates for Maddy’s two younger siblings, the stake president took his two teenagers over and mowed and trimmed their lawn, and the elders quorum pulled up several dead bushes and cut down four trees.

The community also came out in force to help. “The local police station gave [Maddy] the Honorary Explorer Award, which is basically their teenage cop program,” Brother Grayless said. “[These] teens who are looking to be cops … [handed] us this shirt in a frame with Maddy’s name engraved on it and [told] us in their little ceremonious way that Maddy will be one of their honorary instructors in the ways of courage and perseverance.”

On Facebook, “my friend in Kansas said, ‘Hey, let’s all be Maddy’s mighty minions and let’s do an act of kindness because Maddy was such a kind kid,’” Sister Grayless said. “The Primary presidency here had been praying about what they could do to help. They saw that comment and they felt very strongly that that was something the Primary needed to do.” So the Facebook page Maddy’s Mighty Minions was created.

The response to the page was phenomenal. “There have been people paying for other people’s groceries, there’s been the Delta flight crew spreading the news and sharing the story on their flights, there’s been people passing out water in 110-degree heat to strangers. The list goes on and on,” Brother Grayless said.

After only a short time, the page had reached beyond the scope of the ward, the local community, and the country. “There was a group of girls in Australia, young kids actually, that just posted on the Minions page. … I don’t know how it got that far, but it did.” Pictures have been posted to the page from Northern Ireland, New Zealand, Kenya, the United Arab Emirates, and many other countries around the world, all showing acts of service done in honor of Maddy.

At that point, “we had to have a very tough conversation with Maddy about the fact that there was nothing the doctors could do,” Sister Grayless said. Maddy told her mother that she wanted to make a difference. “She also said to me, ‘Mom, I really wanted to go on a mission.’ For me, this page is both. It’s not just her making a difference because she was such a kind and caring girl. It’s also her mission. I know that people have been touched by the Spirit that haven’t ever felt that before.”

Personal messages have been sent to Brother and Sister Grayless from many people who said that they have felt the Spirit from hearing Maddy’s story through the Maddy’s Mighty Minions page. “There are people that aren’t members of the Church that have come to the page and have been inspired by our testimonies of the Savior and our certainty that our family is going to be together again forever and that this separation is not a final one,” Sister Grayless said.

“I’ve never felt His presence in my life so much than in dealing with this and having to watch my daughter go through this,” Brother Grayless said. “I can’t imagine dealing with this without [the gospel].” Through the Facebook page, Brother Grayless and his family have been able to share their testimonies to a local and worldwide audience.

Maddy died on June 16, 2015, the week before Father’s Day. But like a card delivered after her death, Maddy’s Christlike love lives on.

Members of the community showed their love and support for the Grayless family through a “heart attack” made up of paper hearts with notes of encouragement stuck to their garage and front door. Maddy was remembered as a kind girl with an acute sense of fairness. Photo courtesy Brian Grayless.

Maddy Grayless is remembered as one who always wanted to help and be with other people, her father, Brian, said. Maddy passed away from bone cancer on June 16, 2015. Photo courtesy Brian Grayless.

Maddy Grayless poses for a picture before school. She was only eight years old and had just finished third grade when she was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer. Photo courtesy Brian Grayless.

Members of the Longmont, Colorado, community showed their love and support for the Grayless family after Maddy was diagnosed with terminal cancer. One of the many ways they did so was through a “heart attack.” Photo courtesy Brian Grayless.

Maddy Grayless with her father, Brian, on the day of her baptism. Maddy was only eight years old when she was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer and passed away two weeks later. Photo courtesy Brian Grayless.

In honor of her courage, optimism, and perseverance, the Longmont, Colorado, Police Department made Maddy Grayless an honorary explorer in their program for youth and young adults. Photo courtesy Longmont Fire, Police, and OEM.

When Maddy Grayless was making a Mother’s Day card for her mother, Jessica, she also decided to make a Father’s Day card ahead of time for her father, Brian. She passed away on June 16, 2015, the week before Father’s Day. Photo courtesy Brian Grayless.

When Maddy Grayless was making a Mother’s Day card for her mother, Jessica, she also decided to make a Father’s Day card ahead of time for her father, Brian. She passed away on June 16, 2015, the week before Father’s Day. Photo courtesy Brian Grayless.

Maddy Grayless, an eight-year-old girl with a cheerful attitude and a desire to change the world, passed away from terminal bone cancer on June 16, 2015, after being diagnosed only two weeks earlier. In her memory, the Facebook page Maddy’s Mighty Minions was created for people everywhere to “pay it forward” with acts of service. Photo courtesy Brian Grayless.

The Facebook page Maddy’s Mighty Minions was set up by Maddy Grayless’s Primary president for Primary children in her ward to do acts of service, such as donating food. The page has grown in popularity all over the world. Photo courtesy Brian Grayless.

Maddy Grayless gets a haircut from her oncologist while in the hospital. She was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer and passed away two weeks later on June 16, 2015. Photo courtesy Brian Grayless.

After hearing about Maddy Grayless through the Facebook page Maddy’s Mighty Minions, a Delta flight crew shared her story with the passengers. Maddy’s Mighty Minions has reached many people around the world, inspiring them to do acts of service. Photo courtesy Brian Grayless.