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Cancer survivor transforms her business

MEDFORD — A new nonprofit organization is hoping to ensure sick children don’t miss any opportunities to enjoy an important childhood rite of passage: a good, old-fashioned birthday party.

Diagnosed last year with stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma, Medford resident Monique Grafton is a party and event planner by trade. Having spent much of the past year contending with treatment after a large tumor was discovered on her spine, Grafton said she hopes to transform her four-year-old business, Bash Party Styling, into a nonprofit birthday “bash” provider for kids battling cancer or other serious illness.

To that end, she’ll provide memorable birthday parties for local children, whether in person or via a “party in a box,” and offer the boxed-up version to children who live outside the area.

Realizing the gravity of cancer treatment, Grafton, who finished chemotherapy in June, said she realized all too well that families distracted by overwhelming health issues are hard-pressed to throw birthday parties or focus on other day-to-day tasks.

“When I had my diagnosis, so many people came out to support me through social media, through financial support, there was just such an overwhelming feeling of support at a time when it was tough to get through the next minute or hour or day,” said the 51-year-old.

During her illness a close friend helped her adult children design T-shirts for a fundraiser that bore the hashtag #BashCancer, playing on Grafton’s business name.

Initially overwhelmed at the fundraising gesture, Grafton was inspired to use it to help others and “pay forward” the support she had received.

“As soon as she talked to me about it I thought, ‘I know what I’m going to do,’ " Grafton said. "Once she runs through these T-shirts I’m going to take it over once I start feeling better and I’ll use the funds to start doing birthday parties for kids in treatment for free."

Her thoughts, she recalls, drifted back six years before, when a close friend asked for help with a birthday party for a son battling brain cancer.

“You’re at a time in your life where you can’t handle anything other than the one thing that’s right in front of you,” she said.

“She had asked me with helping doing a birthday party and, in that process of getting stuff together, I put what was the first party box together with room decorations and things to brighten up a depressing hospital room.”

Having done birthday surprise parties for the four years prior to her diagnosis, her life’s passion gave her focus during a tough time.

“I knew that I didn’t want to go back to doing parties for a job, for pay. I want to do them for free for families with sick children. I want this to be what I do with my life,” she said.

“The thought of making my life feel like it’s worth something bigger. I had to have gone through this for reason.”

Once her T-shirt effort began and she embarked on creating her nonprofit, community support continued, even defying cross-town high school rivalry.

A devoted North Medford High Tornado, Grafton’s shirts were worn by her son’s basketball team at North, then by a girls varsity soccer team at South Medford High.

For her official fundraising push, the biggest so far, she’ll be on hand at the annual “Black and Blue Bowl” between the cross-town rivals this Friday at Spiegelberg Stadium.

Arica Grafton, Grafton’s sister in law, said it was inspiring to see the strength Grafton gained from her own battle once she realized a new focus.

“When she got sick, it really knocked her down — and she’s the type that doesn’t get knocked down — so it was really difficult to see because she just had no choice. It really took the wind out of her sails for life in general, not knowing what the outcome was going to be,” she said. “But in the middle of all that, as soon as she had this kind of epiphany moment of, ‘I want to do this for kids’ as a way to bring joy, it was something that gave her this bigger sense of purpose and kind of brought the life back into her existence during this battle.”

Arica Grafton added, “Now that she’s recovering, she has the physical energy to start putting it all together. I love watching her be inspired and see her creativity come back. She’s just a giving person who really comes alive when she is doing what she loves to do.”

Grafton said community volunteers are needed to help with publicity and website building. T-shirts will be on sale for $20 at Friday’s game. All proceeds go to provide birthday parties for sick children. Those who purchase T-shirts are asked to post photos while wearing the shirts, using the hashtag, #BashCancer.

On the web, https://www.facebook.com/BashCandyDessertBuffets/?ref="br_rs" and https://www.instagram.com/bashcancer/

— Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Devyn Grafton, 16, and Monique Grafton, 51, assemble birthday boxes on Saturday for children who will be celebrating their birthdays in hospitals. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]