Westland Student Returns to Class After Battling Cancer

When you first meet Grayson Johnson, it’s clear that he has three passions: football, WWE wrestling, and superheroes. The living room of the 5-year-Westland old’s house is where he indulges these hobbies. While playing Madden 23, he pushes his father Clifton, an Ann Arbor postal worker who goes by C.J., onto the sofa. He “attitude adjusts” his father by somersaulting him to the ground, a John Cena wrestling technique.

Grayson carried out all of this last week while dressed as Iron Man. On that day, he also attended his Westland kindergarten class in person for the first time in several months. Since the late 2022, Grayson has been battling kidney cancer. In an interview with MLive, his mother Alyssa, says the various superhero outfits he owns give him the strength to battle the illness. “We tell him that he has special powers,” she said. “He is strong. He is brave, and that has changed the whole dynamic of the way he looks at things.”

In August, Alyssa brought Grayson to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor for what she claimed to be only dehydration. In Grayson’s kidneys, an ultrasound identified a growth, and an MRI in November identified a Wilms tumor, a kind of juvenile kidney cancer, she added. “I kept thinking you have the wrong kid on your chart,” Alyssa said. “There’s no way. He just got done playing flag football. He’s happy. He’s healthy. He’s thriving — and he’s in kindergarten.” Since then, Grayson has visited the hospital every Tuesday to have his chemotherapy infusion treatments, have blood drawn for testing, and have the physicians check his vital signs. He showed tremendous energy after donning a Spiderman costume for his first chemotherapy session, according to Dr. Erin Hamanishi. “He’s kind of taking it all in stride, which is impressive for somebody of his age,” she said.

In addition to Iron Man, Spiderman, Black Panther, Captain America, Batman, and the Incredible Hulk, Alyssa says that Grayson owns ten superhero outfits. Grayson’s Spiderman outfit was originally purchased by a family friend to give him “courage for treatment day,” she added. She claimed that initially, it helped him get over his anxiety of having the infusion needle inserted into his chest. The main drive today, according to Alyssa and C.J., is to amuse other kids who are Mott patients, they both stated. “He tells us, ‘I like to see my chemo friends happy” Alyssa said. “Proud mom moment right there. That’s a 5-year-old boy going through what he’s going through, and he is focusing on making other kids happy.”

Grayson wasn’t the only child who attended kindergarten last week dressed as a hero. His classmates at Schweitzer Elementary School in Westland dressed as characters to welcome him. Stinger, the school’s bee-themed mascot, grasped his hand as they walked through the corridors, and other instructors were wearing “Fight Like Grayson” shirts. As Grayson entered the classroom for the first time this school year, the welcome party followed him to his kindergarten class and formed a tunnel for him to run through.

“Thank you,” his parents said multiple times to Grayson’s teacher, Maureen VanHulle, as well as the other various teachers and administrators who made the day possible. VanHulle, who dressed up as Supergirl for the day, teaches Grayson virtually three times a week. “The kids are so excited to see him,” VanHulle said.

Hamanishi said she and her follow physicians expect an “excellent outcome” for Grayson based on his progress so far. Until then, expect him to wear a superhero costume every Tuesday until he is healthy, Alyssa said. A GoFundMe Page has been set up for him and can be found here: Fundraiser for Grayson Johnson

Quotes and Original Story by Samuel Dodge, MLive.com