My brother Grant

“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend”—Albert Camus. 

Three years ago, Kids Cancer Care and the threat of cancer were far from my mind. I was 13 and my brother was 15 and in the full swing of basketball, volleyball and usual teenage life. It was in February that year that things took a turn for the worse.

Grant hadn’t been feeling well for some time, but he continued to play basketball and go to school. Mom finally put her foot down and took him to the clinic. The doctor said it was mono and sent Grant for blood work. That evening, Mom got a call that changed our lives forever.

“Abnormalities in Grant’s bloodwork. Get to the hospital right away. It could be Leukemia.” Words that still replay over and over in our minds.
Grant always had a smile and time for others–especially for wee cancer patients like Gracie

On February 12, 2011, Grant was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, cancer of the blood, extremely treatable and a high cure rate. I remember hearing, “If you have to have cancer, this is the one you want.” Treatment would be long — 3 1/2 years — but it was almost all out-patient treatment.

At first, it was hard. Grant was always tired and there were constant visits to the out-patient clinic and a few dreaded admissions to the Alberta Children’s Hospital. But the treatment seemed to be working. He was already in remission after 3 weeks.

I’ll never forget how quickly he seemed to be back to his normal, goofy self. And that gave me hope. Grant was able to go to his grade 9 graduation and we even made it to our yearly family camping trip with no major difficulties.

Grant (centre) went into remission for a few months and was able to make his grade nine graduation

The next two months were wonderful for him. He shot some hoops, went to the lake with friends, enjoyed golfing with Dad, camping with the family, riding his bike and playing volleyball and football with me — being a normal kid for a while.

Shortly after we came back from holidays, Grant was off to Camp Kindle. It was exciting for him to be with kids who could relate to his struggle, but also to be able to have fun with them outside of our family. When Grant came home a week later, he was a flurry of stories and pure enjoyment. He told us every detail of camp with a glimmer of happiness in his eye. He danced, hiked and rode the giant swing. Camp was an island of solitude amid the hurricane that was treatment and he really enjoyed it. A particular point of pride for Grant was that all the other kids assumed he was a sibling, instead of a patient, because he seemed so healthy and vibrant. He loved the experience.

Grant (centre) enjoying one of his last outdoor experiences with his buddies at Camp Kindle

Not too long after Grant got back in August, he started experiencing incredible pain all through his body. We assumed it was from overworking himself at camp, being the athletic boy he was. Unfortunately, we were wrong. After a period of confusion and minor distress, Grant was diagnosed again, this time with acute myeloid leukemia, a blood cancer that has a poor survival rate in young people. After that, things got hard. He started a new, intense protocol, which meant long periods of hospitalization. There was a 2-week stay in the intensive care unit when he developed breathing problems, and seemingly endless bed-rest. That was a scary time, where things only seemed to be getting worse.

Grant gave patients, families and staff on unit one at the hospital a good laugh when he came as Chemo Man on Halloween night

When Grant developed painful skin blisters all over, his doctor ordered a punch biopsy. The biopsy revealed skin leukemia, evidence that the disease was aggressive and fatal. Although there was no treatment protocol for this, we were hopeful for experimental options and a miracle.

One day later, on September 16, 2011, surrounded by family, Grant passed away. His pain was unbearable, even with several pain medications, but he braved it with the strength of character that defined him his entire life. Grant died the way he lived—a leader.


Knowing his time to leave was fast-approaching, Grant said, “Please get everyone here.” Eighteen people were gathered at his bedside when he passed away. There would be no more basketball or skiing or camp for my brother Grant.

For those who weren’t at his bedside, he had another plan. “Please pass me my phone,” he said. I gave him his cell phone and he sent three texts:

To Bret, he wrote: “You’re my best friend.”
To Sydney, a girl he met playing basketball at the age of five: “You are the first and last girl I ever loved.”
To Lauren, he wrote: “You were like a sister to me.”

Cancer is far from unheard of in our world; it’s in movies, creates a plot line on a TV show, and we all know someone who has or had it. But we never expect it to hit so close to home. Cancer isn’t supposed to affect the young, the innocent and vulnerable kids of our world. I think that’s why dealing with all this was so hard and almost surreal. You really have no idea what it’s like until it hits home.

L-R Grant’s mother Melanie, sister Ali, Grant and his father Jim
But amid the loss and grief came an isle of hope in Kids Cancer Care. As a family, we were able to find respite in their constant offers of care and support.

I got the opportunity to go to Teen Camp in November of 2011. I’ll always appreciate having the chance to experience what Grant enjoyed so much even for just a little while. I even got to meet some people who knew Grant and it really helped me to hear how much they cared.

Others also stepped up to show their support. My father’s former employer J and L Supply made a large donation to the Camp Kindle Capital Campaign in Grant’s memory. As a result, the tipi village at Camp Kindle is now named the Grant Skalk Tipi Village. The night we blessed the tipi village and unveiled the plaque in Grant’s name was incredible. So many friends and family came out to participate in the ceremony and celebration. We could feel Grant all around us that night. I will always remember it.

J and L Supply donated to the Camp Kindle Capital Campaign and choice to name the tipi village in honor of Grant Skalk
L-R Jim, Ali and Melanie Skalk, Christine McIver of Kids Cancer Care and Kim and Sean Carey of J and L Supply during the naming ceremony of the Grant Skalk Tipi Village at Camp Kindle

Eventually, the community of Kids Cancer Care led us to Tour for Kids Alberta and other events like the Kinsmen Ride for a Lifetime, my dad’s guilty pleasure, where we get to fundraise and volunteer and help make even a small difference. Being able to contribute to this cause, so close to my heart and many other people’s hearts, means so much to me. I hope to keep making a difference someday by becoming a pediatric oncologist.

Grant’s father Jim Skalk (above) and the whole family continue to give back in Grant’s memory by volunteering and participating in fundraising events such as the Kinsmen Ride for a Lifetime

For those reasons and many more, I am so appreciative of everything the community does to support Kids Cancer Care. I am grateful knowing that so many others care and that they are making a difference.

—Ali Skalk, Grant’s sister

L-R The Skalk family during their last summer vacation with Grant at Surveyor’s Lake in BC

Ali’s dad Jim is featured in our 2017 Father’s Day video:

Kids Cancer Care and Canadian Blood Services have teamed up in the fight against childhood cancer. Over 1,400 children are diagnosed with cancer each year in Canada; many of them needing blood products in order to support their treatments. By donating blood, you are helping each child fight their battle with cancer. It’s in you to give – book your blood donation appointment in honour of Grant today.

Grant’s photo gallery