Antioch standout Regnier staying positive as her Hodgkin's Lymphoma battle begins
The itching was becoming insufferable.
For seemingly no reason at all, Grace Regnier was itching all the time last summer. It was like her skin was on fire.
"It was the worst when I got warm, like when I played volleyball," Regnier said. "If I was hot, the itching got so bad. My skin itched everywhere. I didn't know what was going on."
Regnier also had some small lumps on her neck. They didn't hurt, but they were definitely there.
So Regnier, a star volleyball player who recently graduated from Antioch and is planning to play in college at Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the fall, went to her doctor.
That set into motion a long, emotional journey that is really just beginning.
Regnier, a 5-foot-11 middle blocker, got checked for a rash, and for allergies. She got checked for COVID, for strep throat.
"It wasn't any of that," Regnier said. "So I got sent to a dermatologist and I got some medicine and some shots. That didn't do much."
Regnier continued on through life last fall and winter, mostly like normal. Sometimes the itching was OK, sometimes it was irritating.
"The doctor thought it would all just go away eventually. And since I felt fine and the itching wasn't too bad most of the time, I just kind of went on with my life," Regnier said. "I was playing volleyball, and doing everything I normally do."
Then, in April, it was time for Regnier to deal with her wisdom teeth. And in getting the proper paperwork for that procedure, a physician assistant noticed the lumps on Regnier's neck.
"She was concerned, she ordered an ultrasound and an autoimmune panel and drew blood," said Regnier, who was then sent to an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor for a follow-up.
"I got a neck CT, a chest x-ray, a CT of my chest. I ended up having enlarged lymph nodes all over my chest."
Doctors told Regnier and her parents that it might be Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
A week later, in mid-May, that diagnosis was confirmed. Regnier, who recently turned 18, does in fact have Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a type of blood malignancy.
Two common symptoms of Hodgkin's Lymphoma are itchy skin, and enlarged lymph nodes on the neck.
"It was probably easier to process because I had a little bit of time to think about it when they were doing all the tests and they told us what they thought it could be," Regnier said. "But it was still really hard to actually hear that was the diagnosis.
"At first, I was in tears. I was mad. But I realized pretty fast that having a negative mindset wasn't going to work, it wouldn't help me in the long run.
"I had to pick myself up and understand that this is my new reality. But just for a while. It won't last and I will be back to playing volleyball and working out every day like I always have."
The journey begins
Regnier, who will begin a four-month chemotherapy program within the next two weeks, will be sidelined from her club volleyball team this entire summer. But she won't be far from her teammates' thoughts.
In fact, Balance Volleyball, a club team based in Cary, created a fundraiser for Regnier. Avery Crabill from the 17-and-under team came up with the idea to make a T-shirt in honor of Grace in which the proceeds would be donated to the Regnier family.
Regnier's coach at Antioch High School, Greg Bruns, owns a company that was able to make the shirts at cost.
The T-shirt is on sale for $20 at the Balance website: balancevolleyball.com.
"The T-shirts have taken off even more than we expected," said Balance coach Patty Langanis, who is also the head volleyball coach at Cary-Grove High School. "But that's because Grace is such a wonderful person and comes from such a great family. Everyone is wanting to rally around Grace. There is so much love for her and her family.
"When someone close to you gets diagnosed with cancer, sometimes people don't know what to say, but Grace has such an ease about her and is so positive and uses humor to diffuse the situation and she makes it so much easier for everyone around her. She came to a few practices after her diagnosis to talk to the team, to tell them she was doing just fine. She makes you feel like everything is going to be OK. She's an inspiration."
Langanis says that Regnier has handled herself with, well, "grace."
"I say that all the time," Langanis said of the play on words. "I push that idea with our players, too, like 'Hey, let's play with Grace a little bit today.' "
Regnier already misses playing.
She loves the teamwork and the energy that is such a big part of volleyball.
She loves making a big block, and especially a big kill.
But she is prepared to do what she needs to do to get healthy.
She knows that she will probably lose the long hair that she has had her entire life. She knows that there will be days in which she won't even want to get out of bed.
But she has found strength in her family, and her teammates and her coaches. And she likes the thought of helping others.
"The fundraiser is so nice, so sweet," Regnier said. "To know that my club has supported me and stood behind me is so nice.
"I've had my teammates and other people ask me if I'm OK talking about all of this and I always say yes, because I'm hoping that my story can help other people to always be aware of things going on with your body.
"If you feel like something is wrong, pay attention to that. You don't want to find out something is wrong when it's too late or too serious."
Regnier's condition is at Stage 2, which is still considered early and very treatable.
"I'm really grateful for that," Regnier said. "This whole thing will not define me. It won't be attached to me forever. This is just a bump in the road and I will eventually be a person who has been through a very hard time and has grown from it and moved on."