Model of resiliency

Grace Prosapio uses mother’s memory as an inspiration for her future.

Grace Prosapio’s Illinois family at Christmas. To the right is her sister, Emily, father, Mark, brother, Andrew, mother, Laurie and Grace. (Photo courtesy of Grace Prosapio)
Grace Prosapio’s Illinois family at Christmas. To the right is her sister, Emily, father, Mark, brother, Andrew, mother, Laurie and Grace. (Photo courtesy of Grace Prosapio)
The Roach family and Grace, in the rear. Jeff, Carissa and Aedan. (Photo courtesy of Grace Prosapio)

Although Stillwater Area High School senior Grace Prosapio will graduate Saturday a couple credits short of an Associates degree from Century College, her heart will be a little heavy when she looks into the audience at Roy Wilkins Auditorium and sees an empty seat.

A model of resiliency, Prosapio was 15 when she moved in with family members in Stillwater, leaving Illinois, her father, Mark, and siblings Andrew and Emily, shortly after her mother, Laurie, lost her battle with breast cancer.

“My mom got ill when I was 12 and she was battling breast cancer at 43. Her first diagnosis was caught early but upon further biopsies we found out it was way more vicious than what we had thought,” Prosapio said. “We went through chemo and radiation and it worked the first time. We had our fingers crossed, she was free of it for two years, but when it came back it actually came back in her lymph nodes, which they can’t do much for.”

The diagnosis left Prosapio’s mother facing the decision to do clinical trials that could give her a few more months with horrible side effects or choose to manage her pain before she passed away.

“She decided to live out the rest of her time with us,” Prosapio said. “We had more of a quantity versus quality kind of life, which I appreciated. No one wants to know that you only have two months to live but for my mom, she had struggled with the fight for so long that as kids she didn’t want us to think she didn’t fight hard enough.”

Prosapio dropped out of school in ninth grade to care for her mother and make sure she spent as much time with her as she could. Prosapio said that with her father’s absence, she became her mother’s caretaker; getting groceries, cooking, cleaning and staying with her mom through her treatment and hospice care.

“There were some people that weren’t really happy about that decision, but I felt I needed to take care of my mom since she’d always taken care of me.” Prosapio said.

Prosapio says her mother was her very best friend.

“I know some people think that’s the wrong way to go about it, but she just got me, you know? We had a very open relationship, and like me she was very blunt.” Prosapio said. “When she first got diagnosed she said, ‘I’m gonna kick this right out of me.’ She was very head-on and she was so funny.”

Prosapio remembers a day near the end of her mother’s life when she took her mom outside, bundled up in layers of clothes, for a cigarette break.

“I just looked at her and said, ‘You know, I really love you’ and she sang back at me ‘And I will always love you’ through the cigarette hanging out of her teeth. Moments like that are irreplaceable to me.”

After a laugh and pause, Prosapio added, “I look back on her and I’m so proud of her fight. I wrote her notes that she kept with her when she was in treatment and she’s amazing. What a person to go through so much pain and still worry about others.”

After her mother died, Prosapio and her father did not get along, so her cousin, Jeff Roach, and his wife, Carissa, invited Prosapio to live with them. She moved to Stillwater just two weeks after her mother passed away.

“At first when I moved here, I hated it, I hated everyone and I was so angry. I didn’t want people to say ‘She’s with God now’ or ‘She’s in a better place’ or ‘You’re grieving.’ I didn’t want to be that person who was grieving. But you can’t stop that and it’s so integral to the healing process. The human psyche is so resilient and I think I’m a model for that. I’ve been through a lot and I can relate to a lot and I take that attitude that whatever comes for me I’m going to beat it. I get that from my mom.” Prosapio said.

She added however, that moving to Stillwater was the best decision she ever made. Although her family wasn’t happy that she moved here, she said she found herself and realized she could stand on her own and do whatever she set her mind to.

When asked if she’s found it hard to go through the past year of milestones, Prosapio quickly agreed.

“I know a lot of people say that she’s with us, but I don’t feel her like some people say they do. I can’t touch her or see her crying and being proud of me, but I have great support systems and I’m amazed at what Jeff and Carissa have been able to do for me despite the harsh circumstances. To go through what I’ve been through, I know she would want me to be happy and I know she’s proud of me but there’s always that piece missing.”

Prosapio said she’s found lots of love and support from her cousin and friends she has made through work and school at Century College over the last few years. Their love and support will propel Prosapio towards her next chapter that begins at University of Illinois at Chicago. She’ll pursue nursing and wants to work in hospice care to honor her mother’s fight.

“I’d love to honor my mother and do nursing. When and where I don’t know, but medicine is my future. I want to take care of people. What other way can you do something so crucial for someone? I thought about going into psychology but it just doesn’t cut to the core. I want to help families in the same situation that we were. I want to capture and realize the ability to help people as much as I can.” Prosapio said.

Contact Avery Cropp at [email protected]