BETHANY — Bone cancer took Jefferson Pearce Grasmick’s life on May 12.
But Grasmick didn’t lose to cancer.
“He never let it break him,” younger brother Christian Grasmick said.
In his 25 years, J.P. Grasmick was a lot of things. An All-State quarterback at Bethany High School. An Army sergeant. A natural leader. “Quitter” never made the list.
“He was one of those kids who kind of liked to talk the talk, but always ended up walking the walk,” Bethany football coach Reagan Roof said. “He showed it by his work ethic and how hard he played, and how passionate he was about whatever he was doing.”
Even at the grueling and painful end of a cancer fight that lasted nearly three years, J.P. never let cancer have power over him.
J.P. underwent the amputation of his right arm, approximately 20 surgeries, and more chemotherapy and radiation treatments than his family could count.
On the day before he died, Grasmick pulled himself out of bed and walked to the couch in the living room of his family’s home. He was texting his buddies and watching an Oklahoma City Thunder playoff game.
“He became a lefty,” said his mother, Mindy Grasmick. “But he learned to tie his shoes again, learned to do everything he possibly could.”
In between chemotherapy treatments, when he could muster enough strength, J.P. would go to the gym to lift weights.
“He’d go work out with me, and he’d do everything I was doing,” Christian said.
J.P.’s competitive nature was evident to his family very early on, but it became more widely visible during his time as Bethany’s starting quarterback from 2004-07. He earned the starting job midway through his freshman year and never let go of it, being selected to the All-State team as a senior.
“His enthusiasm and passion was contagious,” Roof said. “He was the type of kid you wanted on your team. You’d follow him anywhere.”
After high school, J.P. spent a semester at Southwestern Oklahoma State in Weatherford. He and Christian had talked about going into the military together when Christian finished high school in 2010.
“But he couldn’t wait for me,” Christian said. “After one semester, he decided he was ready to go.”
J.P. attended basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., the same place Christian later passed through.
J.P. was stationed in Fort Lewis, Wash., as part of a long-range surveillance unit. But he wanted to go to Afghanistan. His primary goal was to serve on a special forces unit as an Army Ranger. He came up short in his first attempt, and was preparing himself to take another shot.
But before he got that opportunity, J.P. came home on leave in June 2011. He was lifting weights with a friend when his right arm broke.
It was immediately diagnosed as a pathological break caused by a disease that weakened the bone.
“They looked at it and sent us to a specialist,” Mindy said. “We were hoping it wasn’t cancer, but it turned out to be osteosarcoma.”
Christian was the last of J.P.’s immediate family to find out about the cancer. At the time of the diagnosis, Christian was serving with an Army infantry unit in Afghanistan. He came home on leave a month after the diagnosis and learned the news.
Always close, the two brothers’ bond became even stronger in that brief time while Christian was at home.
But soon, both had to go back to their battles. In fact, they did so on the same day, Aug. 10, 2011. J.P. went to his first session of chemotherapy and Christian headed to the airport to report back to his unit in Afghanistan — the epitome of a mother’s worst nightmare.
“But you know what? God has been incredibly good to us,” Mindy said. “Getting to know him as an adult, having the opportunity to say anything you wanted to say, needed to say — it was a blessing. It really was.”
J.P. got to enjoy a few special moments at the end. Cancer became the vehicle for his Christian testimony, and he got to share it with many people close to him.
He got one last Mother’s Day with Mindy, the day before he died. Just a few weeks earlier, he became an uncle when his sister, Emily, gave birth to a baby girl, Macy.
J.P. wasn’t able to visit Emily and Macy at the hospital, but on the day they came home, he found plenty of strength.
“He didn’t even wait for them to get in the house,” his father, Howard Grasmick, said. “He went right out the door and met them coming in.
“He loved kids.”
To the very end, the Army treated J.P. no different than if he had been wounded in battle.
“They told us, ‘You’re taking care of our soldier. We owe you,’” Howard said. “Their generosity and compassion was first class all the way.”
The Army was working to have J.P. fitted with a robotic arm. The family even toured the Army’s prosthetics facility in San Antonio, and was making plans to transfer J.P. there. But before that could happen, a routine check-up revealed the cancer had returned, and more surgery was necessary.
As seemed to be the case throughout J.P.’s 35-month battle with cancer, promising plans were derailed by yet another obstacle.
“It seemed like every time we saw a light at the end of the tunnel, it turned out to be an oncoming train,” Mindy said. “There were a lot of setbacks. But he just hung in there, emotionally and physically.
“He always kept fighting.”