Who Are We Wednesdays - Lauryn Graves

ALLENTOWN --- Every year, on the third Sunday in June, we salute the men who help raise us. We give our dads different gifts like new golf shirts or schedule tee times for them. Some might get much needed tools. Others simply want the day to relax with family and friends. Lauryn Graves was not able to be with her dad, Thomas Grogg, on Father's Day this year but the one thing she wants him to know is "he's definitely my world."

Graves, who currently lives near Allentown, grew up in Limeport, Lehigh County as a self-proclaimed "daddy's girl."

"I was pretty much glued to his hip from a young age and we're very close," Lauryn explained. "Anywhere he went I went."

Lauryn says Thomas (Tom) took her and her older sister, Kelly all over the place.

"Growing up, we were always on a canoe with a fishing pole in hand. We always went on adventures and I've always been his little helper," Graves laughingly said.

Lauryn can also remember Tom and her mom, Michele taking her and her sister on dive boats at a nearby quarry where the parents would scuba dive with a group of friends that were like family growing up. The family would also spend its summers in the Outer Banks where they would hang glide off the dunes.

"We were always creating memories which was really important to him (Tom)," said Graves.

A lot of the memories Lauryn has with her dad are of him telling jokes, mostly inappropriate ones she admits but all in good fun.

"We (Lauryn and her sister) would have to disappear sometimes, not all jokes were for our ears, but he's known for being this master joke teller," Lauryn excitedly said.

Graves has worked at Air Products in Allentown for more than 20 years. For the last seven years, she has served as a Community and Government Relations Specialist. Lauryn attributes her success to having similar characteristics to her dad.

"He always has a smile on his face. He is a generous person. He would give his last dollar to someone else. He would always go without to make sure others had more and I think I get a lot of that from him," she said.

Lauryn says humor has always played a big role in her relationship with her father.

"Even through turmoil, we find something to make fun of and laugh at so that we cannot get sucked into the gloom of things," explained Graves.

Lauryn says Grogg is not a big complainer and that is why she feels people gravitate towards him. As for Grogg, when he lived in the Lehigh Valley, he worked as a master plumber for Weinstein Supply in Allentown before starting his own business, Grogg's Plumbing. in 1996, the Grogg's relocated to Florida where Tom worked for CES Plumbing and spent many days working on rides at Walt Disney World and SeaWorld. Today, he is retired.

"If you asked him how he's doing, he always says he's a 'happy camper' and always light-hearted," said Graves.

While Tom acts light-hearted, he has had to deal with a lot of medical concerns for years. In fact, Lauryn says it is her dad's heart issues that forced him into retirement.

"He had his first heart attack at 39 (while living in Allentown). I remember I got home from school one day and my mom called and told me the news. The doctors were gravely concerned after his massive heart attack," Lauryn explained.

Grogg has had other heart attacks since the initial one and had to get quadruple bypass surgery five years ago.

"He's never been the healthiest of healthy but he's always pushed through everything," she said with a smile on her face. "We call him the cat with nine lives."

Today, Grogg is living with congestive heart failure and his heart only functions at 35 percent. Despite the setback, Lauryn says her father remains heavily active.

"He doesn’t listen to doctors orders of rest and to take it easy. A week after surgery, he was back to his normal routine," said Graves. "We have to yell at him to try to lay down. He just will not sit and he always tells us if he sits, he's dead," Lauryn laughed.

Even though Grogg would not let the heart issues slow him down, another issue has forced his life to take another drastic turn. Two years ago, Graves says her dad found an ulcer in his mouth and it would not go away. The non-complainer that he is, Tom would not go to the doctor despite the ulcer hanging around for a month.

"We had to push him to get it checked out. He went to an ear, nose and throat doctor who told him to get a biopsy of it," Lauryn said. "At the time, he wasn't real concerned about it but when it came back cancerous, it was shocking and things moved very quickly from that point on."

Grogg was diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma, the most common form of oral cancer. Graves says to find out the man she looks up to had cancer was devastating.

"We didn't really want to make it appear that we were that concerned. Immediately, we went in the mode of being supportive and making sure he was upbeat and positive. We didn't realize at the time, he was going to have his tongue removed and so that was difficult," she said.

Four weeks after receiving the diagnosis, Grogg had to have the operation. They cut 3/4 of his tongue but rebuilt it with surrounding tissue. Doctors also took out the lymph nodes in his neck and jaw. However, after being placed in the intensive care unit for a week, that is when the new tissue turned black due to a blood clot. Grogg needed a follow up procedure to remove the replacement tongue.

A year later, a scan revealed his cancer had returned on his jawbone and had metastasized to his lungs. Grogg had to have immediate surgery in which he had to have his jawbone shaved and doctors performed a biopsy on nodules in his lungs.

Tom subsequently underwent radiation treatment for several months which doctors concluded the cancer had stopped growing. Yet it only took six more months for the cancer to spread to his collarbone area and more in his lungs. Grogg was put on chemotherapy for five months before his doctors wanted him to start undergoing two years of immunotherapy. However, a recent scan showed the cancer had grown even more and now her father is on the most aggressive chemotherapy plan which she says will buy him time.

"There is no end date for the chemo now," Lauryn said. She pointed out all the different treatments have taken a physical toll on her dad. He has lost 50 pounds and his mouth and throat are covered in sores. Grogg cannot even eat or drink without using different mouthwashes and gels first to numb his mouth.

"To be so far away feels even harder, just because we can't be there 24 hours a day."

Graves says her job is very gracious with allowing her to travel often to see him and she knows those visits are invaluable.

"They're always great. We’ve been able to sit with him during treatment and we do everything possible to keep him laughing and keep a normal lifestyle," she said.

When Lauryn is not working and not visiting her dad, she is volunteering with several cancer organizations. She serves on the board of directors of the Cancer Support Community of the Greater Lehigh Valley, was a campaign manager for the American Cancer Society's 'Real Men Wear Pink' event and has volunteered with Every Ribbon Counts Foundation since its inception. Graves says her motivation is simple.

"(Between my great aunt, friend’s children having cancer and my dad) My list was growing of people who I knew that were affected and the stories just made me feel very passionate doing what I could to help," Lauryn said.

Graves says she will have an "even bigger stake" in ERC when she becomes a Knockout Challenge contender this fall. She does not know what ribbon she will represent but knows there are plenty of causes worth fighting for.

"I hope all the efforts that myself and others who are so passionate about it just continues the push for more research and that truly one day our children will know that word (cancer) as a word of the past," she explained.

For now, she is happy with the work she is doing but more impressed with the will her father is showing.

"He's definitely giving this 1000 percent. His initial feeling was that he didn't want to go through all these treatments but he is doing it for his daughters and wife. It makes me admire him even more," said Graves. "I’m sure many people would say their parents are their heroes. When I look at him, he’s more than that. I am beyond blessed he is my father."

Lauryn says her wish is for her dad to live at least another 10-15 years. That way they will have plenty of more laughs together and more chances to spend Father's Day together.

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