PROFILE: Graunke Continues to Celebrate Life
Oct. 20, 2011
EDWARDSVILLE, ILL. - Every time there's an event promoting breast cancer awareness, SIUE volleyball player Brianne Graunke thinks it's cool.
For Brianne, the events are a celebration of the people who have passed on or who are still battling cancer. For Brianne, it's a remembrance of her mom, Janet, who passed away a little more than a year ago after a five-year struggle with breast cancer.
Brianne was able to witness firsthand the daily battles. She has gained strength and kept a positive attitude throughout. Now, a year later, Graunke said she was channeling her energy into earning a degree in biochemistry.
"I've learned to turn emotional energy into positive emotional energy," said Graunke.
As a student-athlete, Graunke knows she had to persevere, to work harder, and to focus more.
"It seemed that cancer and volleyball were tied together in some way. It might seem like a negative thing to some people but to me it was a big motivator," she said.
Her source of motivation was her 54-year-old mother, a woman who raised five children. Brianne found inspiration by wondering what her mother would think about the stages of her life.
Graunke's first link with volleyball and cancer came in her freshman year of high school. Her mother made an announcement to other members of her family but didn't tell the youngest until last.
"She saved me for last because I had just made the volleyball team on the same day," Graunke said. She would learn about her mother's cancer and later learned that it spread to the bone marrow.
Janet Graunke followed her daughter's games throughout high school. For a few years during Brianne's run as a prep standout, Janet, when her health was stable, was a faithful fan of York Community High School. On those days when she couldn't make it, the Graunkes pulled out the video camera and recorded all the action.
"I was used to it (her not being there), but we would tape the games and bring them to her at home. We would let her watch the game so she could always follow," Brianne said.
Between bouts of sickness and chemotherapy, her mother sometimes was able to attend some matches.
"She did make it to one game after a couple of weeks when was getting better. All of my teammates' parents were amazed by her. She was just happy-go-lucky and would never show that she was in pain," Graunke said.
Her mother was strong, something the young Graunke witnessed by spending time with her. Much of it spent at doctor's appointments.
"Those were the best times and most memorable. I got to see the transformation from not having cancer to having cancer. I think that had the greatest effect on me - just having that strength," Brianne said.
"I learned to put my family first no matter what happens. I learned to balance both because I didn't want to lose those friendships," she added.
During her freshman season at SIUE, Graunke and her teammates battled through a rough season. The Cougars were 1-27 heading into the final match of the season at Eastern Illinois. She asked to be in the starting lineup knowing her mother would be making the trip. She led the team in blocks and helped the Cougars close out the season with a four-set victory.
"That was the last volleyball game she ever saw," Graunke said. "That's one of the highlights of my life because I played well, and she was there to see it."
After spending the summer before her sophomore season at home, Brianne said she contemplated not returning but received the usual motherly advice that you have to do what you need to do. Brianne traveled back and forth six times during the preseason with a four hour drive each way.
When the season began, Graunke was in the starting lineup and established herself. Then she got the news from her father that she needed to come home. Her friends and teammates rallied behind her. Teammates Kelsey Mosher and Brooke Smith stepped up.
"They drove me home. They didn't want me to drive because they found out my dad (Wade) told me I needed to come home," she said. "I wasn't even going to ask because I'm too much like my mother."
Brianne's mother passed away one day before the Indiana State Tournament. When she returned to campus nearly a week later, she appeared in one set against Illinois State and did well.
"I just remember walking around campus after the game. I lost a little bit of motivation. I couldn't focus but my team knew. I felt like my heart got ripped out," she said.
That day still troubles her, but she said she is thankful for tributes to her mother that have taken place. York Community held a breast cancer awareness night and honored her mother.
The Graunke family also lost another family member this past summer. Brianne lost her grandmother, Maxie, to leukemia.
"My family has been through a lot, but they are great supporters and are proud of me and continue to encourage me to succeed," she said.
Now in her junior year, Graunke has more than a year and a half left before ending her volleyball career and pursuing a new career. She said she is thankful for her opportunities in life and strives to live life to the fullest.
"I want to get my bachelor's degree in biochemistry and then apply to accelerated nursing. I want to become a nurse practitioner. I want to work with people and help people," she said. -siue cougars-