Scholar Spotlight: Devlin Gray

This story first appeared in the Winter 2012 WGA Evans Scholars Magazine. View the original story. 

Before his first birthday, Marquette Evans Scholar Devlin Gray began a journey that not only changed his life, but the lives of those around him.

At 11 months old, Devlin was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive cancer in his blood cells that left his immune system particularly susceptible to infection. The first few years of his life were spent in and out of the hospital as he underwent two bone marrow transplants, chemotherapy and radiation.

In remission since, he has never let his rough start slow him down, going on to become a top caddie and student and earning an Evans Scholarship to Marquette University. With an unwavering spirit and positive attitude, he’s also become an ambassador in the fight against childhood cancer.

Devlin’s life motto can be found in his email signature: “I don’t view the glass as half-empty or half-full, but live with it overflowing.”

His strength stems in part from the daunting battle that landed him in and out of the hospital as a child. After he was diagnosed with cancer, Devlin underwent aggressive chemotherapy, with his brother Casey, who was three months old at the time, becoming a bone marrow donor.

Following a successful transplant and recovery, the family received the good news that Devlin was cancer-free. But at age 4, he relapsed. This time, he had a leukemic brain tumor, which sent him back to the hospital for more chemotherapy, another bone marrow transplant and this time, radiation, a process Devlin recalls as agonizing.

“The radiation brought me to a very weak state just to restart my inner organs,” he said. “I distinctly remember the feeling of a third-degree burn on the inside of my body.”

He was in the hospital for three months, getting sicker before getting better. The ordeal was just as difficult on his family. “I’m the guy who was supposed to be watching out for him, but I was so overly helpless,” his father, Devlin, Sr., said. “It’s the worst feeling in the world.”

During this time, the Gray family relied on support: neighbors who brought over dinners, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which sent the family to Disney World, and an uncle who dressed as a Power Ranger to surprise Devlin in the hospital. With the help of loved ones, Devlin never quit fighting. Eventually, he began to make progress, though the internal fight took a permanent toll physically, nearly depleting his muscles.

He has been in remission since, though lingering side effects include type 2 diabetes and a weaker heart, in addition to an inability to gain weight or grow hair. “Before I looked like your typical average kid,” he said. “Afterward, I looked more skeletal because the radiation took out a lot of muscle and extra fat.”

As Devlin recovered more fully over the years, he didn’t miss out on normal childhood activities, participating in a baseball league and learning to caddie. And despite advice from doctors to be extra cautious, he shied away from special treatment. “He said, ‘I’m playing,’ and that’s what he did,” said his father. “He never wanted to be treated differently.”

Eventually, he followed his sister, Caroline, to her summer job as a caddie at Midlothian Country Club in Illinois. He couldn’t wait to put on a caddie bib and get on the course. “Caddying made me feel stronger; it’s a workout,” Devlin said.

But he had to learn to pace himself to keep up. One hot day after going nine holes, Devlin knew he wouldn’t make it the whole round, and he told his member. “I didn’t want to slow him down. He thanked me and threw his bag on a cart,” he recalls. The very next week, he caddied for him again. “I know I can’t do as much as others sometimes, but I don’t let that affect me,” he said.

His determined attitude extends to helping others. Since joining the Marquette Scholarship House, Devlin, now a senior, has rallied Scholars to raise money — more than $20,000 — for St. Baldrick’s Foundation to benefit kids with cancer. Each March, he dons a leprechaun outfit, which he wears to class for a month to inspire conversation and raise awareness. “I like to be an inspiration through sense of humor,” Devlin said. “It makes people think, ‘Who’s that goofy kid dressing as a leprechaun?’”

Other philanthropic plans are in the works, such as a campus-wide softball tournament called “Soft-bald.” And his outreach isn’t limited to fundraising. Those close to him say he has an innate ability to influence others in an optimistic and encouraging way.

“Devlin is an inspiration to me and all the people he meets,” says his roommate, Evans Scholar Liam Sawyer. “The fact that he retains such a positive attitude about life after going through what he did is nothing short of amazing. His attitude is contagious.”

His father agrees. “He’s my hero,” he said. “He’s been an inspiration to myself, my family and everyone who knows us.”