Three years ago, Grace Wethor (pronounced “weather”) was a student at Our Lady of Grace in Edina. What she has accomplished in the time between then and now is remarkable.
Her YouTube video log (vlog) recapping 2017 sounds like a page from a fanciful movie about a teenage girl living out her wildest dreams. Runway walks in New York, Paris and London. Photo shoots for Vogue, Teen Vogue, Louis Vuitton and Condè Nast. “It” girl for Victoria Secret Pink, Cine Mòi. A billboard in Times Square for H & M.
Repeated appearances at New York fashion week. Awarded “Best Young Talent” at Cannes Film Festival. Television appearances and casting calls. Producing, directing and starring in award winning films. Giving a TED talk. And that is just a partial list of what Grace has been up to.
What is most remarkable about Grace’s story is not her accomplishments, but the fact that she has faced a hurdle that would stop most teens in their tracks.
In 2015, when she was in seventh grade, Grace was sitting in a hospital room where she received a devastating diagnosis. She was told she had a brain stem glioma and her prognosis was uncertain. Her mother Angela Wethor says, “most kids have a life expectancy of five to eight months; some a year.” Grace’s brain tumor is inoperable since the brain stem controls bodily functions, and it is not treatable by chemotherapy or radiation because it lies within the blood-brain barrier.
The diagnosis was jarring, but for Grace, it was also when she decided she wanted to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress and model.
Grace has always been busy and creative. From an early age, she performed as an aerial artist at Circus Juventus in the Twin Cities, skated with a championship synchronized ice skating team, took voice lessons and made her acting debut as Junie B. Jones at the Children’s Theatre Company.
By the time she was 12, she had a local agent and recognized she was “a little different than other kids,” she says. For instance, she was making films instead of writing book reports or was “writing [her own] books in a corner,” she says.
Grace has an innate drive Danielle Nelson, former nanny and family friend, says made her “always a stand out. Her commitment to any activity was so high. She never let anything stop her from what she wanted to do and to be her best.”
But, around 11 or 12, she began to not “feel like herself,” she says. Her mother took her to several doctors. They couldn’t find anything, suggesting she was a typical teenager, probably overly worried about nothing.
Angela and Grace knew something was off. “She didn’t want to do the things she loved anymore,” her mother says. She watched her daughter become less of the person she knew.
At one point, Angela thought her daughter had mononucleosis, so she took her to urgent care and tests showed her vitamin B12 numbers were off. Alarm bells rang in the doctors’ minds. At first, they tested her for leukemia. When that was negative, they searched for answers.
A nurse finally asked Grace to describe every ache and pain she felt and the 13-year-old told her she had a slight headache.
After her diagnosis, Grace decided to face her dreams head on. She recognized she could give up all the things she had been doing or she could kick things up to high gear. With the support of her mom, she knew what her choice would be.
She began pursuing opportunities beyond Minn. and to split her time between Edina and L.A. Modeling, acting and opportunities to write and produce her own films have followed. “It’s funny,” she says, “I really think it’s cool all those things I pursued when I was younger have indirectly helped me with what I am doing now. Taking all those singing lessons, figure skating, the circus, dancing at Victoria Dance Productions” all gave her the tools to launch her career.
However, the reality of her brain stem glioma hasn’t gone away. Grace hasn’t had to deal with the effects of treatment, like hair loss or recovering from surgery, but she gets regular MRIs and continued monitoring. Instead of feeling sorry for herself though, she has taken opportunities to shed light on brain tumors and raise awareness saying, “I might as well use what I have and create a platform for good.”
In the summer of 2017, Grace wrote and directed a film based on her experiences at a camp for others who have brain tumors. She also wrote a book about being a brain cancer survivor called You’re So Lucky, which released in April of this year, and she recently finished up a Barnes & Noble book tour for the book.
You’re So Lucky tells the stories of other brain tumor survivors in their own words as well as recounting Grace’s own journey. The book was born out of another set-back. Grace says, “I had a disappointing meeting one afternoon in L.A., went home and started writing a book. Three months later, I hit ‘submit’ to the publishing company.”
Her message, she says, is “I don’t want people to take hurdles as a step backwards … I didn’t want my story to be a girl diagnosed with a brain tumor at 13 and that was her life. I want to be Grace Wethor, the actor, the model and the creative person who got to choose what I wanted to be.”
Early last summer, Grace signed with one of the top agencies in L.A., and doors keep opening. For Angela, it has all been one wonder after another. “If you had asked me a year ago, I wouldn’t have said I knew what might happen. It hasn’t all been easy, but I tell Grace to keep dreaming,” Angela says.
Her future plans? Grace will continue seeking and finding opportunities. She also recently started a nonprofit called We Can Beats This which investigates how music therapy affects patients with brain tumors, illness and injuries. “I learned that sound is one of the only substances that can go through blood-brain barrier,” she says of a conference she attended with doctors at UCLA.
Also, by participating in music festivals, learning how to be a DJ, more modeling, fashion design, acting and advocating—Grace’s 2018 has shaped up nicely.
“She is capable of doing whatever she wants. She will do everything full force,” says Nelson proudly.
Keep an eye on this inspiring, rising star. There’s no telling where she will go next. Godspeed, Grace. Best wishes for future success.
Connect with Grace on Instagram @gracewethor.