‘When they saved my life, they saved Christmas’

David Grady returned to Norton Cancer Institute, dressed as Santa, to share Christmas cheer to people who he feels “helped save his life.” Here’s his story.

Dressed as Santa Claus, David Grady was back at Norton Cancer Institute  to thank employees for their care and the compassion they demonstrated to him when he was a patient — and to encourage others who have received a diagnosis like his.

Referring to the team who treated him, David said, “When they saved my life, they saved Christmas.”

In early 2020 David heard the words no one ever wants to hear: “You have cancer.”

David Grady survives cancer, now visits as Santa Claus

“No one wants cancer, but if you are diagnosed, you want competency and compassion. I found that at Norton Cancer Institute and all of the Norton facilities I encountered along my journey,” David said.

Diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer, David’s treatment plan was radiation and an oral chemotherapy medication. It worked, and the cancer was in remission.  

Fast-forward nearly two years, and the cancer was back.

“I knew it was a possibility for the cancer to return. While it wasn’t what I hoped for, the treatment plan was mapped out,” he said. “This go-round, I would have surgery to remove the cancer.”

After a few days in the hospital post-surgery at Norton Audubon Hospital, David was home and recovering. And it was shortly after surgery that the self-proclaimed “Christmas nut” decided to retire from his career as an executive in senior housing and senior living and pursue the privilege of being one of Santa’s many helpers. He grew out his beard, which just happens to be pure white, picked up a red suit — happens to be his favorite color — and enrolled in “Santa School.”

“For me [like many others] my cancer diagnosis was life-changing,” David said. “After retirement, I decided it was time to work for giving back, and it has been my privilege to come back not only to say thank you to the many who provided care for me but also to share Christmas cheer.”

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David, a father to five adult children and 6 grandchildren, now spends his days as a volunteer Santa visiting schools and other organizations like Norton Healthcare. He specifically wanted to visit Norton Audubon Hospital campus and the Norton Brownsboro campus since those were the locations he received his treatment. ‘

“I wanted to come here because I sat here, in the gown, while physicians and technicians and all these competent people who do this for a living gave me special, individualized attention,” David said. “That inspired me to come back and give them individualized attention and Christmas cheer.”

David hopes to make this one of his annual visits each holiday season because he feels a strong connection to the patients and the staff.

“To come back to this particular facility and see faces that I saw when I was nervous and apprehensive about my cancer diagnosis and how it would affect my life, it was a joyful thing. I feel privileged to come back and to give some love and attention and goodwill toward the patients, but also encouragement toward the staff because they are all on my nice list.”

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