Text and Photographs by Evan Thornton
CNS Special Report
COLLEGE PARK – When Grady Chaltain returned to the University of Maryland last month after a two-semester absence, he had to find an extremely clean place to live.
Most college apartments are notoriously filthy. But chemotherapy left Chaltain, who is recovering from a form of brain cancer, with an weakened immune system.
The 22-year-old New Hampshire native missed nearly a year of college after being diagnosed in 2011 with medulloblastoma, a disease which has 500 diagnoses a year in the United States, according to the MD Anderson Cancer Center.
“All I wanted to do all winter long was to be in class. I would have given anything to be in class,” said Chaltain. “Being in between hospitals and home became so boring.”
Chaltain’s life has been radically altered after his treatment for cancer. Since brain surgery, he has had to relearn basic motor skills like walking and talking.
When he returned to College Park, he moved into the new University View apartments. Other university housing options are very old, and might put Grady’s rebuilding immune system at risk because of potential mold or bacteria.
Chaltain moved back on April 20. But that same weekend, Chaltain hit a body temperature of 103 degrees and had to be hospitalized at Washington National Hospital for four days.
According to the American Cancer Society, medulloblastoma has a 60 percent five-year survival rate.
Chaltain has not let his fragile condition prevent him from his former college experience. Just two days after his return from the hospital, Chaltain had attended both his fraternity’s annual graduate dinner and outdoor philanthropy event.
“I can’t see him backing down from anything. He just takes everything head on and accepts the challenge. He has already talked to me about getting big in the gym,” said Evan Ritz, Chaltain’s former roommate.
Chaltain can’t move around as much as he would like and tires quickly, but he is quick to crack a joke about his condition.
At Carolina Kitchen, a restaurant where Chaltain formerly bartended, he laughed at a fraternity brother who wouldn’t finish his drink.
“Come on, finish the drink!,” Chaltain said as he finished his glass of whiskey. “I even had cancer.”
Chaltain is only allowed to drink in moderation because of his condition.
“He has this way of getting hit so hard, and coming out on top, and coming out as the strongest person”, said Liz Benz, Chaltain’s girlfriend.
Though the experience has been difficult, Chaltain said he was grateful for the unique outlook on life the disease has given him.
“Cancer has given me a wonderful perspective on life and I would never want to go through it again, but I am thankful I did because it’s going to keep me grounded,” he said.