Teen Amputee and Cancer Survivor Finds Strength in Special 'Lokai' Bracelets: 'My Superpower Is to Be Happy!'
"She is thriving and so passionate about life right now," Vicki Bunke says of her daughter
Grace Bunke has faced a lot of challenges. The 13-year-old was diagnosed with life-threatening bone cancer, went through treatment for dozens of tumors in her lungs as a result of metastatic disease and even underwent a rotationplasty surgery to amputate her leg and had it reattached – backwards.
But the spunky seventh grader doesn’t let anything slow her down. After school, she spends her time swimming laps, training for long-distance races and playing water sports with her friends.
Grace, who dreams of competing in the Paralympics one day, says her ability to remain positive during tough times is all thanks to a single piece of jewelry she wears every day – her Lokai bracelet.
The bracelets, popular among celebrities like the Kardashians and Justin Bieber, have black beads containing mud from the Dead Sea (the lowest point on Earth) and white beads with water from Mount Everest (the highest point on Earth) to represent life’s balance of happy and sad moments.
“My life is so full of highs and lows. Whenever I face the lowest of lows, like having my leg amputated and losing my hair, I’m reminded that a high isn’t far away,” Grace tells PEOPLE. “My high was learning how to walk and run again after losing my leg.”
In August of 2014, doctors in Grace’s hometown of Marietta, Georgia, confirmed she had a 17-centimeter long tumor in her femur. At the age of 11, she was given two options – leg amputation with the possibility of reattachment surgery and the ability to walk again or foregoing the operation and facing the real possibility of losing her active lifestyle.
Grace chose the surgery.
“It was a no brainer, she is outdoorsy and the thought of not being athletic was not an option for her,” Vicki Bunke, Grace’s mother, tells PEOPLE.
Vicki says the bracelets helped her daughter find and channel strength after losing her leg.
“We were at a local boutique when Grace got her first one,” explains Vicki, 46. “She thought the mountain water was like a super power to stay strong – like Superman’s cape.”
“She said to me, ‘My superpower is to be happy!'”
“She has so much courage, I’m inspired every day,” says Vicki. “The concept of highs and lows is simple, but powerful.”
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She adds, “Grace hands Lokai bracelets out to other kids when we go to the hospital and they just love it because everyone connects to them.”
Since her first diagnosis, Grace has braved multiple surgeries, 18 rounds of chemo and endless physical therapy to accommodate her new prosthetic leg.
“The Mount Everest bead on my bracelet represented my uphill battle as I learned to walk on it,” explains Grace. “And my success in walking was like reaching the top of the mountain!”
Steven Izen, founder and CEO of Lokai, says he is “completely in awe” of the middle schooler.
“Knowing my product gave her the strength to get through a leg amputation is incredible,” Izen, 25, tells PEOPLE. “She went into surgery knowing her leg might not look normal after, but that it would give her the ability to do what she loved She went with her heart and that’s what inspires me.”
“She embodies everything Lokai stands for, to find that balance in life.”
Grace is at high risk for relapse of her cancer and goes in for checkups every three months. She currently has two nodules on both of her lungs that her doctors are keeping an eye on.
“But she is thriving and so passionate about life right now,” says Vicki through tears.
“Grace can do anything.”