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Despite cancer and leg amputation, Edina athlete battles on: 'A broken spirit doesn't stand a chance'

For almost two years now, Walt's life has been turned absolutely upside down by osteosarcoma, a rare pediatric bone cancer.

EDINA, Minn. — We're often reminded that we're not in control of everything that happens around us, or even in control of what directly happens to us, in life. But, we can control how we face adversity, how we battle and how we choose, if at all, to show the world our strength.

With that in mind, KARE 11's Randy Shaver wanted to tell you the story of a new hero of his, Walt McGrory.

For roughly the first 22 years of his life, Walt McGrory was living the dream.
The former Edina star athlete played Division I basketball for Wisconsin.
He got to meet Shaq and former Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers; he was happy, healthy, from a great family and his future couldn't have been any brighter.

But cancer doesn't care about any of that.

For almost two years now, Walt's life has been turned absolutely upside down by osteosarcoma, a rare pediatric bone cancer.

“Were you in denial?” asked Randy Shaver.

“I don't know if it's denial,” said Walt. “It's just more like, 'Well, this will be over soon.' Like, I don't really need to think about it much. Just get done with it and I'll move on.”

If it could only be that easy.

Months of chemo — four different types — did not cure the cancer that remained in his left leg.

“I couldn't sleep for the past month, month and a half,” said Walt.

And after two limb salvage surgeries failed, the 24-year-old, who was in so much pain, faced the sobering fact: He was going to lose his leg to cancer.

Walt had the amputation surgery in April.

“I didn't look down right away,” said Walt. “I mean, I had the blanket over it and I didn't really want to look at it for the first few days.

“I'm not ashamed of it or anything. I'll go to Lifetime Fitness or the gym and I'll have the crutches," Walt continued.

"And why should you be [ashamed], you know?" Randy asked. "I mean, that's not your fault.”

But in an emotional Instagram post shortly after his amputation, Walt wondered: If it was his fault, could he have done something differently? Will people view him differently now?

“You wrote on here one thing is for certain," said Randy. "'A broken spirit doesn't stand a chance.' Why did you write that?” asked Randy.

“Put it out there to the world, the universe, I guess — that you want to keep living, you know? You kind of do whatever it takes to keep going,” said Walt.

The response he got back was uplifting.

“That makes me a lot stronger than I'd be on my own,” said Walt.

Friends and strangers alike encouraged Walt, telling him that his best is yet to come, despite the cancer and despite losing his leg.

“I think the response that he's gotten has been energy for him that really keeps him going,” said Jean McGrory, Walt’s mom.

Walt's parents, Jean and Matt, call their son a resilient warrior, a true inspiration.

“I do kind of follow Walt's lead,” said Matt McGrory. “He actually inspires me and that helps. And I find if he's having a good day, then I have a good day.”

Right now, Walt is doing everything he can to prepare his body for yet another battle. Whether it's lifting weights in the makeshift gym set up in his parent's garage, or taking in clean oxygen while riding exhausting, 15-minute intervals on a stationary bike, those shots of oxygen work to flush his system of toxins, helping him build up his immune system.

But why continue to do all this?

Unfortunately, doctors found small spots of cancer that had traveled to his left lung. Surgery now awaits him in June.

“Now I have a bigger battle to fight, so makes it a lot easier doing all that exercise. Because yeah, you're not just fighting for some health, you're fighting for your actual life,” said Walt.

“I think Walt making that incredibly brave decision to say, 'I would rather live my life with one leg and have a life than not,' I think was an incredibly brave decision,” says Dr. Brenda Weigel, the director of the Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at M Health Fairview.

However, Weigel remains optimistic. That's because the big tumor was removed with the amputation, so now chemo only has to wipe out those small spots in his lung.

Walt's big sister says it's that hope that drives him.

“He just wakes up every day with, you know, the same goal to get healthy,” said MC McGrory, Walt’s sister.

“Life wasn't supposed to turn out like this right?” Randy asked Walt.

“No, but everyone has their battles that they're going through,” he said. “My problems aren't as bad as other people out there. Even as bad as it looks to me, I could have had both my legs amputated or more spots in my lungs.

“If I can keep pushing it, like, you can get through any of your battles that you're going through. I'm not like some superhero thing; I'm just a normal guy. But I just have the mindset and I feel like strength is just the mindset and the body follows."

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