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‘Getting Grace’: Reel meets real at Pediatric Cancer Foundation event

Daniel Roebuck is making progress on his motion picture directorial debut with “Getting Grace” this summer. Nearly done with location filming in his hometown of Bethlehem, Roebuck, along with several cast and crew members took time to enjoy lunch with several families affected by cancer at an event hosted by the Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley.

The heartwarming meet and greet July 29 was at the Banana Factory, where the offices of the Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley (PCFLV) are located. ArtsQuest donated the room and Cathy’s Creative Catering donated the food.

The indie comedy, “Getting Grace,” revolves around a fictional teenage girl named Grace, portrayed by Madey Dundon, who is losing her fight with cancer. Even as she faces death, the spunky protagonist helps her mother, played by Marsha Dietlein Bennett, and those around her, find life. Grace befriends Bill Jankowski, a disenfranchised funeral home director played by Roebuck.

The screenplay was written by Roebuck and Jeff Lewis. With his own daughter named Grace, Roebuck noted that, “It turned out that the character the guy put in the original screenplay was a lot like my daughter, who is stunningly inappropriate. All these characters say the wrong thing at the right time. And make someone laugh.” Some of the things his daughter had said over the years made it into the script.

With filming scheduled to conclude Aug. 10, “Getting Grace” will enter the post-production phase.

Madey Dundon, an 18-year-old Bethlehem Catholic High School graduate, attended the event dressed in character, including shaved head, blue head scarf and hospital wrist band. Lehigh Valley cast members include Wyatt Root, who plays Vincent, and Neal Fehnel, who appears in the film as Balloons the Clown. They were joined at the luncheon by veteran Hollywood actors Duane Whitaker, who plays Reverend Osburn, and Harri James, who portrays Helen Bernard.

Several in attendance related their personal experiences with dealing with cancer in the real world, including PCFLV administrative assistant Pauline Grady, the mother of two sons, Eli and Samuel. Her youngest, Samuel, is a leukemia survivor and was to have blood work later that afternoon of the event. He has been cancer-free for two years.

Maelynn Walters pointed out the randomness of the disease. Of her twin sons, Cyprian and Jeremiah, only Jeremiah had been stricken. Fortunately, the six-year-old has been cancer-free for two years. “After five years of cancer-free, the doctors say it is not likely to come back,” Walters said, adding, “It is never promised.” She is grateful for the support that PCFLV has given her and the twins, along with their big brother, James, and stepsister, Allya. The Walters family resides on south side Bethlehem and heard of the PCFLV “through word of mouth.”

Some of the parents at the event were not as fortunate. A mom named Lisa, who had lost a 20-year-old son, Dylan, to colon cancer, said of him, “He brought joy to everybody. He showed everybody how to live.” Terri Gillow spoke about losing her 14-year-old daughter, Kimberly, to cancer in 2009. Both mothers were grateful that they didn’t lose their support network when their children died.

The nonprofit Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley, founded in 2003, provides free support to children and families affected by pediatric cancer during treatment, survivorship and bereavement.

PCFLV executive director Michelle Zenie told those gathered at the event that her involvement with helping cancer families is personal. Zenie’s son was diagnosed with leukemia at age 3 and has recently graduated from high school cancer-free. She said the organization is there to “be the warm, fuzzy blanket that you wrap around yourself when you are cold and not feeling well.”

Information: pcflv.org, Information: gettinggracethemovie.comlunche

Daniel Roebuck, center, with daughter, Grace, left, and actress Madey Dundon, who plays Grace in “Saving Grace,” Roebuck's feature film directorial debut.PRESS PHOTO BY ED COURRIER Copyright - &Copy; Ed Courrier