Principal battling leukemia an inspiration to students one year after diagnoses

Posted at 6:22 PM, Jan 12, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-12 21:02:43-05

GRANDVILLE, Mich.-- The principal at Grandville High School, who has been battling leukemia since last year, continues to be an inspiration to his students.

While a year might not seem like a lot of time, it's certainly been a long journey for Chris Vanderslice, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in January 2014.

"Your very first thought that goes through your head is, 'am I going to survive this?' Vanderslice said.

This weekend marked his one year anniversary since hearing the words that forever changed his life. While the battle isn't over, he says he's getting stronger with each day.

"I feel really good. I feel like I have a ton of energy," Vanderslice said. "For the most part, I feel back--almost to a normal state of energy and health."

Vanderslice began the 2013/2014 school year with a "Got Grit" theme, which he created to show students they don't have to shy away from challenges.

"Then I was diagnosed after kind of sharing that message after the start of the year," Vanderslice said. "There was no way that I could step away from that and say I'm gonna wimp out on this."

The message resonated with the students after three of their classmates died suddenly within months of each other. Vanderslice said the love and encouragement from his family and the support from his students lifts him up while going through chemo treatments. Turns out, he's also an inspiration to them.

Senior, Brian Cappiello refers to Vanderslice as an, "an awesome guy," who's strong-willed and sets a perfect example for his students.

"Obviously with everything he's been through with leukemia just shows his grit," Cappiello said. "He's persevered and just kind of shows all of us if we're going through struggles or whatever's happening--push through it and we can make it."

Vanderslice said his life is full of blessings, which surprisingly includes his illness.

"I think as people we get so involved in our day-to-day lives and the business that we lose focus on what's most important," Vanderslice said. "This has certainly helped me with that."

Vanderslice now lives his life with deliberate intention, focusing on his wife and two daughters. While he'll be going through treatments for the next two years before he can be considered cured, Vanderslice proves everyday by the smile he wears, that he's got grit.

"I know and have every confidence that I'm going to beat this and knowing that after I'm done with my treatment I'm still going to be here and be principal and I'm still gonna want to be able to have an impact on lives here."

Vanderslice said he runs three miles, three days a week, and also lifts weights to keep his strength. He plans to run a 10k in the 5/3 Riverbank Run in the spring.