Gianna Gregoire got out of her wheelchair and left.
Six weeks had passed since her last steps. And that day, her feet grabbed the hardwood of Madison Square Garden, as they had done many times before.
"A place like this is one in a million," said Gregoire between ice cream and chips in a Morris Park diner. “Center of the world. New York City Center. I wanted my first steps to be the focus of what's important. And what's important is the kinks. "
The 20-year-old suffered a severe stroke on October 14 and 11 days later was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a rare and aggressive brain tumor. Days later, she woke up at the bed with Knick's big Allan Houston and the desire to take her first steps in the garden after the stroke.
The competitive franchise was always fun for Gregoire.
With the help of the organization and their half-brother Anthony Donahue, who "has been connected to the Knicks for 20 years" and has built relationships with people in the organization, Gregoire's wish to decorate the garden courtyard was realized before December 1, game against the Celtics ,
It is not the first time that someone in their family has relied on the team.
Donahue, who spoke to The Post, wearing a Yankees cap and gold Knicks medallion necklace, saw his first Knicks game when he was 10. He still keeps the ticket stub: April 2, 1994 against the heat. Then and now the Knicks distracted him from the more difficult moments in life.
"No matter what I went through as a child when I wanted to visit the city, and I should see my mother, but she says no because she's been sprayed with heroin. There was a Knicks game that night, ”the 36-year-old told the Post.
Donahue, who was mostly raised by his grandparents, barely knew that his parents were growing up. His mother was addicted to drugs and his father was not in the picture until he was 17. But he found comfort in the curtsy.
"I could only think of John Starks, Latrell Sprewell or Patrick Ewing," said Donahue. "And everything in my world did better."
It is the second time in her life that his half-sister Gregoire has brain cancer after diagnosing the disease in 2010.
This struggle has brought with it a unique set of challenges as she battles the disease and recovers from her stroke at the same time. Gregoire underwent radiation therapy last week and resumed chemotherapy (in pill form). Donahue tweeted on January 24 that her cancer "shrank" according to an MRI scan done earlier this week.
Her stroke paralyzed the left side of her body and tied her to a wheelchair, although she gradually becomes able to walk again while fighting cancer. After spending months at the United Hebrew of New Rochelle Rehabilitation Center, she returned briefly home last week. Another stroke on Sunday means that she will live in hospitals again for now.
The Knicks' support has remained a constant in her turbulent life.
In 2012, as detailed in The Post, Gregoire celebrated her clean health by hitting various knicks – including Jeremy Lin and Amar’e Stoudemire – after her brother's hashtag #WinForGianna caught the team's attention. Donahue previously hosted a Knicks show on SNY and is currently working with the team that hosts fan events.
So it was only fitting that the Knicks would play a role in Gregoire's recent fight against cancer. After meeting with Houston, she received encouraging words from Carmelo Anthony via FaceTime. Mike Breen also spoke to her during this trip to the garden on December 1st – a place she normally visits 10-15 times a season.
"Melo told me to hold my head up, keep fighting, keep going as I am, and I'll get where I need to be," she said of the former Knicks star who has signed with the Blazers since then.
Donahue and Gregoire view the organization as a family.
"Allan [Houston] will call me after the game just to pray, ”said Donahue, who is not particularly religious.
Gregoire and Donahue, who share a mother, were always close. They have a very different relationship than most siblings.
Like Donahue, Gregoire's parents weren't really in the picture when they grew up. Her father left when she was a baby, and her mother, who has been clean for 10 years, is only sporadically involved in her life. It is her big brother Anthony who takes her to medical appointments, supports her financially and puts a smile on her face when she needs it most.
According to Donahue, his half-sister's insurance covers most of her treatment, but the costs still add up. The Iron Matt Foundation, which provides financial support to families affected by brain tumors, helps reduce Donahue's economic burden. Various fees such as parking in the hospital and eating are charged. The two of them paid back this generosity by organizing a toy drive for the foundation in the past seven years. Donahue too sells bracelets to make the message #WinForGianna available on its social media platforms for $ 10 apiece to fund Gregoire's fight.
"I wanted my first steps to be the focus of what is important. And what is important is the curtsey."
However, you do not only receive financial support. Gregoire sees the hundreds of Good answers Donahue's social media updates on her progress. In her postgame text messages, she consoles herself with Donahue (who visits practically every home game). And she notices the extra stops the Knicks pull out for her, like putting her and her brother in a suite during this Celtics game.
Donahue often brings her the salty popcorn from the Delta Lounge. His girlfriend even gave Gregoire a literal piece of the Knicks-Hof that rested on her hospital bed. Donahue and his half-sister also watched games together in the rehabilitation center. The constant memories of the team distract her, but also give her a specific goal.
"We plan [on going to] future games. I want to go to more games. I don't just want to get into a game, I want to get into a game, ”she said.
Donahue wants the same for her, but his perspective goes far beyond basketball games. He sees her everyday life, which currently includes texting with one hand and a freshly shaved head, as a massive inspiration.
And that is reflected in the extent to which they see their fight against brain cancer. According to estimates, 23,820 people were diagnosed in 2019, according to the National Cancer Institute. People with no interest in the Knicks stumble across his sister's Donahue social media updates every day. A man recently wrote to him to let him know that his "selfish" mood had changed that day when he saw a video of Gregoire's fight.
Gregoire spoke about her fight against children with cancer and also at the Houston basketball camp. She is looking forward to more survivors and hopes to be able to crochet in the near future. You would never know from her attitude that she was fighting a really brutal illness.
"She is happier than anyone who is likely to read this article," said her brother.
Your cancer is ruthless, scary. The future is uncertain and the road to recovery will be long and painful.
But there is a place that can relieve this pain, if only for a few hours.
"I can be myself without hair in the garden and without feeling anything."