May 19, 2017 | Patient Stories
There’s No “I” in Team
Inspirational, radiant, spunky, beautiful, loving and full of life. These are a few qualities which sprung to mind when I first had the privilege of seeing Briana.
The 12-year-old’s adorable smile lights up the entire room, as her bubbly laugh frames any difficult conversations. She is a beloved part of their local church and adores playing basketball with her friends and teammates. Vibrant energy, in the face of insurmountable odds, points to the awesome strength Briana wields – an amazing achievement once you realise the dramatic twists and turns of her journey over the last year.
The Big C
On January 14th 2016, then 11-year-old Briana received devastating news. After the discovery of petechiae, a case of severe bruising and a few days of abnormal fatigue, the symptoms prompted a hurried visit to the family doctor. Unexpectedly, Briana was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), a rare and aggressive cancer. The condition would require multiple rounds of excruciating chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant to save her life.
It was official, Briana was one of the 16,000 children in the United States diagnosed with cancer. The months to follow would prove to be a ride her and her family would never ever forget. WABC-TV even covered her story in hopes of assisting her family with the urgent search for a bone marrow donor.
No “I” in Team
A beautiful little girl from the community of Fort Lee, New Jersey, Briana lives with her mother, stepfather and her gorgeous sibling Leyla. These four people are the beloved “home team”, as she likes to call them, and also the reason she has made it through some of her worst days of treatment. Tenaciously dedicated, her folks have fully committed all of their time and effort to her health and recovery process; bringing family, friends and public well-wishers into the circle of support. Fiercely dedicated, her loving parents are doing everything possible to find a bone marrow donor for their precious Briana.
Living at the hospital semi-permanently has changed the entire lifestyle of this special family. Spending her 12th birthday in the Intensive Care Unit was the last place she had expected to be, but Briana and her family remained upbeat about the wonderful care available to her in an otherwise unavoidable situation. Life is continuously celebrated by the family, lifting the spirits of everyone around them, medical staff included. The four members of the “home team” pointedly refuse to let Briana’s spirits fall or falter. Little sister, Leyla, is apparently a laugh-a-minute with her crazy antics and provides the whole family with hilarious distraction on the bad days.
Life is a Journey
Thrown headlong into a long and arduous battle, Briana spent 210 days (almost seven straight months!) of last year in the hospital. During her long-term residence, Bri spent most of her time in rest and recovery, catching up with family and friends, continuing diligently in her schoolwork and dreaming of a bright and happy future. Her mother and stepfather simply refused to let her fall into complacency, encouraging her to take an active role in her mental and physical health.
It is expected that each member of the family maintains a positive perspective in the face of adversity. They rely on each other for strength when their individual reserves are running low. “We are in this together” is a vital part of daily vocabulary and Briana insists this is what has kept her strong through it all. The awe-inspiring solidarity of her family and friends is quite something to behold, especially when both parents and extended family shaved their locks to match Bri’s hair loss. She admits it was one of the most difficult results of her treatment to bear, but she got through it thanks to so much love and support.
Later that year, it was a fantastic surprise for mom, Yanine, to discover she was a partial match for Briana and she was able to attempt the Haploidentical Stem Cell Transplant (or “Haplo transplant”). Everything was arranged and Yanine was excited, grateful and filled with hope as they waited to see whether her stem cell contribution would save her eldest daughter’s life. What an honor and a privilege! The family even had a television interview to celebrate this exciting part of the journey.
Bone Marrow Drives
Briana and her family are active and valued members of their community. Family, friends and church community jumped right into the fray, pooling resources and holding on to hope. Countless hours over these trying months have been spent raising awareness about AML in the greater community, around the country and even online. Team Briana is urging members of the public to seriously consider registering as a bone marrow donor, not only for Briana’s sake, but for all potential cancer survivors. Isn’t it an amazing opportunity to literally offer life to another human being?
The Bone Marrow Drives and awareness events have been wonderfully productive so far, with concerned community members gladly volunteering to be tested with a simple cheek swab. As soon as a match is found, the essential marrow transplant can begin. Time is the most precious resource for Briana and her family in their united and courageous fight against her aggressive leukemia.
Sadly, Briana’s body eventually rejected the transplant from her mom, Yanine, since it was only a partial match. Still positive and filled with unquenchable hope, however, she and her family are confidently searching for a full donor match once again.
Keep Calm and #Bristrong
When asked what she wanted to be when she get older, Briana describes how hard this journey has been for everyone. She explains that to experience ‘normal moments’ has been next to impossible, because she is in the hospital so often receiving treatment. Her dream is to one day be able to make life as normal as possible for children like her who have to stay in hospitals, especially for extended periods of time. She is not sure if there is a job out there like this, or what it might be called, but she knows that this is what she is being called to do in future.
Getting behind the fight against cancer has brought this family and their community together in an inspiring way. Social media, community events and bone marrow drives have kept them busy and determined to succeed in finding Bri a bone marrow donor. Happily, Briana and her family went on a mini vacation to Florida, as they took a well-deserved break under bright rays of sunshine and swaying palm trees.
Based on their family motto of “In this together”, #BriStrong is the growing social media following as more people hear about Briana’s journey. Stay updated by following her story on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook to support her in a brave fight for life.
Join us to create awareness and add more committed donors to Be the Match! Make today the day you sign up to save someone’s life.