Teen wants to ‘be a normal kid again’

Photography by Melanie Bell

Nominated by Connor Moran Cancer Foundation

“I can’t wait to get back to school. I want to see all my friends. I want to be a normal kid again,” says Brieanna, 13, who is being home-schooled in the Port St. Lucie home where she lives with her parents and older brother, Braden.

Cancer thundered into the family’s life on March 24, 2017, when Brieanna’s mother Amanda picked her up at the bus stop after school at Lincoln Park Academy. Brieanna was a top student. Her daughter hadn’t been sick in five years, Amanda said.

“I saw bright red bumps under her chin. They were the size of gumballs. I knew I had to take her to the doctor,” said Amanda.

The next 24 hours were a blur at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach. Biopsy. Blood scans. Fluid around the lymph nodes. More tests.

The diagnosis was rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer that forms a solid mass of cancer cells in muscle tissue. Brieanna was transferred to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis to receive specialized treatment.

Cancer split up the family.

Amanda moved to Memphis. Her husband, Adam, a boat technician at Marine Max in Stuart, stayed in their Port St. Lucie home with Braden.

“Cancer decides. You have very little choice in the matter,” Amanda said.

Twice, Brieanna was released from St. Jude hospital. Twice, she relapsed, the second time last October.

The family opted for aggressive treatment at St. Jude. Chemotherapy — 50 treatments — started. Brieanna’s blond hair vanished.

There were also 28 cycles of radiation, four surgeries, three port replacements and two lung biopsies. Cancer attacked her teeth. Dentists pulled out seven. They did two root canals. Every other tooth was filled because of decay.

The treatment worked. Doctors last month declared her “NED” — cancer lingo for “No Evidence of Disease.” She will be considered in remission if she remains cancer-free for five years.

Brieanna was discharged in early November from St. Jude. The family was thrilled when she walked through the front door.

But the welcoming was tempered when the family’s financial difficulties became clear.

Credit card debt had piled up from expenses, such as Adam and Braden flying to and from Memphis. So did the bills for home repair. There are car payments and mortgage payments. Amanda lost her income when she stopped styling hair to be with Brieanna.

“I tried to get my old customers to come back. But it’s been almost three years. They moved on,” Amanda said.

If those bills were paid, it would take a huge burden off the family.

“We’re rebuilding our life all over again,” Amanda said. She is Brieanna’s caretaker.

That includes helping Brieanna take two injections a day. She takes daily pills to prevent pneumonia and migraine headaches.

Brieanna spends her days studying online. She takes care of her two kittens, Mylo and Mia. She got the kittens from Furry Friends Adoption, Clinic and Ranch in Jupiter.

She plans to raise them until they are about two months old. She’ll then return them to Furry Friends for adoption.

“They were so tiny when I got them. I like helping them grow,” Brieanna said.

Brieanna’s wish:

Brieanna Elmer, 13, has been battling rhabdomyosarcoma cancer for more than two years. The Port St. Lucie resident has been in and out of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. She is now recovering at home. She has endured chemotherapy, operations and radiation. Brieanna’s mother quit her job to care for her daughter. The family needs help to pay for traveling back and forth to Memphis, paying medical expenses and auto and home repair bills.

Nominating agency: Connor Moran Cancer Foundation

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