Tough Beyond Her Years


Three-year-old Brooklyn was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in November 2015.

Three-year-old Brooklyn has a few unmistakable trademarks: She wears colorful leggings, never leaves home without wearing at least one purple article of clothing, and she sings Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" faster and louder than any toddler in town.

She also thinks IVs, chemo shots and blood draws are just a part of growing up.

Since being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in November 2015, Brooklyn became familiar with toxic treatments and therapies; she directs nurses to the arm she needs a blood draw from for labs.

Her battle with cancer started when she was just 2 years old when her parents, Grant and Michelle, noticed she was incredibly tired, and she complained of leg pain in between playing. She became so exhausted and her legs hurt so much that she couldn't walk steadily. Grant and Michelle took her to the pediatrician where she received blood labs and X-rays. The doctor told her parents to pack an overnight bag and drive her immediately to the hospital. That's when the whirlwind started.

Her family was told that Brooklyn had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

"I just cried," says Michelle, "I could barely talk."

Brooklyn began the first stage of treatment which included spinal taps, bone marrow biopsies and toxic chemotherapies. She also started physical therapy to get movement in her legs back. While signing treatment consent forms time and time again, Grant and Michelle were reminded of the fact that the drugs can cause damage to the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, brain, skin and even cause other types of cancer.

Her parents hoped this initial, brutal phase of treatment would put Brooklyn into remission so she would remain on the standard-risk protocol, the less difficult of two paths. If she didn't end up in remission, she would move up to high-risk and have to go through a series of therapies that would be far more trying.

At points during her treatment, Brooklyn's blood counts dropped dangerously low, and she'd need blood and platelet transfusions to keep her going. After one transfusion, Brooklyn fell asleep and started singing the ABCs in perfect tune. The heartbreaking contrast between childhood and cancer was never clearer than in those moments. Cancer treatment also left Brooklyn with tiny sores in her mouth, unbearable muscle pain and tingling in her nerves that caused her to cry out during diaper changes.

In December of last year, the first phase of Brooklyn's treatment wrapped up and her family held their breath for the news: Would their daughter take the easier treatment road? Or, would they have to take the harder path? During the first month of treatment, Michelle and Grant had also welcomed their second child, Thomas, into their family—adding an extra layer of stress and joy. Not only did they have sleepless nights from a child in pain battling cancer, but they were also caring for a newborn.

The day before Christmas Eve and a week after the birth of Thomas, the results came back clear: Brooklyn was in remission.

Or so they were told. Two weeks after Brooklyn began the "easier" standard-risk treatment, the oncologist told them that a second set of bone marrow results showed she was not in remission after all.  

On the new protocol, Brooklyn severely reacted to one of the chemo drugs—doctors had to give her an epi-pen to save her life.

They replaced eight more infusions of that medication with more than 40 chemo shots, and she went through intense treatment throughout the spring and summer.

Today, she is in the maintenance phase and has finally achieved remission.

Her family still has a long road ahead, but they hold on to simple moments when Brooklyn is feeling well—like when she plays "doctor" with her stuffed animals, rides her bike or plays with her baby brother.

"My dream for her is to just grow up," Michelle says.

How support from donors like you can change the story.

Thanks to unrestricted funding from supporters like you, researchers are making great strides in leukemia research—discoveries that could help kids like Brooklyn. To date, $2.5 million in unrestricted funding from planned gifts has gone on to help create less toxic treatments for kids, including those with leukemia.

Leukemia is one of the most common childhood cancers, representing approximately one-third of all cancer diagnoses among children under the age of 14. Studies show that a subset of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common type of leukemia in children, begins in the womb. Researchers discovered a genetic error that is present at birth in some children who later develop ALL. It is not clear how many children have this error at birth, and whether it can be used to identify children who will develop ALL.

With donations from donors like you, Erin Marcotte, PhD, and Heather Nelson, PhD, will test a new method using advanced genetic sequencing to detect this genetic error. This will help researchers determine whether the genetic error is an accurate predictor of leukemia, helping doctors detect ALL early and increase a child's chance of survival. 

Turn Your Gift Into an Opportunity

Contact Amy Polski Larson at 952-224-8486 or to help create a better quality of life for kids facing cancer.