This past January, 10-year-old Brianna Thomas complained of a sore neck. Her mother, Davena Thomas, did what any Dr. Mom would — administered a couple Tylenol and expected things to clear up.
Unfortunately, the next morning, things had only worsened. Brianna was still aching, and two lymph nodes on her neck that had once looked like peanuts appeared to have grown even larger. The morning after, they were bigger still.
Thomas scheduled an appointment with Brianna’s primary care pediatrician at Rochester GeneralHospital. There, repeated blood-tests coupled with sudden swelling around Brianna’s face prompted her pediatrician to refer her to Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong.
"I wouldn’t have wanted to fight this at any other place. At Golisano Children’s Hospital, they treat Brianna the way I would."
Pediatric oncologist David N. Korones, M.D., conducted more tests and officially diagnosed Brianna with acute lymphocytic leukemia, or ALL, a type of pediatric cancer stemming from a “genetic injury” to the DNA of a single bone marrow cell. Brianna was immediately scheduled for the installation of a Broviac catheter, through which she would be administered a strong, 21-day schedule of chemotherapy, followed by a 2-year program that operated on a three-week cycle: two Thursdays of out-patient shots, followed by one Thursday of an extensive 24-hour chemotherapy treatment.
“She’s my Mother Theresa,” Thomas said. “And I wouldn’t have wanted to fight this at any other place. At Golisano Children’s Hospital, they treat Brianna the way I would.”
And she’s winning her fight. Brianna’s prognosis is sunny, thanks to the research of the hospital’s pediatric oncologists and the work of others across the country.
“This once fatal disease is now very curable — in fact, the majority of children with T-cell ALL are cured,” Korones said, adding that when he says “cure,” he doesn’t just mean remission — he mean it’s gone and never coming back.
Still, there’s one more twist to the story.
Back in April of 2005, Thomas herself was diagnosed with breast cancer, but was not “at peace” with the idea of pursuing an aggressive chemotherapy treatment.
But a recent reoccurrence of her cancer this past March coupled with the trail-blazing bravery of her daughter, changed that. Thomas was finally ready to fight. She recently began treatment that included the surgical removal of her tumor and a 16-week bi-weekly regimen of especially potent chemotherapy.
“I like to think that my initial cancer, back last April, has prepared me for news of Brianna’s,” Thomas said. “And her courage, in turn, has put me at peace with the chemotherapy I’m now undergoing myself.”
Thomas says their family – Brianna’s twin sister, Arianna, their older sister, 14-year-old, Kristen, along with their father, Ricky —is all able to discuss the cancer openly, inside and outside the home.
In fact, Brianna’s adjustment back to her fourth-grade classroom happened as seamlessly as possible because of this candor; with the Thomas’ blessing, a hospital-school liaison spoke with the class, educating them about Brianna’s cancer and preparing them for Brianna’s return.
At present, Brianna is on top of her studies, thanks to an in-hospital tutor, and is thriving despite fighting cancer. She plays basketball, keeps up with the rest of the kids in gym class, and enjoys writing, math, and most recently, internet word games. When she needs a break from such sporty and academic ventures, she has fun gussying herself up, hanging out with her sisters and a playing a good round of Sony Play Station.
Miracle Weekend festivities
Cheering on kids like Brianna is just part of the celebration planned year’s Miracle Weekend, to be held Friday and Saturday, June 2 and 3. The weekend includes two time-honored fund-raising events to support the hospital — the 23rd Annual CMN telethon and 10th Annual Stroll for Strong Kids — plus a few mix-ins that will make this year’s festivities better than ever.
Children’s Miracle Network Telethon
This year’s telethon, produced by 10NBC and broadcast from the Strong Memorial Hospital Lobby from 8 to 11 p.m. on Friday, June 2, and on Saturday, June 3, will bring inspirational stories from Golisano Children’s Hospital’s five Miracle Kids. Among them you’ll hear one newborn’s fight to survive 13 shunt surgeries, a teenager whose arm was successfully reattached, and a young boy’s battle to survive a house explosion.
During the event, you can help the hospital by phoning in gifts at (585) 241-KIDS.
Stroll for Strong Kids
This year’s 10th Annual Stroll for Strong Kids offers plenty of family fun, including clowns, inflatable toys, raffles, door prizes, free lunch courtesy of Subway and a concert by Gary the Happy Pirate.
What’s more — if you can keep a secret – the hospital is throwing a surprise party for loveable mascot, Sandy Strong, during the scenic 2-mile walk through GeneseeValleyPark in Rochester. Expect more than 26 sheet cakes and one super-chorus of “Happy Birthday” at the starting line.