GRAND RAPIDS — Bree Town is waiting with much anticipation for her upcoming party, an Alvin and the Chipmunks theme. The 9-year-old Greenville girl, who wants to be just like her mother when she grows up and dreams of flying, knows what she must endure before her party can happen — another round of chemotherapy.
Hooked to monitors and an IV line, with her head hairless and smooth, Bree, the youngest of Jennifer and Chris Town’s three children, is in the third of five rounds of chemotherapy, after being diagnosed with a kind of cancer called acute myeloid leukemia in May.
Her first round of chemo lasted 54 days — 10 days of chemo treatment and 44 days of recovery. At the end of her recovery, her family held a luau and Hollywood red carpet party at the hospital, where Bree dressed up like a movie star. It made her feel like a normal kid again.
With every fight with cancer, however, there are also the tears, the strange and constant pain from chemo treatments, the absence of playing outdoors with her friends, or not having her brother, sister and her dog, Squeaky, with her every day. And there’s always the fear of the unknown.
Bree’s first experience with chemo treatment was scary. She didn’t like seeing the red blood flow through her IV line that is attached to her arm. She felt weary of seeing doctors and nurses wearing masks and hooking her up to a bag that made her wonder just how sick it was going to make her.
When Bree was diagnosed with cancer, her parents were flooded with fearful thoughts and treacherous questions, as well.
“Some of the first thoughts I had were more questions,” Jennifer said. “How am I going to tell her this? What is this? How did she get this? What will happen to her? Is it treatable?”
Bree and her family are strong in their faith in God, as they are devoted members of Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville. The Towns say their faith has helped all of them through and kept Bree’s spirits up.
“Sometimes she asks us if she is going to die,” Jennifer said. “That is hard to hear. But I tell her we are all going to die someday and somehow. God knows and he isn’t telling. Bree knows that when it is her time to leave her earthly home she will be going to her forever home where cancer does not exist and she will get to meet Jesus. We are hopeful and praying Bree will be here with us on earth until she is an old lady.”
DOWN BUT NOT OUT
Bree’s little body has had to endure 10 blood transfusions, 20 platelet transfusions and one intravenous immunoglobulin transfusion that was injected into her central nervous system. She has had to be sedated five times for bone marrow aspirate and biopsy and three times for lumbar puncture with intrathecal chemotherapy.
After more than 86 days in the hospital and with three rounds of chemo still to go, the family recently received great news — Bree’s cancer went into remission after her last round of chemo.
“She has been handling this pretty well,” Jennifer said of her daughter. “She is a very optimistic kid.”
Bree said the hospital food is “disgusting” and she is sad to be missing out on her plans to run the Grand Rapids Mud Run with Ella, her best friend. And though she is often bed-ridden, nauseous from the chemo and often fatigued, she still enjoys “playing toys” and having fun playing games with her nurse technician, Andrea.
She also devotes some of her time in helping others, drawing cards for other children in the hospital, a saintly act typical of Bree, her family said.
“She is always coloring pictures for other people and wrapping up her toys to give away,” Jennifer said. “She has made cards for all of the kids on the ninth floor (at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital). She wrote them ‘Dear Room Number 9. I’m praying for you to get better soon.’”
Putting her own concerns aside, Bree said she wants to raise money to buy all of the rooms on the ninth floor projectors so that the children can watch movies on the window shades.
Her advice to other children who may one day face what she has experienced is to keep faith in family and God.
“Look at the circle on the ceiling and imagine it is God,” Bree said. “He is there and it is OK.”
Bree also offered some ideas to pass the time while in the hospital.
“Check for Andrea (Bree’s nurse technician) to have some fun,” she said. “Tell me what room you will be in and I will send you a jellybean game and toys.”
Ironically, before Bree was diagnosed, she and her sister began plans to donate their hair to the Children With Hairloss program, which provides wigs with real hair for those who lost their hair through sickness or chemo treatment. Since the plan was nixed, Madison, her sister, decided to shave her head to honor her sister, instead.
Chris and Jennifer cherish the little things with Bree while she is in the hospital, every smile and giggle and even when she sleeps silently and comfortably.
“I have learned to enjoy one day at a time and sometimes one hour at a time,” Jennifer said. “I have learned how much having faith in God can give me comfort. I have also learned I love living in Greenville. Our church family and community have given us so much support and love.”
The kind of selfless acts Bree and her family have performed for others deserves a reciprocal act, said Brenda Curtis of Ionia, a family friend who, along with Angie Kammers, is holding a family fun day benefit Saturday in Ionia to raise funds for Bree and her family to support her fight and recovery from leukemia.
“This could be anyone’s child or grandchild,” Curtis said. “The economy is tough out there, so we came up with a family day.
“I believe that we were all put on this earth to help take care of one another,” Curtis added. “It’s like that famous saying, which I truly believe in, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ I want people to come together and this community to be supportive.”
The benefit will include several activities from 1 to 6 p.m. at 4717 N. State Road in Ionia this Saturday. Activities include a hog roast, auction, raffle, washer toss tournament, inflatables, dunk tank, face painting, petting zoo, mini-hay ride, games, crafts, karaoke and DJ music. Admission is by donations only. The public is welcome.
Call Brenda at (616) 755-1603 for more information.