Don’t stop Bree-lieving

A young girl’s journey through acute myeloid leukemia: diagnosis, chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant and finally—remission.
Bree Town, of Greenville, won her battle with acute myeloid leukemia. (For Spectrum Health Beat)
Bree Town, of Greenville, won her battle with acute leukemia. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Jennifer Town took her daughter Bree to the doctor on May 1, 2012, for a low-grade fever, suspecting she had strep throat.

Her doctor ordered some lab tests because of some earlier unexplained bruises on her shins and one on her stomach.

Jennifer and Bree left the doctor’s office and each enjoyed a Frosty from Wendy’s as a treat for Bree, then 8, for having her blood drawn.

At 10:30 p.m. the doctor called and asked how close the Towns were to the hospital. He said that the results had come back and needed to be repeated as soon as possible. Scared, Jennifer took Bree to Spectrum Health United Hospital and they redrew her blood.

“It felt like it took forever. Then the nurse handed me the telephone so I could talk with our doctor,” Jennifer recalled. “He said, ‘Jen, it looks like leukemia.’”

The Town family was told that Bree had to go to Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital right away. They were not to stop home, just drive straight to the emergency entrance and they would be waiting for her. Chris, Bree’s dad, drove and Jennifer sat in the back seat with Bree, who was scared and worried about her older sister, Madison. Jennifer had grabbed Bree’s favorite blanket and her brown stuffed puppy before the trek to the hospital, but that was all they had with them.

As soon as the Towns arrived, nurses hooked Bree up to an IV to receive a few blood transfusions because her hemoglobin was 6, significantly below the normal levels. She would also get platelets and have surgery the next morning to have a central line placed.

Bree participates in a little humor therapy while at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

The Towns were in shock.

Following Bree’s surgery, the family met with oncologists.

 

“They said that it was probably acute lymphoid leukemia, which has a 95 percent cure rate,” Jennifer said. “Or it could be acute myeloid leukemia, which has a 60 percent cure rate. We were sick with fear.”

Further specialized tests in the Spectrum Health Advanced Technology Laboratories was required to determine whether her leukemia was lymphoid or myeloid. The results came back and Bree was officially diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia on Aug. 21, 2012.

Bree was considered low risk and the plan was to try to knock out the leukemia with chemotherapy. If she didn’t go into remission or if she relapsed, they would do a bone marrow transplant.

She stayed at the children’s hospital for intensive chemotherapy treatment for many months at a time. For a time, things were OK.

Then Bree relapsed in November 2013.

The Towns and friends hosted community bone marrow drives around West Michigan to find a donor. The process took six weeks before the team confirmed a perfect match had been found. An unrelated donor match was found in a young man from Germany.

Bree underwent a successful bone marrow transplant on Feb. 5, 2014.

Today, at 11 years old, Bree is 100 percent cancer free.

Bree, second from the right, is in remission and will enter sixth grade this fall. (For Spectrum Health Beat)
Bree, second from the right, is in remission and will enter sixth grade this fall. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Bree continues to have lab work done to monitor her levels, but she is down to one medication with minimal restrictions. She returned to school this past year and finished fifth grade at Baldwin Heights Elementary in Greenville. Bree is part of Safety Patrol and even completed a triathlon last summer. She and her donor have exchanged letters and Bree is hoping to meet him one day.

“Bree is an excellent listener and she follows the rules to a T,” Jennifer said. “She has never complained about taking her medication and she always gives everything 100 percent with a smile on her face.”

Now the soon-to-be middle-schooler has grown her hair out enough for a pony tail, and has the opportunity to hang out with friends, dance and swim. Her family, which maintained a blog on her journey and recovery, is going to cease posting updates on Bree unless Bree wants to do so.

“If you see Bree out and about and want to approach her, please refrain from bringing up cancer,” a recent post states, in part. “We don’t want to pretend that it never happened, but we want to encourage Bree to move forward. To start to be Bree Town, child of the one true king, sixth grader, piano player, dancer, swimmer, etc. Not just Bree Town, cancer survivor. Again, thank you all so very much as we again transition to a new amazing tomorrow.”

As Bree moves happily forward with her life, other children continue to battle their diseases. Several programs at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, including the pediatric oncology program, are supported by generous donors in our community. If you would like to help kids like Bree, please give today.

Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is honored to be named as one of U.S. News & World Report’s 2015–16 Best Children’s Hospitals for a fourth consecutive year. We were recognized in three specialties: cancer, nephrology and pulmonology.

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