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Pediatric Hospice Helps Family Through Brain Cancer Journey

May 24, 2022, Counseling & Support, Gilchrist, Grief, Hospice, Social Work

Pediatric Hospice Helps Family Through Brain Cancer Journey

In honor of Brain Cancer Awareness Month in May, we are shining the spotlight on a special Gilchrist Kids patient, Brenna.

Gilchrist Kids patient, Brenna Corcoran

Four-year-old Brenna Corcoran loves princesses, music and playing Chutes and Ladders with her mom. The youngest of six, Brenna is showered with love from her family and has been an unexpected blessing ever since her parents, Bonnie and Robert, adopted her as a baby.

Brenna was attending a birthday party earlier this year when Bonnie noticed that her daughter seemed wobbly and off balance. When the next day Brenna’s mouth began drooping, Bonnie became alarmed. After a series of tests at the hospital, Brenna was diagnosed with DIPG, a rare and aggressive brain cancer.

“The doctor said they found a mass in her brain and I thought, ‘OK, we can fight cancer,’” recalls Bonnie. But then a longer MRI revealed that the tumor was on Brenna’s brain stem, which meant it was inoperable. “I said, how long do I have, and they said eight to 12 months.”

Overnight they went from playdates and music lessons to a fatal diagnosis. There is no cure for DIPG, which stands for diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, but Brenna is undergoing radiation therapy in the hopes of shrinking the tumor and prolonging life. In the meantime, Bonnie and the treatment team are exploring a possible clinical trial with a new drug.

Enter Gilchrist Kids

Brenna started with Gilchrist Kids in February. At first Bonnie was reluctant to start hospice care, but then she learned that having Gilchrist Kids did not mean they had to stop radiation. They could continue seeking treatment while Gilchrist added another layer of support.

Gilchrist Kids nurse Kristi Choyce visits Brenna at home regularly to provide an assessment and check in with Bonnie for her needs. The family has also met with a Gilchrist social worker, chaplain and child life specialist, who helped them make a fingerprint charm of Brenna’s thumbprint. In addition, they are planning to make handprints of Brenna and all six of the children.

“Kristi and everyone at Gilchrist has been wonderful,” says Bonnie. “I’m thankful for all the support. No one makes me feel bad for crying, and I can ask the same question 10 times.”

Brenna is almost finished her radiation treatment and is excited about her upcoming trip to Disney World through Make a Wish Foundation. Gilchrist has contacted a hospice in Florida that can provide care during their trip. The hospice has Brenna’s medical records and will be able to quickly provide medical equipment and medication if needed. Knowing they have this care available brings Bonnie peace of mind, so they can focus on enjoying their vacation together.

Spreading Awareness

Like most people, Bonnie had never heard of DIPG before her daughter was diagnosed. She wants to help spread awareness about this disorder and increase research and treatment options. DIPG is a rare, fast-growing tumor that starts in the brain stem, the area that controls vital functions such as breathing, heart rate and the nerves and muscles that help us see, hear, walk, talk and eat.

Because of its location, surgery isn’t an option. Some of the most common symptoms include problems with balance and walking, problems with the eyes, facial weakness and drooping.

“People need to know about this diagnosis,” says Bonnie. “I want people to pay attention. The sooner it is diagnosed, the faster doctors can shrink it, which means you don’t lose as much functioning.”

Appreciating Each Day

The family has learned to appreciate every moment with Brenna while holding out hope for a miracle. Brenna is enjoying being a little girl and was excited to be crowned a princess at a local beauty pageant. The organizers were looking for someone who has fought a hard journey, and after hearing Brenna’s story, they chose her along with another little girl with the same diagnosis. Brenna picked out a fancy red princess dress for the event.

Bonnie has been touched by the kindness and support her family has received from the community and even strangers, delivering meals, sending prayers and volunteering to help. People all around the world have heard about Brenna’s story and sent messages of support.

“When you have seen so much bad, you start to lose hope,” says Bonnie. “But this has truly restored my faith in people.”

Gilchrist Kids will continue to be there for Brenna and her family, providing care, support and compassion as long as it’s needed.

To learn more about Gilchrist Kids, visit gilchristcares.org/gilchrist-kids.

To support our work, visit gilchristcares.org/giving.

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