SMS student remains positive, strong despite cancer diagnosis

SMS student remains positive, strong despite cancer diagnosis
Taking each day as it comes, Bree Brown and her family have spent the last 85 days working through new challenges, new emotions, and new ways of living.


“We make everything day-by-day,” said Jennifer Brown, Bree’s mother. “We’re [85] days into this. Sometimes, it feels like we’ve been only a couple of days.”


Eighty-five days ago, just one month before Bree Brown’s 13th birthday, she woke up in pain that she initially shrugged off as the way she slept the night before. But as the day progressed, the pain turned out to be more than just sleeping in an awkward position. This pain was radiating around to her abdomen and could not be diminished by walking or stretching, so her parents took her the emergency room at Floyd Memorial Hospital.


“It was Thanksgiving weekend. We went to Bailen’s game [Bree’s brother], and she couldn’t sit on the bleachers,” Jennifer Brown said.


Bree Brown had a CT scan at the emergency room that night. She walked in thinking the pain was from muscle and nerve pain, but she walked out finding out that she had tumors on her hip and spine.


“They were 99 percent sure it was cancer,” Jennifer Brown said.


Weeks before going to the emergency department that night, Bree Brown had been in pain from time to time. Because Brown has a love of dance and enjoys jumping on the family’s trampoline, her doctors believed the pain stemmed from when Brown fell in the kitchen practicing dance moves. But, the hip pain came with have occasional low-grade fevers, so the doctors had some additional laboratory and x-rays done to help make a diagnosis.


As a couple of months passed by with laboratory and x-ray results coming back normal, Brown continued to have more bone pain and began losing weight. The doctors diagnosed her with piriformis syndrome, where the muscle in the buttocks aggravates sciatic nerve in the lower back. Brown had to go to physical therapy and do some stretching activities to help alleviate the pain.


“Piriformis syndrome is very similar to the cancer,” Jennifer Brown said.


Three days after going to the emergency room that Thanksgiving weekend, Bree Brown was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, stage four.


Ewing sarcoma, a type of cancerous tumor that appears in the bones or in the tissue around the bones, is the second most common type of bone cancer in children. However, Ewing sarcoma is still very rare as only 200 children and young adults are diagnosed each year in the United States, according to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.


Six days after her diagnosis, Brown began chemotherapy. She will continue to have chemotherapy and radiation treatments for several weeks. The treatments ravage the body in order to destroy the fast-growing cancerous cells, leaving her normal, healthy cells damaged. The side effects can result in mouth sores, nausea, fatigue, hair loss, and anemia — just to name a few.


“We remain positive and strong,” Jennifer Brown said.


Since her diagnosis, Bree Brown receives inpatient chemotherapy every other week. During the week of Christmas and her 13th birthday, she received a cycle of the chemotherapy drugs while in the hospital for the holidays. While the medication waged a toll on Brown’s body, her spirits were lifted when Academy Award-winning actress and Louisville native Jennifer Lawrence visited Kosair Children’s Hospital, where Brown was receiving treatment. Lawrence stopped by Brown’s room and signed a few autographs and posed for a picture with Brown.


“[Bree] was really excited about that,” Jennifer Brown said. “It was the only good day she had at the hospital. She was really sick.”


Along with the chemotherapy, the doctors performed a stem cell harvest on Brown in order to save her stem cells in case she needs them in the future.


“Should her cancer not respond to chemo or return later, this will enable them to safely give her higher doses of chemo. Higher doses of chemo could potentially deplete her white blood cells,” Jennifer Brown said. “If that happened, they could transplant her own white blood cells. It’s almost like an insurance policy.”


In addition to the chemotherapy treatments and stem cell harvest, Bree Brown will travel to Texas to meet with a surgeon to see if possible remove the tumors.


“The only surefire way to beat it is to remove it,” Jennifer Brown said.


Bree Brown and her mother will spend three to four weeks in Texas in hopes of reducing the risk of recurrence through surgery. If recurrence occurs, the survival rate significantly diminishes.


With a 15-hour, 1,000-mile trip to Texas and a stay for a few weeks, the trip comes as a costly expense to the family. The family only has one income as Jennifer Brown had to take unpaid leave from her job in order to help care for Bree Brown. They will use some of the money raised online and through fundraisers to help offset the costs of meals, fuel, accommodations, and medications.


“The community has been incredibly supportive. We’ve had so many people reach out over the past couple of months wanting to help in any way possible whether it be a prayer, hug, chemo care package, gift card or monetary contribution,” Jennifer Brown said. “These gifts have been extremely helpful as I am off on an unpaid leave right now. It’s help offset the loss of income and enable us to provide for Bree. We know we are not alone in this journey.”


Through all the challenges, emotions, and adjustments, Bree Brown and her family have found support and solace in her school and in her community.


“The school district has been excellent! I cannot say enough good things about SCSD2. Bree loves school. I knew when she was diagnosed that she would be devastated about not being able to go to school anymore and she was,” Jennifer Brown said. “I can remember calling Ms. Nass from the hospital, in tears and feeling hopeless. She comforted me and assured me they would help Bree get through this difficult time. Mrs. Lohr and Mrs. Mullins come out to the house to do home instruction with Bree. They are very flexible.


“The school district has been equally supportive with Bree’s older brother, Bailen. He’s a freshman. The teachers worked with Bailen on catching up his work. The basketball team offered tremendous support to both Bailen and our entire family.”


At Scottsburg Middle School, Bree Brown’s seventh-grade classmates and other students have helped raise money for the family through the Bows for Bree campaign. Students bought purple and white polka-dot hair bows in honor of Bree and snapped a few pictures to send to her. They also created a card quilt, sold T-shirts, sent in care packages, and made videos to show their support.


“The middle school created special videos for Bree at Christmas time wishing her a Merry Christmas and a happy 13th birthday too! That really lightened her mood because we were in the hospital over Christmas and she was very sick from the chemo,” Jennifer Brown said. “Numerous clubs/departments have collected money for her including student council, the girls basketball team, the choir, art club, and the boys high school basketball team.”


For Bree Brown’s 13th birthday, the students at SMS and people from all over the United States and the world sent Brown birthday cards in the mail. While she was not feeling well after the most recent round of chemotherapy, Brown was able to go through the cards sent to her.


“It perks her up. She pulls one out and reads it. She has received cards from about every state and from Germany, Japan, and Canada. She has about 700 cards maybe,” Jennifer Brown said. “We’re planning a big party when she start feeling better.”


Each day, Bree Brown’s courage, kindness, beauty, and strength shines through everything she does; she is #breestrong. At Scott County School District 2, Brown’s story is our story. Your story matters. You matter.


To send Bree Brown well wishes, mail a card to Bree Brown, P.O. Box 609, Scottsburg, IN 47170. To follow her story online, visit the Facebook group, Blessings for Bree, and request to join. To send a financial gift, visit her GoFundMe page at