30 DAYS/30 STORIES® 2021
They say when someone gets cancer the whole family is affected. Whoever “they” is could not be more correct. Bryce is my fearless nephew and was only two years old when he started his courageous battle with cancer. He was not alone in learning how to fight; we had to learn with him. It has been a long, heart-wrenching but beautiful journey. Today he is in the 2nd grade, funny, happy and has had clear scans since November 2020.
It was the spring of 2015. Bryce was loving the warmer weather and being able to play outside. He was always full of energy and had a smile that could melt your heart. We had a close bond and would play together all the time. He loved when I pulled him in his red wagon up and down the street. Sometimes, Aunt Dezzie would put the “turbo on” and we would go faster and faster until he would laugh uncontrollably. Remembering his laugh always makes me smile. I would even fit into his wagon, and he would try to pull me along the sidewalk as well. Bryce has a fearless personality, and nothing ever stops him from what he wants. This warrior spirit is exactly what he needed during his seven-year battle.
Bryce all the sudden started not feeling well and became very fussy, crying and screaming all the time. There were times he would even throw up after getting his nightly bottle, which the doctor said may have been an allergic response and to stop giving him milk. The problem persisted and Kristen, my sister & Bryce’s mom, along with her husband Rob, began to worry that this just wasn’t normal. They took him to a local walk-in clinic where the doctor just discharged him with an ear infection and sent him home with antibiotics. A week went by, he wasn’t getting any better. Kristen’s motherly instincts knew there was more to the story, and she took him to the ER. The ER agreed with the ear infection diagnosis and gave him different antibiotics and sent him home. Finally, Bryce was able to be seen by his pediatrician and he said Bryce had a buildup of ear wax and that’s what was causing his discomfort and his balance to be off. He cleaned him up and sent them on their way.
Days went by and no improvement whatsoever. Kristen knew this was not a possible milk allergy, ear infection or ear wax build up. There was something else wrong with her son and she couldn’t see him suffer any longer. Her and her husband took Bryce back to the ER and explained that there was something wrong with her child, this wasn’t just an ear infection. They began running blood work and tests, also scheduling an immediate CT scan. The CT scan came back and instantly changed our lives. Bryce’s scans showed a 3cm mass at the back of his brain.
With the follow-up of an MRI, the doctors confirmed the mass was a 3cm tumor. Kristen’s intuition was right all along. She knew something was off with Bryce and on March 3rd ,2015 he was admitted to Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital PICU. Two days later he would be scheduled for brain surgery with Chief of Neurosurgery, Doctor Mark Li. We are forever grateful for this man and his memory lives in our hearts. After the surgery, another MRI showed a portion of the tumor left. Unfortunately, they had to immediately bring him back in for a 2nd surgery that day. It was a long scary day.
On March 5th, 2015, Bryce was diagnosed with a Medulloblastoma brain cancer, and the doctors from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and LVRCH already had an extensive chemotherapy treatment plan put together. This day would forever change Bryce and all of us our family. When Kristen called me with this news, I can remember having this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach and crying in disbelief. I mean, why Bryce? He is the light of our lives; he was only 2 years old. Why my sister? She is the most caring and compassionate woman I know, and she does not deserve this.
Bryce was finally released from the hospital on March 14th but only to be rushed back to the ER a week later. Bryce began vomiting again and couldn’t keep his balance. After calling his doctors, they advised Kristen and Rob to bring Bryce back to the hospital where they would give him another MRI. This MRI showed fluid on his brain, and they scheduled an emergency surgery with Dr. Li at four o’clock in the morning to place a shunt into Bryce’s brain to drain and manage the fluids. The doctors worked on his treatment plan, which began in April of 2015. It consisted of 6 rounds of chemotherapy, 3 rounds of bone marrow transplants and countless blood and platelet transfusions. Each round of chemo was exhausting. It included the minimum of a week’s stay in the hospital to start with and often resulted in a low blood counts, fevers and needing to go back to the hospital.
My experience is that when you see a child go through cancer it changes you. It has forever changed me. As a sister and Aunt, I did whatever was in my power to support Bryce, my sister and family. I went to the hospital every night after work, brought food to my sister and brother-in-law and surprises for Bryce. I would also help with my nephew, Cooper, Bryce’s brother, who was just four years old when this all started. Support in these moments is what is most important. Being in the shadow of life and feeling supported by the ones you love is what keeps us going. It helps to usher in the strength and courage for all battles ahead.
I was extremely thankful that my sister met Michelle, the Executive Director of the Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley. What a blessing! She was able to connect Kristen with other cancer moms who were facing the same struggles. She didn’t need to feel alone, and they instilled in her to never lose hope. From that moment on the Bennett family and PCFLV grew an incredible bond. Kristen has grown so much and discovered many new friendships and support systems over the years, and it all began with PCFLV. Many thanks to the organization and Michelle.
After the first treatment plan ran its course, Bryce was cancer-free and started to build strength again. This only lasted a short time and on July 26th, 2017, he relapsed, and the cancer came back into the brain and spread into his spinal cord. At that point, their doctor said there wasn’t any more that they could do for him and sent him home on hospice. Kristen and Rob asked for a second opinion and found a doctor who wanted to try proton radiation. Over the next six weeks he would have 30 rounds of proton radiation at CHOP on his brain and spinal cord.
After the radiation completed, Bryce was sent home on oral chemo medication and continued this regime through November 8th of 2019. During these years, Kristen also educated herself on holistic remedies for her son and incorporated natural remedies and diet into their daily lives. She did everything in her power to fight along with Bryce. I am so proud of her strength and perseverance.
As of November 19th, 2020, Bryce is officially cancer-free! He is now a big brother and is full of energy, life, and laughter. He loves the beach, riding the school bus, playing with his siblings and everything Mickey Mouse related. He is adventurous, smart, and loving. He may still have a lifetime of battles ahead, but Bryce continues to show us all that he is a superhero and can weather any storm. Bryce and Kristen are living proof we can all handle whatever life throws our way.
Written by Desiree Cassidy (Aunt Dezzie)
Please consider donating in Bryce's honor to support PCFLV's mission.
Please also consider helping local kids with cancer by donating blood at Miller-Keystone Blood Center: