Little Brielle Robichaud, 3, is already facing an overwhelming health crisis, but she and her family are counting on others and the power of prayer to see them through.
On Jan. 22nd, doctors located a tumor in the centre of her brain.
Her parents, Nick and Trish, noticed a bit of a change in her behaviour in the weeks before the diagnosis. Her energy level had dropped, and then a headache started.
“It would be there one day, and then the next day it would be gone,” recalls Trish. “She would say she was tired, and then say her head hurt.” Doctor visits followed, and nothing serious showed at that point.
A fever started later – and the next morning, Trish recalls waking up to hearing Brielle mumbling something. “I went in her room and she looked like her back was bothering her. I picked her up and she was kind of arching her back a bit – I could tell it was stiff. She also said her head hurt, so with the fever, I thought she must have meningitis.”
The family left immediately for the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary where tests were performed right away. Brielle had a CATscan that very morning and was in surgery by noon. Doctors diagnosed pilomyxoid astrocytoma – a benign tumour that had blocked the drainage of her cerebral spinal fluid.
“It is a type of benign tumour that is quite aggressive – it grows quickly, and they expect that it will certainly grow if they don’t treat it,” she explained. “And because of the location of the tumour – which is literally in the centre of her brain – it touches the pituitary gland, her hypothalamus and her optic chiasm. All of those parts of the brain are obviously extremely important and because of the size of the tumour, if we let it grow, it will kill her.”
During an initial six-hour surgery, the plan was to remove it but they soon realized they couldn’t do that as it would simply be too dangerous. Some of it was removed, and the next step is 18 months of chemotherapy. Brielle is too young to undergo radiation.
“Because the tumor had gotten so large, it had started to give her neurological symptoms because of the swelling in her brain,” said Trish. “I saw the MRI with my own eyes and it was just shocking.”
Doctors have also place a shunt in Brielle’s head to help drain the fluid, which has relieved several of her symptoms, although she still has a tremulous left hand and her vision isn’t quite what it should be.
Chemotherapy treatments began last week, and doctors have told Nick and Trish that there may be more treatment and/or surgeries beyond this round as well. “They expect it will continue to grow unless we treat it.” Chemotherapy also means that Brielle is somewhat compromised in her immune system, which presents another challenge as she has to try to avoid sickness in others.
These days, Brielle is on medications to fight nausea, and Trish said the fever and headaches are gone. “She’s a bit unstable – she can walk by herself but she’s not safe to walk by herself.
“But we’re really happy to be home.”
Meanwhile, Trish said she and Nick and their other children Xavier, 7, and five-year-old Taj, are overwhelmed by the kindness, support and prayers that have been coming in from the community.
The family anticipates plenty of expenses over the coming months. Trish will be taking time off work to care for Bri as well.
They are enormously grateful for the support that has come their way.
“People are so sweet to us; they just want to support us and love us. They’re really empathetic.
“People are just looking for a way to love us. We are speechless. We are totally overwhelmed at the community and our friends who want to love us in this way. It’s can be uncomfortable, because it’s hard to take help sometimes,” she adds. “We are overwhelmed – it’s so nice and it’s definitely taught us something about giving. We are amazed. It’s encouraging, because when we are down we just read all those comments (on facebook) and it picks us up.”
But it’s not only to others that they have turned. “We strongly believe in the power of prayer. When we ask people to pray for something specifically, we have seen miracles, we’ve seen God do it.”
Sometimes it’s still hard to believe how quickly things happened, though.
“Just a week before, she was running back and forth in the arena watching her brothers play hockey.”
Last week, when the family was driving home, Trish said their sense of joy about heading home was tempered by concerns about how Brielle would do. “They told us about all of these different symptoms we needed to watch out for,” she said. “We were so excited, but absolutely terrified to come home. So we put out a message on facebook asking friends to pray for our peace and for wisdom in taking care of our daughter, and we’ve had an amazing homecoming.”
For more information, or to learn how to help the Robichauds, check out http://www.gofundme.com/teambri.