On December 24, 2014 Brody was diagnosed with Stage 3 Rhabdomyosarcoma of the head and neck (inoperable). His oncologist gave us a treatment plan consisting of 43 weeks of Chemotherapy including 28 radiation sessions and progress scans roughly every 3 months to track his progress. Brody began his treatments on Christmas Eve and our family rallied together to fight alongside him. It was a rough start, living in the hospital and pulling him out of daycare and his daily routines, not to mention all the new needles, drugs and nurses. Brody had a port-a-cath surgically inserted to administer his meds, as well as a gastronomy tube to administer his feeds as needed. Brody showed the signs of his disease early on. He had sunken cheeks, he was more irritable than his regular self, he had a lack of appetite, and he was in a lot of pain. After a few weeks of getting used to our new daily routines, Brody started to perk up and I finally felt that I had my son back. He laughed harder than he ever did before, told his silly jokes every chance he got, and he showed a level of compassion I didn't think was possible for a near 3 year-old. In April of 2015 Brody went for his first CT progress scan which showed that his tumour was shrinking. We continued treatments according to the protocol, counting down the months until his end of treatment day (It's a big day for cancer families). We signed Brody up for his first ever Soccer Team at Earl Grey, and practiced in our front yard almost every day. The next few weeks went without any major complications, just a fever here and there and nausea from his chemotherapy.
Brody celebrated his third birthday on June 19th, 2015 with a big party with all his friends and family. His chemo was pushed back a week due to a minor cold, so the birthday boy was especially grumpy from his 5 day chemo. He sat on the present table while guests dropped off gifts. He unwrapped each one and even had a special visit from Captain America! On father's day the following day Brody had a complication from his chemo which caused internal bleeding. We were admitted into CK5 for observations and more tests. We came to the conclusion as a team that it was best to cut his dose of Irinotecan in half , as this was the most probable cause for the bleeding. This was a bump in the road, but it still meant we had a while to go.
In July, Brody had his second CT progress scan which showed that his tumour was "essentially unchanged", meaning there was no shrinkage or growth, or so we thought...
Fast forward to August 31st, 2015, we had a Cancer Care appointment at 10:30 that day for blood work (a finger poke as Brody would say). He had no Chemo two weeks prior as we were trying to give his body a rest before his full dose of Irinotecan began again, the strongest dose he would have ever had. Brody was tired, he looked unwell and he complained that he had to puke during our visit. I can still hear his little voice saying "Mommy, I'm gonna puke" over and over. I spoke with his oncologist about my concerns and we both thought it was side effects from his treatment protocol. We were given the OK to go home and return for our Chemo appointment the following Monday. Aunty Wawa (Allie) picked us up and took us to Nana's as per Brody's request. At Nana's Brody had a fudgesicle, his favourite treat and he laughed and danced with his Aunties. At 2:00 PM Brody was running through the halls, taking videos with his Auntie Keaks and Gigi, and by 3:00PM he was in the ambulance suffering from a seizure.
The Ambulance took us to Children's Emergency where we were taken into the resuscitation room. Brody's seizure continued on the trip to the hospital. His eyes were open, I held his hand, but he was no longer there. The doctors and nurses put Brody into a medically induced coma to protect his airways and his brain. He was brought for an emergency CT scan where all of our fears became real. Brody's oncologist turned the corner after speaking to radiologists and I could tell by the look on his face, the news he was about to deliver would be devastating. Brody's seizure was caused by his tumour which had metastasized to his brain. He apologized and said "there are no other treatment options", our son was dying. Hours later Brody also had an MRI to get a closer look at what was happening. It confirmed what the CT had shown, tumours now invaded his little brain, and there were some areas of haemorrhage. A decision was made to place him on comfort care only.
On September 1st, the following day after his seizure, friends and family gathered in the PICU waiting room to say their good-byes to Brody. Brody was placed on a ventilator and in a coma, therefore he couldn't communicate. As doctors came to reduce the ventilator around 4:00 PM, Brody suffered another seizure. We were encouraged to sign a DNR if that were to happen again, as the nurses and doctors had to resuscitate him. Our families went home and left the hospital to take a break and give us some alone time. As Brody's dad and I sat with him, we watched videos we had of him, hoping to boost his spirits and to hear his voice again. Brody's levels slowly started dropping without drawing attention, until his monitor started beeping uncontrollably. His heart rate was dangerously low, his oxygen levels were almost non existent. The nurse ran in to shut his monitor off and went in the hall to announce to the others that "he's deciding to go". We knew it was time, but we were not ready to say goodbye so soon, who would be? I wiped away my tears and whispered in his ear "it's okay to let go, I love you so so much". A few minutes later Brody's heart gave up, and in my hands lay my lifeless child at 6:00PM. The nurses were quick to take his tubes and needles out so we could hold him once more without any obstructions in our way. I kissed his lips, traced his features and tickled his tiny little feet for the very last time.
At the age of three, Brody Birrell-Gruhn passed away in the arms of his parents at the Children's Hospital (PICU) in Winnipeg, Manitoba.