Help Brandon Beat Leukemia
My name is Michelle, 5 years ago I was lucky enough to meet a wonderful man named Brandon. We met online through a video game called World of Warcraft and were instant friends.Years later, we finally met in person when I took a trip to Victoria, British Columbia on a whim. We "dated" over skype and phone calls for months while Brandon was living in Victoria, BC and I was living in Austin, Texas. Finally, I decided to make the move to Canada, to take a chance on a wonderful man who I was falling for more and more every day. In July 2014, I moved to Victoria and Brandon and I have been inseparable ever since.
Our lives changes forever on August 30th when Brandon went in for a routine blood test. He called me, in tears, and told me that he had been diagnosed with leukemia. The next 48 hours were a whirl-wind as we traveled from Victoria to Vancouver so that Brandon could receive treatment at Vancouver General Hospital.
Brandon was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). AML is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. The term 'acute' denotes the rapid progression of the disease. It's called myeloid leukemia because it affects a group of white blood cells called the myeloid cells, which normally develop into the various types of mature blood cells, such as red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. AML leads to the rapid production of dysfunctional white blood cells that crowd out other healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
When Brandon was diagnosed with AML, his white blood cell count was 45x10^9 cells per liter of blood (the normal range of white blood cells is between 4x10^9 and 11x10^9 cells per liter of blood). Within the few days before he started chemotherapy, his white blood cell count had risen to nearly 60x10^9 cells per liter of blood. His initial bone marrow biopsy verified his AML diagnosis and showed that 90%+ of the stem cells in his bone marrow were cancerous.
Brandon's first round of chemotherapy, called 7+3 (7 days of a drug called cytarabine and 3 days of a drug called daunorubicin), only reduced the cancer in his bone marrow to 40%. This regimen of chemotherapy puts 75% of leukemia patients into remission, but we were not so lucky. We had high hopes for the second protocol for treatment.
Brandon kept his spirits up and pushed directly into a second round of chemotherapy, called 'salvage chemotherapy.' This more intensive chemotherapy is supposed to wipe out any remaining cancer cells at a high cost to the patient. Brandon became very ill, as his immune system as a whole was wiped out from the chemotherapy. His white blood cell counts dropped to zero, leaving him highly vulnerable to infection, and he received red blood cell and platelet transfusions every few days. Brandon was in incredible pain, due to the weakening of his body from the treatment.
We anxiously waited and watched for a month to learn if the salvage chemotherapy had worked. The doctors kept telling us that his blood counts would eventually recover, but as the weeks went by things were not starting to look up. His third bone marrow biopsy showed that his cancer had fought back up to 56%. We were devastated. Because the cancer count in his bone marrow was so high, it was preventing the growth of healthy blood cells in his body. Brandon was left with no immune system, no ability to fight infection, and limited ability to clot blood and transport oxygen throughout his body. Brandon and I got this news the day before our wedding on October 18, 2015.
After nearly 2 months in the hospital, Brandon was released so that we could enjoy our wedding at his mother's home. Brandon struggled through the day feeling sick, tired, and nauseous, but kept a smile on his face the whole time. We put all sadness aside to enjoy a weekend in celebration of our love surrounded by our family and friends. It was truly the most beautiful day of our lives. Emotions ran high as we promised to love, cherish, and support one another forever. Never before had those words meant so much.
After the failure of his first and second round of chemotherapy, his doctors did not have hope in other chemotherapy treatments. Brandon and I were told that chemotherapy would not likely work, since his leukemia was showing resistance to the strongest chemotherapy medications.
Under the umbrella of AML, certain genetic mutations place you in various risk groups for relapse. We learned that Brandon's specific cancerous mutation, called FTL3-ITD, places him in the highest risk group. Without a stem cell transplant, Brandon's chance for a cancer free life would be extremely small. Unfortunately, a patient needs to be in remission (cancer less than 5%) to receive a stem cell transplant. Getting him into remission, was proving to be the hardest part. We had nothing left but to try enrolling Brandon in a clinical drug trial.
Brandon's doctors informed us of a new drug that was conducting a phase III clinical trial at Vancouver General Hospital. The drug was an FTL3 inhibitor, that was designed to damage only the cancerous cells in his body. We were thrilled to learn about this new treatment that could put him into remission. On October 27, 2015, Brandon beat the odds and was randomized to be one of the 2/3 of patients to receive the medication. We were over the moon!
The mediation looked very promising, with Brandon's subsequent monthly biopsies showing bone marrow cancer counts of 31% and 9%, respectively. We thought that surely his next biopsy would give us the remission we had been waiting for. Brandon's doctor's were so confident, that they started to schedule his stem cell transplant for mid February 2016. We were excited to learn that Brandon had 3 possible donors!
We were confident and excited as Brandon went in for his 7th bone marrow biopsy on January 19, 2016. We were crushed to learn that his bone marrow cancer count had increased from 9% to 20% over the last month. While this was not the news we were hoping for, we were hopeful that the next highest dose of the trial drug would do the trick. On January 20th, his doctors increased his medication dose to the highest possible dose of 60mg. Brandon's stem cell transplant was delayed to mid March in hopes that the medication would work its magic.
Unfortunately, a week and a half later, on January 29, 2016, we learned that the medication was not working. Increasing numbers of cancerous blast cells had begun to show in Brandon's blood, which lead doctors to believe that the leukemia was continuing to flourish in his bone marrow. Furthermore, the highest dose of the medication was starting to show toxic effects on Brandon's liver. With heavy hearts, Brandon's doctors were forced to remove him from the trial drug study.
On January 29, 2016, we had the difficult conversation
with his doctors as they told us there were no available treatment options left in Canada. Vancouver General Hospital is one of the leading leukemia treatment centers in Canada, and they had tried everything they have available to help Brandon. All they could offer, is comfort care to ease the side effects as the cancer takes over and eventually takes Brandon's life.
Brandon and I are just not ready to quit. We are choosing to travel to the best cancer hospital in the United States, MD Anderson in Houston, Texas. Because Brandon is a Canadian citizen, this comes with a heafy price tag. His initial consultation fee is $37,000. I am working diligently to get all his paperwork in order so that he can be at MD Anderson to start treatment within the next few weeks. Since his leukemia is so aggressive, getting him to MD Anderson as quickly as possible is extremely important. Any donations received
will go towards paying for Brandon's treatment at MD Anderson.
Anyone who knows Brandon, knows what a joy and light he is to the world. He is the most compassionate, generous, and contagiously funny guy I know. He has the ability to light up the room and make everyone around him laugh and smile. He also has an incredible positivity and strength that comes from within. Throughout this journey, he has never complained or been angry with his diagnosis. I don't know how many times I've heard him say "Other people have it worse, I'm the lucky one." He has continued to fight leukemia with a smile on his face and love in his heart.
Brandon is also my best friend, my husband, my soulmate, and my life-long love. I can't imagine a world without him in it. I will never give up on a healing miracle, or on the hope that there is a treatment out there that can cure his leukemia. We made our wedding vows on October 18, 2015, and those vows will carry on forever. I will always be there to love, support, cherish, and fight for him; whether it be in his fight against leukemia or anything else that life throws our way. I will never give up on him.
I am beyond thankful for the love and support that we continue to receive from our family and friends. I don't know what we would have done without you all.
Please help support Brandon in his fight to beat leukemia. Any money received will go towards funding his treatment at the award winning MD Anderson cancer hospital in Houston, Texas. The initial consultation fee is $37,000, but that only covers the initial doctor's evaluation and diagnostic tests. I don't know how much his full treatment will cost, but I will do everything I can to make sure that a lack of money will not prevent him from getting the care he needs. There is no price tag on Brandon's life.
Brandon's only hope for treatment and a possible cure is to leave Canada to receive treatment in the United States. Please donate and share help us make that happen.
Even during the fight with one of the most aggressive form of leukemia, AML, Brandon keeps his spirits up by laughter, joking, and dancing. Laughter is the best medicine!
A lot of people have reached out requesting details about Brandon’s celebration of life. We are still trying to confirm details, however, we have decided on the date of Saturday July 22nd. Please mark that date off on your calendar if you would like to attend. I will be sure to let everyone know as soon as we have confirmed times and more details.
I will be working on a slideshow for Brandon's celebration of life and would love any photos that anyone can share. Please feel free to email/message me photos or you can also drop them off at Karen’s home. It would be wonderful to gather a collection of photos that truly honor and represent the way Brandon lived his life - full of laughter and love.
There could never be enough words to describe my deep and unending love for my beautiful husband, Brandon. He is truly the most beautiful person with such a beaming smile and infectious laugh. His personality can light up a room within moments and I have yet to meet someone that doesn’t adore him. He loves deeper and bigger than anyone I have ever known and has a beautiful way of making others feel so incredibly special and loved. His goofy and spontaneous sense of humor is unmatched and he has the beautiful gift of making people smile whoever he goes. When we met it didn’t take me long to realize that I had found someone incredibly special and one of a kind. In our time together Brandon has taught me so much; he’s shown me how to be brave and strong, how to love deeper and harder, to see the beauty in everyone and everything, and most importantly to never give up no matter what life throws my way.
Though our time together was short, we truly squeezed in as much joy and laughter as we possibly could. We loved more in our 3 and a half years than some people do in a lifetime. I feel so incredibly blessed that I was able to be a part of his life here on earth and I feel honored that I was chosen to be his best friend, soulmate, and wife. I have no doubt that our time together will be the most special years of my life and I’m thankful for every single moment that we shared together. Our love is everlasting and while we are no longer together in person, he will always be a huge part of my life. He will always be in my heart and his spirit will live on through my thoughts, words, and actions. I love him endlessly and that will never ever change. It brings me so much joy to know that I will see him again one day and that we will be able to pick up right where we left off. Until that time, I know that I will have the best guardian angel in heaven. I have no doubt that he will be watching over me every moment until we meet again.
I couldn’t be more proud of Brandon’s bravery and courage over the last two years of our lives. He tackled leukemia head on and remained positive and hopeful throughout every single disappointment and set back that was thrown our way. He fought through so much adversity and his journey has inspired so many. He overcame insurmountable odds and obstacles that astounded every single person that watched him fight this uphill battle. He knew the odds were against him but he never let that change his positive outlook and attitude. He wanted something positive to come from his struggle and never hesitated to agree to additional research studies that wanted extra tissue samples for leukemia research down the road. To him it was all worth it even if he could only save one life. I have no doubt in my mind that all of the clinical trials and research studies that he participated in will lead to new treatments and more lives saved. And despite everything that he was going through, he never stopped caring about everyone else. He had all the time in the world to share his story and spent a lot of time encouraging and inspiring other patients and their families. He became well known in the leukemia community at Vancouver General Hospital and at MD Anderson and inspired patients and their families, nurses, hospital staff, and doctors alike. He fought bravely during this long and strenuous journey and he has WON this battle against this horrible disease. Brandon beat cancer by how he lived, why he lived, and the manner in which he lived. I think it is safe to say he has more than earned his super hero cape and I have no doubt that he’s wearing it for a little extra Brandon flare with his new angel wings up in heaven.
Brandon and I are incredibly thankful for all the incredible support that we have received from all around the world during our journey. Everyone’s love gave us so much strength and courage to continue our fight. Thank you endlessly to everyone that made it possible for Brandon to travel to MD Anderson for further treatment; you gave him an extremely precious extra year and a half of life. Brandon and I greatly cherished that time and truly made the most of the short time that we had. I am so thankful that we were able to bring Brandon home even though it was just for such a short time. The moments he had here before his passing were so special and so powerful. He was able to witness an amazing welcome home committee full of his amazing friends and family, to meet and love on his niece and nephew, share smiles and laughs with the people he loves, and just relish in the beauty of being back home in BC, a place that he loved and missed so much. I will never forget the moment Sunday morning where he just sat on the couch at home with the sliding glass door open and a perfect view of the outside. We sat and cried and talked about how beautiful it was to hear the birds and the wind in the trees, smell the ocean, and to breathe that crisp cool BC air. He was so happy and so at peace because he had made it home.
Brandon’s story is incredibly powerful and no words could ever do it justice. I know that there are so many people that love him and so many lives that he has touched in his 26 years. If the years of life were measured in love, he would have far surpassed the age of 26.
I will be sure to share details about Brandon’s service and celebration of life once we have more details. Thank you all for the incredible love and support during this time. It brings me so much peace and joy to hear how Brandon’s life touched the lives of so many.
Shortly after my last update our world was turned upside down as Brandon went into respiratory failure and was placed on a ventilator in the ICU. At that time, the doctors didn't know if he would ever breathe again on his own. Two and a half days later, after a lot of tears and even more prayers, he amazed everyone when he took his first breaths without life support. Shortly thereafter, he faced a life threatening heart complication that led to a drain being placed in his chest to remove over a liter of fluid that was compressing his heart. Since our time leading up to the ICU, Brandon has been fighting incredibly hard. In the last few months we have been in and out of the hospital more times than I can count and he has been through multiple rounds of treatment to try and get back into remission. The last 3 months have been unexplainably difficult and it has taken a huge toll on Brandon, myself, and our family. Unfortunately, despite everything we have done, the leukemia has continued to progress.
My heart is broken and I don't even know where to begin. This is the post that I never ever wanted to write. Over the last few weeks Brandon's leukemia has really begun to progress at a very quick rate. Unfortunately at this point in his illness chemotherapy is no longer working to control his leukemia. Chemotherapy that was holding things for a month are now barely holding things for the matter of a few days. It has been very difficult to come to the understanding and accept that there are no viable options and that his illness has become terminal.
At this point, Brandon has made the decision that he wants to focus on quality of life rather than quantity. This means that we will be traveling back to Brandon's home in White Rock, BC, Canada very soon so that he can spend time with friends and family, meet his newly born niece and nephew, and be where he feels at peace. We plan on making the very most of the time that we have left together and with our loved ones.
Thank you all for your amazing support through the last two years of our lives. It has been an incredible journey and we have truly come so far. Without the love and support of so many, we would not have had the opportunity to come to MD Anderson for further treatment and therefore, would not have had the last very precious year and a half to spend together. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to everyone that has helped us get so far.
I want to be clear that despite the outcome this is not defeat for Brandon or our family. Brandon has beaten cancer by how he lives, why he lives, and the manner in which he lives. I am so proud of my brave and courageous husband for fighting so bravely throughout our journey. He has touched so many lives and inspired so many people, including me.
Please keep Brandon and myself, along with all of our close friends and family in your prayers as we begin this next part of our journey. It's very important to Brandon that he spends his remaining time in peace and joy surrounded by the ones he loves. We are trying our best to make this experience a reflection of our family's positivity and love and request that everyone share in our outlook. We plan to be home within the next 48 hours and I will be sure to let everyone know when we arrive.
Thank you all again for your love and support.
The doctors originally thought that he had an early stage of pneumonia so he was admitted to the hospital Sunday night. However, Monday night Brandon had a CT scan of his chest, which disproved the original diagnosis of pneumonia. We were incredibly thankful to learn that Brandon did not have pneumonia but were left puzzled as to where the infection was hiding. In the process of trying to find the source of the infection they have found that Brandon has a collapsed lower lobe in his left lung, some fluid surrounding his lungs, and thrush (a minor fungal infection) in his mouth and throat. The doctors are not too concerned with their findings at the moment, but he continues to be watched closely.
Over the last 72 hours the fevers have continued with Brandon spiking multiple fevers above 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4 degrees Celsius) throughout the day. At this point infectious disease has been brought on board to run more tests to identify the source of infection. The good news is that his condition is not getting worse, but it's not necessarily getting better either. He's being treated with three broad-spectrum IV antibiotics, an antifungal medication, and an antiviral medication. So far all of the infectious disease tests have come back negative.
This past week has turned into the perfect storm of unfortunate events. Last Thursday Brandon stopped his daily leukemia medication that he has been taking since November in order to complete a wash out period prior to enrolling in a new leukemia clinical trial. Since stopping that medication, Brandon's leukemia progression has accelerated. Obviously that medication was keeping things at bay and since stopping it, his leukemia has been able to run rampant. His white blood cell count has been skyrocketing and he's had to take increasing doses of an oral chemo to control his counts.
Brandon's rapid leukemia progression has been causing him an immense amount of pain. The leukemia cells in his bone marrow have begun to multiply so rapidly that his marrow is now overcrowded with cancer cells, causing severe bone and joint pain. It's been very difficult to control his pain over the last couple of days that he has been in the hospital. In addition to his leukemia pain, the consistent fevers and lack of sleep have made him incredibly uncomfortable. There's not even the words to explain how much pain and discomfort that he has been in. We've had some better moments today so I'm really hoping that things are starting to turn around!
In other good news, Brandon was accepted and enrolled into the new clinical trial yesterday. We are so thankful that he was able to take his first dose of the investigational drug this afternoon! This new drug is the first of its kind to be developed to treat AML patients with resistance to FLT3 inhibitors, which is the type of treatment that worked well for Brandon early on. The Leukemia Department at MD Anderson is very excited about this new drug and hoping, as are we, that it works wonders. We have been praying for God to lead us and our team at MD Anderson to the best possible treatment, and we are so hopeful that this is the miracle drug that we have been waiting for.
It's been a very trying first few days at the hospital but we're hoping that things start to smooth out. We pray that Brandon's doctors are able to find and treat the source of his fevers quickly so that part of his discomfort is eased. We also pray that this new leukemia drug begins to work quickly so that the leukemia is wiped out and Brandon's pain lessens. He's got so much strength and courage and I'm so proud of how hard he continues to fight every single day. His body, mind, and spirit have been through so much but he continues to be strong, determined, and hopeful. I am so proud to be his wife and walk this journey by his side. Brandon continues to fight for our life and love every day and I couldn't be more proud of him.
I have no doubt that God has big plans for Brandon's life. Over the last 19 months of our journey I have watched Brandon strengthen and encourage other patients and their families, both by his words and by the way in which he lives. His infectious smile and laugh have brightened the days of so many people. He has inspired many with his will to fight and determination to never give up. He's signed up for every research study that he's been approached about in hopes that his additional blood and bone marrow samples will be used for life-saving and innovative research that will make a difference. His participation in five clinical trials will undoubtedly impact the lives of many as these drugs come to market and become available to millions of people. I am so proud that he has taken it upon himself to use this very difficult part of our lives to make a positive impact for others.
Please continue to keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we start this next part of our journey. We are so thankful for everyone's love, kindness, and support. I will be sure to keep everyone updated with Brandon's progress.
My daughter has a grade 3 brain tumor and now a rare melanoma cancer. She has been treated at MD Anderson for the last 10 years! This is a good thing as she was originally given less then a year to live. She has had to relocate from San Diego many times to Houston for treatments. You are going to the best cancer hospital in the world. My thoughts and prayers are with you both on this journey. Your fight and love for life and one another is inspiring. I will share this as well and hope it helps.
I don't know you personally but I feel like I do. Every time I get an email in my inbox of an update I leap to read it . I'm sure I'm not alone in this. Know that you have a whole army of strangers behind the scenes praying for you, cheering you on and wishing you health. So happy to hear the good news today
Michelle, can I just take a moment to say how lucky Brandon is to have a woman like you in his life. I am envious of your determination, consistency and your strength, but mostly I am inspired by the amazing human being that you are. We, as your community will support this journey with financial contributions where we can, but the real hero here is you Michelle. We are thinking about you guys every single day, and we are honoured to be a part of this journey. We keep your go fund me page up at the shop and we talk to people about your journey whenever we can hoping that we'll help raise some awareness for you, you are both amazing. All my love xo Alaina and the girls @Crush
Michelle, please know that you will be in my prayers and that you and your family have my deepest sympathies. Thank you for sharing Brandon's battle with the world. Dear Heavenly Father, please be with Brandon's family as they go through these days ahead. Watch over them and give them Your Peace and Strength to manage these days they face. God Bless you all
My heart hurts for you so much. But even following his story was inspiring and often left me in awe of both of your strength. Much love and prayers to you.
I'm so sorry for your loss! You were both very strong and I hope the time in the U.S. wasn't too painful for him so you could enjoy being together. I was happy to donate. Now my dear it's time to look after yourself! You were an awesome wife to him. It's time to heal Michelle!
May Brandon's final journey be filled with love and peace. Many hugs.
You, Brandon, and your entire family are in our hearts and prayers. I know that God has you in His loving hands, giving you all the grace and peace that you need for your next steps.
Still praying for you, Brandon!
sending much love and prayers to you both! ♥
Thank you for sharing your life with the world. Keep strong, both of you. I've been praying for you guys. I'll keep doing that too.
Lots of love and hugs to both of you. Brandon is going to beat this!
I'm so sorry to read this news :( As Jenna Schentag Hoff mentioned, you do have many many many people whom you don't know praying and sending positive energy your way. Know that we read your updates, that we care, and we wish all the best for you both. The fight is far from over!
Stay strong, Brandon. Praying for you and your wife.
Please never give up! While I have lymphoma, I have relapsed twice now and the last treatment they gave me, which they didn't think would work because I did not fit the trial profile, DID work and I have been NED for 2 years now.....everything is possible!!!! Hopes, wishes and prayers are with you.....
I am so sorry to hear this news. I remember hearing the same news after my husband had endured rounds of chemo and then a bone marrow transplant. The cancer was still there. We were offered radiation as a last ditch effort to get rid of the remaining cancer and guess what, it worked. He has been cancer free for 3 years now. I suppose what I'm trying to say is don't give up. There is hope. Stay strong.