A Race Well Run
A mother remembers her daughter’s final race.
By Robyn Bryant
May 2011: My daughter Christian Bryant came home late one evening after track practice and attending a college fair. She was 17 years old, and her junior year at Girls Preparatory School (GPS) was coming to a close. Normally upbeat and energetic, she was tired and didn’t feel good, but I wasn’t alarmed. Christian was a busy girl and held herself to high standards, so she was often up late studying. The next morning, Christian was running a fever. As a registered nurse for more than 23 years, I wasn’t too worried. I thought she might have a viral illness.
The fever continued, so I took her to the pediatrician on May 6, where he ordered lab work and a mono test. Even though the mono test was negative, the pediatrician thought she might still have it—the test is often not very reliable.
Christian continued to run fevers over the weekend, and she had a couple of areas on her body that appeared to be infected. On May 9, we returned to the pediatrician for more lab work, but after seeing the results, he told us he wanted to refer Christian to a hematologist.
At this point, I was very concerned. My beautiful daughter felt terrible, and I knew she was very sick. Less than 30 minutes after leaving the pediatrician’s office, they called to say that Christian needed to be at the Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital at Erlanger at 8 the next morning.
I knew they were thinking she might have leukemia or some type of cancer. I also knew that she would probably be having a bone marrow biopsy and aspiration. The next morning her fever was high again, and she was tearful because she felt so bad. Tears were very uncommon for Christian.
At the clinic, Christian was seen very quickly by Sonya, a medical assistant who became our dear friend, and Lindsay, a registered nurse, who also became a favorite. Jennifer Keates, M.D., saw Christian that morning and did a very thorough examination and explained to Christian, my husband, Chris, and me the need for a bone marrow biopsy and aspiration. Christian was terrified. I was too, but I was able to put on my nurse hat, and reassure her that she would feel no pain.
That day, we also met Manoo Bhakta, M.D., who explained to us that Christian had three possible diagnoses. None of them sounded good to me.
Christian was admitted for the very first time to a special place, Children’s 300 at Children’s Hospital. At the time, we didn’t know that the nurses who took care of Christian during that admission would become part of our family. Christian spent five nights in the hospital and was discharged with a diagnosis of a rare autoimmune disorder. After starting treatment with steroids, she was starting to feel better. Christian spent the summer recovering and going to the clinic weekly. I tried to feel at ease, but each time we saw Dr. Bhakta, I knew he wasn’t completely comfortable with Christian’s diagnosis.
By the end of May, Christian was running again and exercising, sometimes twice a day. She wanted to be in shape for her senior year cross-country season.
July 2011: We were able to take a long vacation to Rosemary Beach—a place that Christian and our whole family loved. I remember watching her stand at the ocean’s edge. She looked beautiful and all I could think was, “God, thank you that my child does not have cancer.”
A few days prior to cross-country camp, Christian had an appointment at the clinic, and her neutrophil count was lower. My anxiety was returning. I started to feel a sense of impending doom.
August 2011: Less than 36 hours into cross-country camp, Christian called to tell me she had a really bad headache and that her lower left leg hurt.
On Aug. 8, Christian was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Now, her race had begun, and nothing was easy.
On the evening of her diagnosis, we were surrounded by friends and family. Dr. Bhakta, who at that time was Christian’s primary doctor, came to see her. He talked directly to her and told her he was relieved, that ALL is treatable. I have great respect for all of the oncologists at Children’s Hospital. Christian was older when she was diagnosed, and I love that they always talked to her, explained things thoroughly and gave her the opportunity to ask questions.Christian described her diagnosis as a relief, to finally know what was wrong. She chose to enter treatment with a “cup half full” mentality, and she never expressed any negative thoughts.
In mid-August, Christian started chemotherapy. And around the same time, her doctor, Eric Gratias, M.D., went to GPS to meet with all of the teachers, counselors and administrators who would be involved in Christian’s senior year. I was so thankful that he took the time to explain the impact her diagnosis would have on her senior year.
Christian was a rapid responder to chemotherapy and was in remission quickly. When she wasn’t at the clinic receiving treatment or blood products, she was attending class. She attended school regardless of her counts. She wanted to experience her senior year as normally as possible.
Christian celebrated her 18th birthday in the clinic, and the next day we left for Rosemary Beach to celebrate her birthday and Thnksgiving.
December 2011: Christian was admitted on Dec. 12 to start the third treatment phase, which led to a few admissions to Children’s 300 due to the type of chemotherapy being administered and the required monitoring.and Thanksgiving.
Even so, Christmas Day was great! Christian was at home, she felt good, and she and Bailey, our youngest daughter, spent time playing Just Dance, a Wii game.
But the next morning, Bailey started screaming that Christian needed us. Christian had probably been awake for more than an hour trying desperately to get our attention. She was unable to speak or move the right side of her body. This will forever be one of the worst memories of my life.
After testing at Children’s Hospital, Christian was moved to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). I never thought Christian would enter those doors as a patient. Early the next morning, Christian’s monitors kept going off, and all of a sudden she yelled “shut up” to the monitor. I was so happy to hear that her speech was much clearer. By the end of the day, she was walking on her own.
A few weeks later, after Christian once again experienced stroke symptoms, the oncology team decided that she would no longer receive high doses of methotrexate, a chemotherapy drug.
February 2012: Christian went on her senior trip to Disney World. We were there in the background, just in case. She felt incredible, she looked great, and she and her best friend, Corbin, went on their last run together. When Christian was not in the hospital or the clinic, she exercised, she lifted weights and she walked.
March 2012: After an eight-day admission for fever (Christian had lost the ability to fight any and all infections), we left for Rosemary Beach, a happy place for our family. This was our last trip as a family to a place Christian loved. Christian was very weak, but she rallied and went shopping with friends and rode a bike. Christian was readmitted on March 28.
April 2012: Things rapidly digressed for Christian as she started to develop life-threatening complications. Just as she recovered from one thing, she would be hit by another.
Christian was on a ventilator in the PICU the last five weeks of her life, and yet we had positive interactions with her during this time. She would respond to our questions and smile occasionally. One day, Bailey stood by her sister’s bed and started talking to her. Even though Christian could not respond, she continued to tell her about current ev
ents. It was a very special day.
May 26, 2012: Chris arrived in the PICU first and could tell things were declining. When I walked into Christian’s room that morning, I knew Christian would be leaving us that day.
Chris and I read our devotional for the day. The scripture was Revelation 22:13: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Chris and I told Christian we loved her and that it was OK to go to her heavenly home. Bailey held her hand as Christian left this home for her perfect home with Jesus.
During Christian’s illness, she touched many lives. The morning she was leaving this world, nurses, doctors and friends quietly poured into her room to tell her goodbye.
Christian ran the longest race of her life. Dr. Gratias says, “Christian broke the tape. Christian won her race. She is whole and healthy now, running streets of gold.”
My beautiful daughter, Christian, received exceptional care the 115 days she was admitted to Children’s Hospital. She was an incredible girl and she is leaving a great legacy.
We hope that we can honor Christian’s memory and make things better for children in our community and region by giving back to the hospital that delivered exceptional care to Christian the last year of her life.
Give in memory of Christian.