Berkshire Profile is pleased to return as "iBerkshires Profile." The weekly Sunday feature will continue to focus on individuals making a difference in their communities with expanded profiles that include those living in Southern Vermont. iBerkshires Profile plans to showcase the everyday folks and entities making our region a unique and wonderful place to call home.
Dover, Vt. - Brianne Trudeau is a bit of a Northern Berkshires celebrity; her golden curls and smiling countenance complete with dimples and sparkling eyes are featured on numerous Northern Berkshire Relay for Life posters.
Now five years old, Brianne likes to dance. She is expected to perform ballet and tap routines during an upcoming Kelly's Dance Academy recital in Brattleboro, Vt..
"I'm gonna be a Rockette," she said during a May 11 interview at the iBerkshires.com office in North Adams. "My costume is yellow and black."
<L2>She is a fan of Dora the Explorer and Strawberry Shortcake, and when pressed, confessed a slight preference for Strawberry Shortcake.
And in 2006, Brianne was among the dozens to don a purple survivor sash and walk a cancer survivor lap during the first-ever Northern Berkshire relay.
At the time, she was four years old and a nearly four-year cancer survivor.
Brianne and her family - mom Angie, who is an elementary school teacher in Wilmington, Vt., dad Dan, a Vermont state police detective sergeant, and big brother Jack, 7, who enjoys catching snakes - will participate during this week's May 18-19 relay. The family is part of "Bree's Brigade," one of the over 45 teams that will keep walkers on a walking track at the Noel Field Athletic Complex from 6 p.m. May 18 to the morning hours of May 19.
Among the team leaders is Brianne's paternal grandmother Marie Trudeau of Stamford, Vt.. All relay team walkers will complete laps to raise money to be donated to the American Cancer Society and the quest for cancer cures.
"We'll be there," said Angie Trudeau. "[Brianne] thinks it's her party."
Things were far from party-like several years ago when Brianne was just six months old.
Angie had driven Jack, then a toddler, from their Dover, Vt. home to the North Adams office of Dr. Robert Hertzig for a check-up and baby Brianne accompanied them.<R3>
"Dr. Hertzig said 'you drove all the way down here, why we don't we go ahead and give Brianne a check up?'," she said.
During the impromptu examination, Hertzig detected a lump and immediately ordered an ultrasound for the baby girl.
"They found the lump on a Saturday and by Tuesday we were at Boston Children's Hospital," she said.
"Your Daughter Has Cancer"
Brianne was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma, a very rare cancer affecting the liver. The cancer is found most often in children between infancy and age five. Brianne underwent surgery at the children's hospital for removal of the tumor and a section of her liver.
"I remember being so scared," Angie Trudeau said. "It's hard to describe. Everything is coming at you and you are counting on the doctors, counting on the professionals to guide you."
"Those days before we got to Boston were the worst," said Dan Trudeau. "You try to stay positive but it's easy to let your mind wander."
Questions about whether they'd done something to cause the cancer plagued the couple at first, Angie Trudeau said.
"Here you are with a six-month-old, wondering what you might have done wrong," she said.
Brianne's treating physician was very calming and comforting, said Dan and Angie Trudeau.
"He said 'Your daughter has cancer. We are going to take care of it. It isn't your fault,'" she said.
"Taking care of it" meant chemotherapy that followed the surgery, and Brianne was outfitted with a surgically-placed line that delivered the powerful drugs to her body.
<L4>The chemo made Brianne very sick, said Angie Trudeau.
"She was nursing and that's a good thing because that's all she could take," she said. "She nursed the entire time. She was so sick. She didn't smile for three months, she didn't crawl because she was so sick, so weak. We had to give her shots for her white blood cells."
The chemotherapy triggered fevers and one episode was severe enough that Brianne had to be rushed by ambulance to Boston.
But once the treatments concluded, Brianne gained strength and quickly resumed baby behaviors such as cracking a bright grin.
"Once the chemo stopped, she bounced right back."
Best Friends And Cupcakes
Brianne has been cancer-free for four-and-a-half years; just a few months shy of the five-year benchmark so revered by those who've dealt with cancer.
And she's made the most of her toddler and pre-school years. She's developed quite the taste for cupcakes, likes Barbie dolls, and has made "best friends" with little girls named Lauren, Cassidy and Hannah. She's a fan of the Hannah Montana television show and when she grows up, she wants to be a singer.
When asked to croon a tune, she eagerly belted out the ABC song.
The family owns two dogs, Tucker, a Brittany, and Josie, a German shorthair pointer. Jack has a hermit crab he's named "Army," and he has a few likes and dislikes as well. Jack's best friends are named Brett and Briar, and his pastimes include playing baseball and watching monster trucks. His favorite truck is Monster Mutt as driven by that master of truckery, Bobby Z.<R5>
"My favorite things are dogs and my worst enemy is homework," Jack said.
"You Can't Do This Alone"
With the darkest days hopefully behind them, the family is looking forward to the milestones: kindergarten, school plays, graduations, holidays and birthdays. But what was will always be part of the family perspective.
"Dan was my rock," said Angie Trudeau. "I was always going to him for assurance and as long as he could say 'it's going to be OK,' then I was OK.It's so important to support each other. I don't know what I would have done without him."
Everyday issues that might have been catalysts for frustration or aggravation fall away to nothing when your child is so very ill, the family said.
"Everything just becomes minute and the little things don't bother you anymore," Angie Trudeau said.
For families facing a serious illness affecting a child, it is imperative to develop a support system, Dan and Angie Trudeau said.
"We had so much support from family and friends and there are wonderful support groups out there," said Dan Trudeau.
"You can't do this by yourself," said Angie Trudeau.
The family feels very blessed and fortunate with Brianne's positive outcome. They know that for some families, the endings aren't happy ones.
"Even when we were going to Boston we considered ourselves lucky because there were so many children who'd been there for so long," Angie Trudeau said. "I can't imagine what the parents had to go through. But you do it. You have to."
It's the need for hope and the hope for a cure that inspires people to participate in relays for life, said Angie Trudeau.
"That's what relay means to me."
A Walk With His Daughter
Last year, Brianne made the trip around the track with her mother by her side.
"This year, she'll walk that lap with her dad," said Angie Trudeau. "It's his turn."
And for a father, sometimes there's nothing quite like being able to share a stroll with his little girl, the dancer, the singer, the survivor.