Cheering for Breanna: A story of strength, dignity, determination

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POSTED: Saturday, August 31, 2013 - 12:00pm

UPDATED: Saturday, August 31, 2013 - 12:04pm

Many in the community have heard the news and seen the signs and flyers advertising “Cheering for Breanna.” This young girl has rocked Ascension Parish to the core. Her strength, dignity, and determination have been an inspiration to everyone who has heard anything about her.

But do you know Breanna’s story?

Breanna Lyn Bercegeay, daughter of Dara and Sal Bertucci and Jason Bercegeay and big sister to twin brothers, Brock and Braxtyn Bertucci, will be 12 years old on September 7 this year. She’s a 7th grader at Dutchtown Middle (but attending St. Jude’s school program currently), where she shares her love of cheerleading with her squad. She also competes competitively in cheer for LA Athletics and volunteers for the LA Athletics Northern Lights Special Needs squad.

In early May of this year, mother Dara noticed Breanna’s gums were swollen. She ended up taking Bree to the dentist, where she was prescribed a mouth rinse. But her gums continued to worsen and they became painful to the point where Bree was having trouble eating.

At the time, Breanna was anxiously counting down the days to UCA cheerleading camp at LSU that she would be attending with her middle school cheer squad. The camp began on June 3.

On June 2, Bree awoke with a sore throat, and Dara took her to urgent care, where they said it could be tonsillitis. Bree was sent home with penicillin. That night, Breanna started running a 103 degree fever.

“The next morning she woke up excited and wanted to go to cheer camp,” Dara said. “I didn’t want her to go but since she woke up with no fever and had started an antibiotic the day before I agreed to let her.”

Dara received a call that same day after lunch from Breanna’s cheer coach. Bree wasn’t feeling well, but she said she wanted to try to stay. Not long after, Dara received another phone call. Bree was shaking, looked very pale, and her fever was back.

“I knew deep down that something wasn’t right,” Dara explained. “I called Bree’s pediatrician.”

Though he was booked for the day, the doctor was able to work Breanna in. He examined her and did bloodwork.

Bree wanted to go back to camp the following day, but the next morning she woke up with another fever.

The doctor called back that same day and Dara was told to come in to the office for the results of the bloodwork.

“Immediately, I knew it was something more serious, because why would I have to go in for the results?” Dara said. “I asked him to tell me a couple of times on the phone but he refused and said that I had a very sick little girl.”

Sal, Dara, and Breanna headed off to the doctor’s office, where the doctor told Sal and Dara that Breanna had leukemia. They had to go to Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge, where the type of leukemia could be confirmed.

Dara agreed to have the child life specialist at the hospital come help her explain to Bree what was happening.

“I don’t wish this on any parent,” Dara said.

More tests were run, and it was confirmed that Breanna had Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), a rare form of leukemia.

Breanna was critical and she was transported by ambulance to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis that same day. Breanna and her mother arrived in Tennessee on June 5 around 6:30 a.m.

“This was by far the longest 6 hour ride of my life,” Dara explained, “I sat in the ambulance just staring at my precious daughter with so many thoughts going through my mind.”

St. Jude immediately started Breanna on low doses of chemotherapy. She couldn’t begin protocol treatments though because her white blood cell count was too high. Once the low doses knocked the count down, she was able to start round one of chemo, which lasted 6 straight days.

Bree was discharged from the hospital after 14 days and they headed to the target house where they stay during Bree’s treatments.

“We have to stay close to the hospital because she has to get labs checked to monitor her blood and platelet levels,” Dara explained. “And if she gets the mildest fever, she could get admitted to the hospital.”

A biopsy was performed 22 days after round one was started.

“We were told that Breanna was almost 100% full of cancer,” Dara said, “and after round one, it was down to 1.1%.”

Round two of chemo began July 5 and lasted 8 days.

Another biopsy was performed on August 13. The results came back on August 20 positive for cancerous cells, and Bree will probably be scheduled for a bone marrow transplant sometime in October.

“Losing her hair was one of the hardest things to go through with her,” Dara commented. “Her hair was everything. She would wake up extra early just to curl it before school. Bree wore hats the first couple of days after losing it, but after a week, her attitude changed, and she was a completely different child. All of a sudden, she wanted to show the world that she wasn’t going to give up.”

Breanna loves talking to all the other kids at the hospital about their treatments and diagnoses. She’s gotten close with all her nurses and doctors as well.

“Her doctor is amazing and so understanding,” Dara explained. “He takes all the time in the world to explain everything to us. I feel like we are family to some of her nurses and I know that they really love my daughter. I have always heard good things about St. Jude, but now that I am actually experiencing it, I can say it’s ten times better than what I ever dreamed of. It really does take some special people to work at this hospital, and I will always support St. Jude for the rest of my life.”

Dara knows her daughter will come back to Louisiana a healthy child.

“Breanna is a fighter and will get back to cheering as soon as she returns home,” she said. “We are thankful to have such a wonderful support system, including friends and family. We have an unbelievable community and people Cheering for Breanna all over the world.”

Breanna and her mother were able to come home for two days after the results of the biopsy came back. Bree even surprised her Dutchtown Middle cheerleaders at practice this past Wednesday, August 21.

Continue to follow Bree’s story on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/CheeringForBreanna#!/CheeringForBreanna.

Also, a benefit in Breanna’s honor will be held on Saturday, September 14, 2013 at the Knights of Columbus Hall located at 230 S. Irma in Gonzales from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.

There will be live music, a jambalaya cook-off, car show, live auction, face painting, craft booths, inflatables, blood drive, and more.

Proceeds will benefit Breanna and St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis.

For more information, email cheeringforbreanna@gmail.com.

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