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As a child, Brenda was always very bubbly and happy. She spent the first few months of her life as any child would, creating happy memories with her family. However, around nine months of age, Brenda’s parents realized that something was amiss with their sweet child, and decided to visit the doctor. After meeting with many medical specialists, Brenda was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1). Someone with this condition can develop tumours in any part of their body where there are nerve endings. Brenda had one in her brain and another along the optic nerve.
Brenda was just a toddler when she began chemotherapy. Most people think of chemotherapy as a treatment for cancer, but in Brenda’s case, she didn’t have cancer; her tumours were not malignant, however, they were causing life-threatening complications. In addition to her shocking diagnosis, Brenda’s family also learned that the disease could potentially take away her vision.
“She was quite a trooper,” says Brenda’s mom, Valentina. “It’s amazing what that kid did way back when she was two and a half, and she had no idea what all this was that was happening to her.”
In 2010, Brenda received treatment at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax. However, when an MRI determined that the tumour had started growing again after chemotherapy, the next course of action — the most aggressive one — was radiation therapy. Her radiation oncologist was the person who told Brenda’s family about Make-A-Wish® and recommended that they get in touch with the Atlantic Provinces chapter about a wish for Brenda.
Brenda wished to go to Paris; it was the place she wanted to visit most in the world, before her eyesight became further compromised by her tumours. Before Brenda’s wish was granted, Make-A-Wish invited Brenda’s family to a fundraising dinner in Halifax, where they revealed a special cake. Brenda was called up to the front of the room and they showed her the cake with a beautiful photo of the Eiffel tower on it. It said, “Brenda, your wish will be granted!” Brenda hugged her family and cried tears of joy and excitement.
A Wish Come True!
In September 2012, Brenda, now 13-years-old, went on her wish trip to Paris. It was a great time for her to travel and see everything she wanted to see, and create incredible visual memories. According to Valentina, Brenda was enchanted from the beginning: “Paris was just a beautiful, beautiful experience. We were taking a tour of the city, she had her visual aid, and her head was whipping 360 degrees almost – looking at everything. It doesn’t matter if she completely loses her vision, she will still close her eyes and see the Eiffel tower and feel the river. With the granting of her wish, she realized that there were a lot of people behind her that believed in her. All the preconceived ideas of what’s possible for her to achieve – that didn’t matter anymore. It gave her hope to be who she wanted to be and what she wanted to be.”
Brenda’s Mission to Give Back
Brenda is now in Grade 12, and will be graduating from high school in June. She has been involved with Make-A-Wish since her wish came true, and she’s very happy to be able to participate and give back after her experience. She realized how powerful her wish was, and since then she has been fundraising for Make-A-Wish at every chance. She raised over $2,000.00 when she participated in Make-A-Wish® Rope for Hope in 2014, and she has given speeches about her experience at various fundraisers. In April of 2017, she is coordinating a full month of events to fundraise for Make-A-Wish at her school.
In spite of her medical condition, Brenda took on a new challenge and began skiing in grade eight. She started on the bunny hill and later decided that she wanted to downhill race. A lot of people doubted her ability, but that only made her determination grow stronger. She went on to represent Nova Scotia in Prince George at the Canada Games in 2015, where she placed fourth and sixth. After that, she realized the only way for her to compete with other visually impaired women was to get into the international circuit… so that’s what she did.
Brenda races with a guide, and this year, the guide is her dad, Stephen. In early 2017, they went to Mammoth Mountain in California, where they competed in the Canadian and US Nationals, and earned four gold medals.
“I think that she has become a very well-rounded individual, enjoying school, volunteering; she’s compassionate and above all resilient, very resilient,” Valentina says.
“Brenda’s medical condition means that tumours can happen anywhere in her body, and that is always a concern for our family. She still has the brain tumour that has caused her to lose her vision, but she is incredibly strong and nothing stops her from achieving her goals.”
We look forward to seeing what the future holds for Brenda in school and in sports. We’re thrilled to have been able to grant her one true wish and inspire her to go after anything she wants in life.