The Zehowski Family

Rice, MN
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    BrooklynKae Zehowski

    When the unfathomable happens, we look to our family, friends and community for help.

    My name is Cortney Henagin. My 8 year old daughter, BrooklynKae Zehowski, is a bright, charismatic, and compassionate little girl whose smile captures the hearts of everyone she meets. For over a year now, Brooklyn has been fighting a battle that no child should ever have to fight – the fight against cancer.

    I am starting this fundraiser for my family as an already terribly difficult journey brings about a whole new level of painful challenges over the next several months as the next phase of Brooklyn’s treatment begins. Brooklyn will be admitted for 4 to 6 weeks minimum almost 100 miles from home for a bone marrow transplant that her team of oncologists have concluded might be the only way to rid the cancerous super cells in her body.

    Last August, Brooklyn was taken for emergency hernia repair surgery. The surgeon did not end up repairing a hernia, instead he removed a swollen lymph node. A week later, on August 11, 2021, the hospital called to inform us that Brooklyn had tested positive for a very rare form of blood cancer. She has stage IV ALK-positive anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL), a subtype of non-Hodgkin Lymphoma that only affects about 80 children a year worldwide.

    Testing showed she had cancer cells in her bone marrow as well as in the lymph nodes in her neck, chest, stomach, and groin. She started treatment immediately. From August thru November Brooklyn endured an extremely invasive chemotherapy regimen that looked like this: A 5 day stay at Children’s Hospital receiving a battery of chemotherapy drugs, few days at home until her blood counts would fall (which makes her extremely susceptible to viruses and infections) then admitted again for 7 days receiving blood transfusions, antibiotics, and pain management for mouth sores. She would be home for a week and then start this process all over again. This treatment cycled 5 times. After her third cycle, Brooklyn had another bone marrow biopsy and PET scan. The results seemed promising with her PET scan coming back showing zero disease left in her lymph nodes and some progress in her bone marrow. However, in May her biopsy showed no change to the level of lymphoma left in her bone marrow; meaning that her cancer had become resistant to her current chemotherapy.

    In December 2021, Brooklyn started a new type of chemotherapy which she could take at home in pill form. This made life for Brooklyn feel a little more normal, despite the more severe side effects she endured.

    In February 2022 they tested her bone marrow and once again things seemed promising. Everyone was convinced that the next bone marrow biopsy would come back clean. Unfortunately, the results in May 2022 showed that her cancer had yet again become resistant to this new chemotherapy as well. After careful consideration and much discussion her team of oncologists have concluded that a Bone Marrow Transplant might be the only way to rid the cancerous super cells left in her body. Unfortunately, she relapsed during the the last attempt to completely rid her bone marrow of the last tiny bit of disease. Instead, she was started on another cycle of chemotherapy. Her cancer had very aggressively come back in her lymph nodes as well as her bone marrow in a matter of just a few weeks. 

    Finally, in November, the chemo proved effective when her PET scan came back clean and her bone marrow involvement went back down from 4% to less than 1%. After careful debate a team of transplant doctors and oncologists agreed that even with the tiny bit of disease left in her bone marrow, that a bone marrow transplant would be the best option. She was admitted December 1, 2022. 

    The past year have been brutal for Brooklyn as well as the entire family. Brooklyn is the youngest of 4 girls. They have all done their best to adjust to whatever has come their way regarding Brooklyn’s treatment. Over the next several months there will be a whole new level of adjustment that we will have to make while Brooklyn is admitted to the hospital for 4 to 6 weeks minimum almost one hundred miles from home.

    The first week she will receive an extremely high dose of chemotherapy, full body radiation, and immunotherapy to prepare her body for the bone marrow transplant. After Brooklyn receives the bone marrow transplant, she will remain in the hospital for 30+ days, and then will need to stay within 30 minutes of the hospital for up to 180 days to ensure her safety while she starts rebuilding her immune system. Since we live more than 90 minutes away from the hospital, we will need to relocate during this time. This means maintaining 2 households – paying our mortgage as well as renting a home in the city.  We are also expecting a baby boy at the end of February. We are very conflicted and still trying to determine how all of this will be managed.


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