As a young couple, Bri Spence and Elijah Valdez were enjoying one of the best chapters of their lives. With two dogs, a cat, lizard and beautiful 3 year old daughter Jorie (now 5 years old), life remained a constant adventure. When Bri began feeling pain in her shoulder, she attributed the pain to working at a desk and being a mother to a three year old. It wasn’t until weeks later when she began to feel severe pain in her chest that Bri began to wonder if something more serious might be going on.
Waking up in the middle of the night to severe chest pains would be frightening to most anyone. When the pain would not subside, Bri and Elijah went to SCL’s Emergency Room facility located close to home in Westminster. Caregivers took Bri in for observation immediately, first taking x-rays and then a contrast CT scan. While receiving care, the pain just would not subside as doctors attempted to make Bri comfortable. After comparing her x-ray and CT scans, doctors found a 10 cm mass in her chest, a diagnosis that would require Bri to be transferred to Lutheran Medical Center.
Dr. Jennifer Caskey was one of the first physicians to visit with Bri upon her transfer to Lutheran. Dr. Caskey wasted no time in trying to diagnose this 24 year old’s mass and ordered an immediate biopsy of the tumor. Before the biopsy results returned, Dr. Caskey prepared Bri and her family for a cancer diagnosis. A bone marrow biopsy was performed and a chemo port was surgically placed before Dr. Caskey was able to diagnose the mass in Bri’s chest. Within 24 hours of her trip to the emergency room, Bri learned that she had an aggressive mediastinal non-Hodgkin lymphoma. “My husband and sister collapsed when they heard my diagnosis, we were all in shock,” Bri remembers the day her life changed forever, “If it weren’t for Dr. Caskey’s quick thinking I don’t know if I would still be here today”. Dr. Jennifer Caskey remembers the day she began treating Bri, “Once Bri was over the shock of her diagnosis, she fought with all her might. She was willing to do whatever it took to fight her cancer.”
Bri’s first course of action was to undergo chemotherapy to help treat her fast growing cancer. Knowing she might lose her hair, Bri decided she would cut off her hair before starting treatment. Her sister, Jessi, helped show her support for Bri by also cutting off her hair. With this showering of support from family, Bri was ready to fight. She would spend 5 days at the hospital receiving chemotherapy treatment around the clock, followed by 2 weeks at home before coming back to Lutheran for another 5 days of treatment. “My daughter Jorie gave me strength to fight, I knew I had to get better for her,” Bri remembers finding strength through the support of her husband and then almost four year old daughter. After several rounds of treatment, Bri’s PET scans slowly started showing signed of improvement. “All the Lutheran nurses and doctors were incredible, they saved my life.”
Bri received her final chemotherapy treatment in February 2017, and a year later her PET scans remain clean. “Being a survivor is not easy, it can sometimes be a mental and emotional burden. But you have to live your life, you cannot be angry and sad. You have to find that one thing worth fighting for and not give up hope.” Bri and her family look forward to many more healthy days and time spent with family. “One of the joys of practicing oncology is seeing a patient who was desperately ill return to normal health. It’s a true pleasure, and is one of the things I miss the most since I retired last year” Dr. Caskey said, looking forward to seeing Bri and other patients who have fought hard on their journey with cancer at the Heroes of Hope race.
Join Bri, Elijah, and Jorie for the 11th annual Heroes of Hope race and National Cancer Survivors Day® Celebration on June 2nd! Visit www.LutheranHeroesofHope.org for more information and to register today!