Where Are They Now: Briana

The body fascinates Briana. As a junior Applied Movement Science major at the University of Texas at Austin (UT), Briana took classes like “Theory of Human Performance” and “Applied Biomechanics of Human Movement.” She conditioned her body through weightlifting and healthy eating.

While these may simply sound like the choices an active and energetic young woman, for Briana, her interests and pursuits stemmed from a deeper place. Not so long ago, Briana’s body seemed to wage war against her.

It all started during the spring semester of Briana’s senior year of high school. Life was good. Briana’s classmates at Mayde Creek High School had recently voted her homecoming queen. She had earned high enough grades to secure a place in the top 5% of her graduating class. The University of Texas, her dream school, waited for her just on the other side of summer.

But in March, everything changed with just a few words spoken from a doctor’s lips — “aplastic anemia.”

Briana found her plans cruelly interrupted by the aggressive bone marrow disease. Immunosuppressant therapy, chemotherapy, radiation, blood and platelet transfusions, and a bone marrow transplant all failed in healing her. No matter what doctors tried, Briana found herself still critically ill, still spending her days and nights in a hospital room rather than classrooms and dormitories.

In spite of her frightening, disheartening circumstances, Briana looked for glimpses of light, and become a beacon of hope in the bone marrow transplant unit herself.

Looking back on her hospital stays, Briana recalled, “being in the hospital brought me closer to my family. It also taught me who I was just for myself and to love myself unconditionally. I thought I was the most beautiful I’d ever been when I was in the hospital, and now I carry that view of myself with me. It’s not easy to stand in front of the mirror when you’ve lost your hair and say ‘you’re beautiful.’”

Briana wore her UT gear and did yoga poses with her IV pole standing watch. She wrote “bald is beautiful” on her hairless head and posted photos sharing the artistic declaration. And when His Grace Foundation’s Executive Director, Val Anderson, walked through the doors of her hospital room, Briana welcomed her with a sigh of relief.

So many organizations that had helped other patients and families Briana had met in the hospital weren’t able to serve her. Despite the course of treatment being near-identical, Briana didn’t have cancer. For many organizations, that missing piece of criteria meant Briana and other patients like her went without the comfort and care that others received during their hospital stays.

“I feel like I was treated differently,” Briana said. “If I wanted a scholarship, I didn’t meet the requirements because I didn’t have cancer. But I was still going through chemotherapy, radiation, extreme sickness, and a lowered immune system. HGF was one of the few organizations who served my family.”

Briana says that the experience of extreme illness and sometimes feeling unseen by organizations serving patients with cancer led her to develop patience, kindness, and deeper understanding.

“I was selfish before,” she admitted. “My patience was slim. But going through illness showed me that wasn’t who I wanted to be. Now, in my relationships, I consciously tell myself to take a step back, take a breath, think about things, put myself in others’ shoes, and consider how they may feel.”

Support from His Grace Foundation encouraged Briana on her journey toward all types of wellness — physical, emotional, mental, and relational. She received her weekly shopping trips with sparkling joy and gratitude, gushing over the Fruit Roll-Ups and Fruity Pebbles delivered to her room. She treasured every night spent sleeping in the apartment HGF provided for her and her mom to stay in after her transplant. And after her second transplant, which was successful, she began to promote HGF by attending events and encouraging everyone she knows to benefit HGF when shopping on Amazon.

“I aim to be the person I wanted to be when I was in the hospital,” Briana said. Through treating others with gentleness and cultivating positivity, Briana hopes to foster joy in the lives of others. By lifting weights and eating healthily, she hopes to combat the osteoporosis brought about by her disease so she can continue to pursue her dreams. And academically and professionally, she hopes to help others in caring for their bodies and to “educate people about the fact that there are patients who are just as sick but often don’t make the cut for the services or scholarships because they don’t have cancer.”

A bright ray of hope, Briana wants to help others find the light when life goes dark.