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Keeping the Faith




My name is Allison Burwell and I am nominating a person who I am lucky enough to call a friend, Brooke Pinson.

I was introduced to Brooke and her family by Dr. Michael Salacz, a neuro-oncologist at Saint-Lukes. Dr. Salacz was my mother’s neuro-oncologist – I lost my mother to an anaplastic astrocytoma in July 2011 after only an eight-month battle.

Every Christmas my staff finds a family in need and spoils them with presents. This year we wanted to help a family that had been touched by brain cancer. I contacted Dr. Salacz and he put me in touch with Brooke, a young mom of two little children who has a grade 3 anaplastic astrocytoma located in the pons.

The first time I talked to Brooke and heard her story, I was amazed by this incredible woman who has fought and stood up to her doctors so many times to save her own life and has the most amazing attitude with her life situation. 

Through the last year and a half of my life, I have realized that things happen for a reason and I now know that Brooke and I were supposed to enter each others lives. By getting to know her and being lucky enough to help her family, it has helped me heal my broken heart.

I know her story, but I wanted to be sure I got it right – so I asked her husband Ross for help and he gave me a copy of a speech that she’s giving to her church and I felt that it would touch you as much as it did me.

This is a woman who has found faith to heal her heart and her anxiety about her future. She is also generous with her time and her story by helping others with cancer, and by leading a brain tumor support group. There’s nothing that she can’t do! Please read on to find out about this amazing woman, mother, wife and friend, in her own words….

“I met my husband in college. We moved in together our last year of school. After graduation we had a beautiful baby girl, were married about a year later, and three months after that we were excited to find out we were expecting our second child. A few months into the pregnancy, I became very ill. In a matter of a few days the doctors went from insisting that all I had was severe morning sickness to informing my husband and I that I had an inoperable tumor in my brainstem.

In a matter of a week I went from a seemingly healthy person to my eyes going different directions, barely able to open my mouth or swallow, and muscles too weak to walk.

We were told that the best thing to do was terminate the pregnancy. I couldn’t start treatment while pregnant and there was little hope in waiting until the baby was born.

Out of fear, out of desperation, I would pray. I would plead with God, “Please God, help me, save my child and if you do, it would be an incredible testimony of your miraculous works.”

I told God I would go to church. I would follow Him. I would come share my testimony, and inside I kept hearing a voice that told me to keep going, that I could do this. I held on to that and over the next few days and weeks, I could open my mouth, see, swallow, and eventually began walking.

I was filled with excitement as my husband and I walked into my sonogram to find out the sex of our baby. Tears streamed down our cheeks when we heard we were having a boy. A boy and a girl, it was just how we pictured our family several years before.

Our joy lasted a few minutes until the doctor said there are problems. He gave a list of what disabilities he would most likely be born with. I can recall him saying there is very little hope your child will be “normal.” He told me I was too far along in my pregnancy to have an abortion in Missouri, and we were handed information of states where we could.

On what is typically an exciting day for expecting parents, we were heartbroken. We were terrified. I was angry. I had been fighting so hard, but it all seemed so hopeless. I remember that night, I went back to my room and I cried out to God, “please help me, I do not know what to do.”

I felt the most incredible peace and my fear was taken away. A voice inside of me said, if I keep going we will both be OK. I remember telling my husband that night “I know this sounds crazy, but I feel like God spoke to me and told me if I make the decision to have this child, that I will and he will be healthy.”

So I did, and incredibly over the next few weeks, I went completely back to normal. I carried my child until 34 weeks and am so blessed to share that I have a very healthy and ornery 4½ year old boy. I spent the next two years going from being well to being sick.

The doctors were unsure what the diagnosis was. I made the risky decision to have a biopsy. This tumor was in such a critical area that a biopsy was not typically recommended, but I needed to know once and for all what was making me sick. Actually, I was pretty confident that the news was going to be good.

God came through on what He said He would do and I had a healthy son. Two years later, I was remarkably still here. I knew I hadn’t been to church yet or picked up my Bible, but definitely I knew I would when I was completely healed, when it would be easier. I felt less fear going into this surgery than I used to feel going to sleep at night. I had such confidence that I would make it through without any complications.

Everyone was amazed that after my ten-hour surgery, I was discharged from the hospital three days later without any physical disabilities. I was excited when the doctor walked in to share the results of the biopsy, but the news was unexpected when we heard it was definitely cancer, high grade cancer.

Again we went home feeling angry, feeling hopeless. I had felt so strongly God had told me I would be ok a few years back. I realized I was just in denial. I was just hearing what I had hoped would be true. Why in the world would I ever think I heard God speak to me? I wasn’t even sure there was a God. I came back to the reality that I was going to die.

A few weeks later I developed meningitis and experienced incredible pain. I spent three weeks in the ICU, had another surgery, and then left my family for two months to go to Houston for radiation.

Over time, my anger subsided and I desperately began praying again. I told God I knew I did not keep up my end of the deal. I reminded Him what an incredible testimony it would be to heal me and that this time I would do what I said when I was able to go back to Missouri.

When radiation was complete and I returned home, I was confident again I was going to beat this cancer. I started chemo and began leading a pretty normal life, until about six weeks later when I stopped swallowing. Back to the hospital I went.

It became evident after a week or two; there was nothing that could be done other than to have a feeding tube placed. I went in and out of the hospital with severe pain, difficulty breathing, weak, tired, and my vision so messed up everything I looked at was leaning to the right. About a month later, it seemed this fight was most likely over. I was told I had a massive blood clot spanning through both of my lungs. It was very likely that my life had a few short hours left.

Again, I lived through it and worked on recovering physically, even regained the ability to eat. I now feel such a passion for our awesome God! I have a healthy son, a healthy marriage, and something no doctor said would happen, I just celebrated the five-year mark of finding out I had brain cancer!”