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Cancer care close to home blessing for
Dickinson family

Anthony Bren was able to complete his cancer care close to home.
Diagnosed with cancer when he was 15, Anthony Bren and his family, who live in Dickinson, were able to complete most of Anthony’s chemotherapy at Sanford Health rather than traveling to Minnesota. Sanford Health’s pediatric oncology services are led by the region’s only board-certified pediatric oncologist, Dr. Baruti Serabe.
  Anthony Bren’s teenage life changed Feb. 6, 2008, the day his mother told him a biopsy had confirmed the 15-year-old high school freshman had Ewing sarcoma. “Telling him was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said his mother, Jeanette Bren of Dickinson. “He walked over to me and said, ‘Mom, it is going to be OK. Really.’ And then he hugged me.”

Ewing sarcoma is a rare form of cancer that occurs primarily in the bone or soft tissue. It can also spread to other areas of the body.

Anthony’s only symptom was a lump on his shoulder, which his chiropractor thought might be a fatty tumor. Because it kept growing, he sent Anthony to see a surgeon who suspected Ewing sarcoma and performed a biopsy.

“As I walked into our house to tell Anthony he had cancer, I prayed for courage,” Jeanette said. “I couldn’t believe this was happening to
my son.”

They were immediately scheduled to leave for Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., to see specialists in rare pediatric cancer. Testing confirmed Ewing sarcoma, which had spread to his lungs. His protocol would be 14 rounds of chemotherapy. Each round required him to be hospitalized for five days, and chemo would be repeated every 18 days. After five months, the pediatric surgeon would determine if the tumor could be safely removed.

“My first thought was, ‘How would we be able to travel to Rochester every two weeks?’ ” Jeanette said. “I was so relieved when Anthony’s oncologist told us Bismarck had an excellent pediatric oncologist, Dr. Baruti Serabe, and we could do most of the chemo treatments at Sanford Health.

“Receiving pediatric oncology care in Bismarck decreases travel costs, missed appointments during inclement weather and allows the patient and the parents to be close to family and friends who can provide support,” Dr. Serabe said.

That relief was combined with anxiety about leaving the Mayo Clinic specialists. Jeanette’s fears subsided after meeting Dr. Serabe and the Sanford Health Children’s Hospital staff.

“Dr. Serabe was phenomenal—so compassionate and understanding,” Jeanette said. “The communication between her and Mayo Clinic was so good it was as if they were next door to each other.”

For Jeanette, a single mother with two older grown children, the staff provided an invaluable source of support. “Dr. Serabe and the nurses became our family, our friends,” she said. “The nurses took care of Anthony as if he were their son. It isn’t a job, it’s their passion.”

Anthony had surgery in June 2008 in Rochester to remove the tumor. He completed his
  Dr. Baruti Serabe
Serabe, MD
treatment, which concluded with a month of radiation therapy, in January 2009.

Nauseated from chemotherapy, he did most of the work his freshman and sophomore years from home. “After chemo, he would drive his truck around the block just to get out and plop back on the couch,” Jeanette said. “He has a real zest for life.”

He is closely monitored for relapse and alternates check-ups between Rochester and Bismarck. Dr. Serabe maintains ongoing communication with his Mayo Clinic specialists.

Now a senior, Anthony is back in school and holds a part-time job. He plans to attend college in Seattle to become a welder. The Make-A-Wish Foundation recently granted his request to restore his 1967 Ford truck.

“It is a blessing that Sanford Health provides pediatric oncology services,” Jeanette said. “When you have a child with cancer, it is so important to have family to get you through not only day by day but also minute by minute. It’s difficult to have that support system if you have to travel to Rochester or Fargo for treatment.”

She also has admiration for her son and how he has lived with his cancer. “He is an amazing person to look up to and my hero,” she said. “He was right when he told me that everything was going to be OK.”

Click here for more information about Sanford Health’s innovative pediatric services.


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