Fighting for her life

Diagnosed with eye cancer, 9-month-old Briauna Frickey is battling chemotherapy and possibly a life without sight

Heather R. Breaux
December 23, 2008 at 11:58 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

BABY BRIAUNA. Most babies have no worries in the world, but Briauna Frickey is facing the battle of a lifetime after being diagnosed with retinoblastoma in October.
Photos by Thelezia Folse
BABY BRIAUNA. Most babies have no worries in the world, but Briauna Frickey is facing the battle of a lifetime after being diagnosed with retinoblastoma in October.
Behind her joyful coos and angelic smile, 9-month-old Briauna Frickey is facing an illness that no infant should have to deal with. In fact, she's too young to even realize that she's battling eye cancer, but to everyone around her, this potentially fatal disease is hitting too close to home.

Briauna was born on Jan. 28 to welcoming parents Duston and Angelle Frickey of Des Allemands, but wasn't diagnosed with retinoblastoma until Oct. 20 after Angelle saw something strange in her baby's eyes.

"Before being diagnosed, Briauna showed no signs of discomfort, pain or trouble seeing," said Angelle. "The first time I noticed that something was wrong was one day when I laid her down on the sofa to change her diaper."

Angelle says that the light above the sofa shown into Briauna's eyes and she could see what she thought was the back of her daughter's blue eyes. But what she was actually staring at was a tumor in Briauna's retina.

"While I was changing her diaper, Briauna just so happened to look in a different direction and I could see into her eyes and really believed that I was looking into the back of the eye," she added. "But come to find out, I was looking at a tumor that was actually covering nearly her entire eye."

Three days later Angelle brought Briauna to see her pediatrician and was from there referred to Children's Hospital in New Orleans.

"Briauna's doctor sent us to Children's Hospital believing that she had nothing more than a cataract," said Angelle. "But after five specialists examined her eyes, my heart began to sink. I started to get nervous and finally asked the doctors to tell me what was wrong with my daughter.

"I was asked to have a seat and told that the lead doctor would come in and explain to me what was going on. At that moment, I knew this wasn't going to be something I was expecting."

Retinoblastoma is a rapidly developing cancer that forms in the cells of the retina and effects 1 in 20,000 births worldwide. It develops in several different forms, including bilateral retinoblastoma where both eyes are affected, but has been said by many experts to have a high recovery rate.

"This type of eye cancer has a survival rate of 95 percent," Angelle said. "Which gives me relief because I know that odds are in our favor."

But the question at hand is whether or not the tumors will react positively to the treatment. If not, the cancer could spread through the orbit of Briauna's eye, into her spinal column and eventually into her body, which could be fatal.

"As a mother, you always want better for your children, more than you have dreamed or accomplished," Angelle said. "Your hopes and dreams for your kids surpass your own.

The 'unknown' at this point scares me the most. Will she be able to see? Will she even be able to keep her beautiful blue eyes? Will she live independently? Will all of her dreams as a child be a reality for her as an adult? These are the questions that I ask myself."

Briauna's current treatment regimen includes 15 months of chemotherapy to shrink the eye and save her vision, followed by three months of radiation to eliminate the cancerous cells floating in her left eye.

Every 21 days, Angelle travels to St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. for treatment, a costly, but necessary trip.

"To tell you the truth, I don't even ask how much the chemotherapy treatments and hospital visits cost because I already feel so overwhelmed," Angelle added. "Just dealing with all of this and having to learn all the medical terms and getting familiar with all different medications is so stressful.

"I over heard someone at the hospital estimating that Briauna's treatments are already nearing $160,000 and we're not done yet. She won't be fully discharged from St. Jude's until she's at least 18 years old. We're just taking it one day at a time right now."

The side effects of chemotherapy alone seem like too much for a 9-month-old little girl to bare. After all the laundry list of ailments includes nausea, constipation, high fever, rash, bone and joint pain, and weight and hair loss.

"Briauna has experienced fevers that have ranged from 104.6 to 105.8 as a result of the treatment," said Angelle. "And she's lost a little weight, but not much. That's why we still call her 'our little potato.'"

Angelle says that while Briauna is a "trooper" when it comes to chemotherapy, she's completely miserable at the same time.

"The first week of chemotherapy is the hardest," she said. "But Briauna still laughs and plays peek-a-boo like a normal baby."

If the cancer treatments don't work, and the tumors and cancerous cells don't respond to chemotherapy, St. Jude's Hospital will suggest removing both of Briauna's eyes.

"I would love to have both of my daughters with both of their eyes," said Angelle. "But I would rather have Briauna's life over anything in this world. We will get through this and I will be by her side every step of the way."

Donations to help cover medical and travel expenses are being accepted at Chase Bank in Des Allemands under a checking account in Briauna Frickey's name. A benefit account is also set up at Whitney Bank. All donations there must be made out to Briauna's Benefit Account.

THE FRICKEYS: Duston, Angelle, Briauna and Cierra.
A MOTHER'S LOVE. Angelle Frickey is shown with her 9-month-old daughter Briauna who is currently undergoing chemotherapy at St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

View other articles written Heather R. Breaux

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