Family battles cancer twice, calls on ABC show for help
Duston Frickey and Vanessa Frank met and fell in love while caring for their children at St. Jude Hospital in Memphis. Duston’s 2-year-old daughter, Briauna, was diagnosed before her first birthday with eye cancer, while Vanessa’s 5-year-old son, Devin, has leukemia.
Because of the financial toll both diseases have taken on the family, Duston and Vanessa have struggled to make ends meet. Each parent also has an additional child, and the family of six live together in a small rental home in Des Allemands.
But if ABC’s Extreme Makeover answers the family’s pleas for help, they might soon find themselves in a state-of-the-art home that can meet their needs.
The Frickey/Frank family was nominated for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition by Vanessa’s mother Angela. She calls both Briauna and Devin her superheroes.
“Briauna is so full of life and happiness that you would never know the challenges that she faces and the battles that she has fought and continues to fight,” Angela said. “Devin has missed a lot of special events since his diagnosis, and has been in the hospital for both of his brother’s birthdays. Now, he is in the hospital again on what was supposed to be his first day of kindergarten.”
Briauna was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma. By the time she was diagnosed, it was too late to save one of her eyes and her doctors at St. Jude Hospital made the decision to remove it. Because Briauna is legally blind in her one remaining eye, she has a therapist that comes to her home and helps her learn to function without her vision.
Devin lived in Tupelo for the first few years of his life, and his single mother was accepted into nursing school shortly before he was diagnosed with leukemia.
“More bad news came when the first spinal tap was done and it was discovered that the leukemia had already spread to his spinal column,” Angela said.
Because the cancer is in his spine, Devin not only receives daily chemo treatments by mouth and weekly chemo treatments through an IV, but he gets frequent doses of chemo directly into his spinal column.
“Devin has had so many spinal taps and bone marrow aspirations, we have lost count,” Angela said. “At times the side effects of the chemo are terrible, but he never complains.
“He is such a little trooper.”
Devin’s mother, Vanessa, said that her and Briauna’s father, Duston, became best friends shortly after meeting each other at St. Jude.
“We have been so close since the beginning because we could understand what each other was going through,” she said. “We have been there for each other, and we are each strong when the other person needs us to be.”
Not only did Vanessa and Duston form a close bond, but their children also fell in love with each other.
“The first time I met Duston he had taken Briauna over to play with Devin,” Vanessa said. “They became inseparable.”
For the first year after the two met, Vanessa and Duston kept up a long-distance relationship. Vanessa was living in Missouri with her mother and would drive 14 hours to visit Duston and his family in Des Allemands.
“He told me that we needed to move in together,” Vanessa said. “I was kind of hesitant about living in Louisiana, but I quickly fell in love with the area.”
Vanessa, who is now engaged to Duston, has postponed her nursing career to care for the needs of Briauna and Devin, which includes bringing them back and forth to Baton Rouge and Memphis for their appointments.
“The car that she drives is not very reliable, but it’s all they have,” Angela said. “Due to the awesome responsibility of caring for two children with cancer, she has been unable to finish her nursing school and is unable to work at this time."
Duston provides for the family, but because his children are in the hospital so frequently, he has lost two jobs, and consequently, his home.
“They currently live in a rental house, but live with the fear of not only one of the kids getting sick, but the potential of Duston losing another job as a result of it,” Angela said. “As you can imagine, the stress is unbearable at times. No parent should have to choose between being at their sick child’s bedside and the thought of losing his job if he does.”
“That’s been the hardest part for us,” she said. “Devin spends about a week and a half out of every month in the hospital, so Duston has to stay and watch the rest of the kids. If Extreme Makeover picked us, the biggest relief would be that we wouldn’t have to worry about losing our home.”
Usually, the hit ABC show remodels existing homes, but this year, they will build a new home for a selected family. That’s why Vanessa let her mother nominate her family.
“I never like to talk about my problems with others and I don’t like everyone knowing what is going on in my life, but this chance was too good to pass up,” she said. “My mother said that she will make sure we have the land we need for Extreme Makeover to build a home if we’re chosen.”
Angela said that’s the least she could do.
“The past few years have been a living nightmare for this family,” Angela said. “It’s time for something good to happen in their lives.”
To show support for the Frank/Frickey family, visit the Extreme Makeover Facebook page and then search “Frank/Frickey” under the discussions tab.
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