Trish Robichaud knew something was wrong with her three-year-old daughter Brielle even though a series of tests and visits to doctors and hospital in Red Deer didn’t find any problems.
So on Jan. 22, when the registered nurse saw that her daughter had a stiff neck and back, and fearing meningitis, Trish decided to take Bri, as she is known, straight to the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary.
They arrived at 8 a.m. Four hours later, doctors began a six-hour emergency brain surgery on the little girl. It would be the first of four surgeries she’s had since arriving at the hospital.
Speaking to me Wednesday, on “Day 21” as she called it, and an hour before Bri was to begin 18 months of chemotherapy, Trish said a CT scan and MRI in Calgary led to the discovery of a very large tumour growing in the middle of Bri’s brain that probably had been growing there for a long time.
It’s in a bad spot of her brain, where her optic chiasm and hypothalmus are, and near her pituitary gland, said Trish. “That’s all bad but what was even worse than that was the tumour was blocking the pathway of her cerebral spinal fluid … filling her head with fluid … which was threatening her life.”
Neurosurgeons couldn’t remove the tumour safely. It is considered benign but now has to be treated with chemotherapy to keep it from growing. Bri is too young to have radiation.
“The location is so scary they have no choice but to treat it,” said Trish, who hasn’t left the hospital since the day they arrived there. Trish, 35, and husband Nick Robichaud, 36, assistant superintendant at Alberta Springs golf course, have one bed and a lawn chair to sleep in as they stay by her side.
“Today we’re really happy because she’s happy,” said Trish. They are very glad the surgeries are over. Besides the initial surgery, Bri has also had a drain and shunt implanted, as well as a port that will enable the chemotherapy.
“Obviously we have tears. Her and I. We both shed tears every single day and there are things that are very painful but she’s such a good kid. She’s so easy-going and so likable. … Everybody loves her. She’s the nicest little girl. She puts up with so much,” a tired-sounding Trish said.
The parents of both Trish and Nick also live in Red Deer and are helping to look after the Robichauds’ other children — sons Xavier, seven, and Taj, five.
Trish had been working part time in Labour and Delivery at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre and was about to go to casual work so she could spend more time with her family. That meant she lost some benefits but she doesn’t want to sound like she is complaining at all.
“Our daughter’s alive. And we’ve had such good care here at the hospital. We feel very fortunate. She’s with us, thankfully. It’s going to be a long road of treatment. There’s people worse off than us, that’s for sure.”
Because Bri is little and her tumour is growing, she needs to be seen by the specialists in Calgary. There may come a time down the road where they feel comfortable managing her chemo in Red Deer but for now, “We need to be here,” Trish said.
“We’re going to drive back and forth now that all the surgeries are done.”
Could things have gone differently if she wasn’t a nurse?
“I don’t know. Honestly, our faith in God is a really big part of our lives. We’re very active in the (Living Stones) church and strongly believe in God. That morning I did pray for her. I said, ‘God I don’t want to overreact and run to Calgary when I could go just go to Red Deer.’ … I feel like He led me here.”
“We’re really worried about her immunity with chemo. … It kills your immune system. … We need to become those germaphobe people. They’ve been training us for 21 days about all the lifestyle changes we need to make for at least 18 months.”
Fundraising is underway to help the Robichauds.
A friend of the family, Christie Roy, said that Friday has been set as the day people can wear pink to help raise awareness and funds for them. A social media awareness campaign asks that people take a photo of themselves wearing pink and post it on Facebook or Twitter with the #teambri hashtag in the comment.
Donations can be made in several ways. People can drop cheques off at Cornish Harder Niederle LLP, located at 4921 47th St. in Red Deer, where Roy works. The office is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m.
As well, crowdfunding is underway at gofundme.com/teambri. As of Wednesday afternoon, $12,850 of the $20,000 goal had been raised over eight days. The webpage was created by another family friend, Nicole Lechelt, and another family friend, Angie Kobza has been helping.
A Facebook page people can join, “Blessings for Bri” has over 700 members.