Florida teen cancer survivor gets surprise from Make-A-Wish foundation
Brieanna Elmer was always outside. Whether it was fishing, camping or horseback riding, the self-proclaimed tomboy was never afraid to get her hands dirty.
But everything changed in March 2017, when doctors found a tumor in Brieanna's sinus cavity. At 10 years old, she was diagnosed with a one-in-a-million cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma, said her mother, Amanda Elmer.
Brieanna had to move away from her outdoorsy life in Port St. Lucie to be treated at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. She's been predominately confined indoors for the last three years as she underwent chemotherapy, multiple surgeries and 56 proton radiation treatments, her mother said.
The now 13 years old, Brieanna is in remission, back home and ready to enjoy the South Florida sunshine again, and the Make-A-Wish foundation helped.
On Thursday afternoon, Make-A-Wish members and Brieanna's friends and family surprised her with a newly renovated "backyard oasis," complete with a hot tub, waterfall, fireplace and couch swing so the teenager can kickback and relax outside.
"This is something we can use for years," Brieanna said. "It feels amazing to have somewhere I can bring my friend, my kittens and just hang out."
The Elmers were also surprised with tickets to SeaWorld's Discovery Cove, so Brieanna can swim with the dolphins — one of her favorite animals.
A backyard oasis isn't your average wish, said Richard Kelly, chief operating officer of Make-A-Wish Southern Florida.
"It's really unique. This is like a teenager's playground," Kelly said. "She's been through a lot and, hopefully, this is the end of the road and she'll be able to use this for many more years."
Amanda Elmer wasn't surprised when her daughter picked this as her wish. Unlike most children, Brieanna is no fan of Walt Disney World Resort and had little interest in taking a short, extravagant trip.
"I remember her saying, 'I hate our backyard; there's no place to hang out. I just want a place to hang out,' " Amanda Elmer said.
Community members, local businesses and organizations not only donated to the backyard oasis, but have helped the Elmers throughout their ordeal.
"The hardest thing in the world is to ask for help, but it was necessary," Amanda Elmer said. "And the help that's been poured out has been more than amazing. It renews your sense of decency and humanity in people."
In remission, Brieanna still has to return to St. Jude's every three months for check-ups. For now, though, the teenager is excited to spend time with her friends and play with her foster kittens — Dino, Cannoli and Earl Grey.
"At the end of a dark, dark road comes something amazing like this," Brieanna said of her journey. "It's eventually going to get better."
Catie Wegman is a community reporter who also produces "Ask Catie," an occasional feature to find answers to your burning questions about anything and everything — the more bizarre the better. Support her work with a TCPalm subscription. Contact her at email@example.com or 772-221-4211 and follow her @Catie_Wegman on Twitter and @catiewegman1 on Facebook.
This story originally published to tcpalm.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.