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Classmates help Pilgrim Park student battle cancer

Brookfield youths reach out to Pilgrim Park student

April 3, 2013

After spending Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day and her birthday in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy and battling a rare bone cancer, 13-year-old Brittany Schober somehow manages to keep her sense of humor.

Brittany's audacity to laugh amid her grim diagnosis strengthens her mom, Dawn Schober, who watched the cancer cripple her daughter.

"I guess part of the reason why I'm so strong right now is that she is very mature for her age," Schober said. "She is the one that keeps me and everybody else feeling that everything's fine. If you go visit her in the hospital or at home, she's trying to say funny things to make you laugh. She's so positive."

Dawn recalls when Brittany went in for surgery to remove a tumor and replace the knee that had been giving her so much pain recently.

As the room of doctors prepared her for the operation, Brittany wise cracked about a movie she once saw where a handcuffed prisoner only pretended to sucomb to anesthesia during surgery. The felon waited until the coast was clear, pulled the tubes from his body, uncuffed himself and stabbed a few nurses before escaping the hospital.

"Don't worry," Brittany deadpanned to the medical staff. "I'm not going to do that to you."

Battle with cancer

In October, Brittany started complaining that something in her leg didn't feel right. Her mother shrugged it off as growing pains or maybe soreness from cheerleading.

"You need to stretch more," Schober told her daughter.

Brittany's knee got worse. It started to swell and she began limping. She checked-in at Children's Hospital and an MRI revealed that the tumor in her knee was osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer that usually develops in growing bones. Although it can occur at any age, it is most commonly found in teenagers and young adults and is slightly more common in males. It is thought to be related to periods of rapid bone growth.

"That first day that we went to Children's Hospital and the surgeon came in and said it was definitely cancer, we both just cried," Schober said. "And then Brittany said, 'you know doctor, I haven't even missed a day of school, and I haven't had a cavity, and now you're telling me this?'"

Brittany said the news devastated her at first.

"But if you cry everyday it doesn't make it any better," she said.

The MRI also revealed that the cancer had spread to both of Brittany's lungs.

She immediately began an aggressive chemotherapy treatment that leaves her nauseated, tired and stuck in the hospital for long periods of time.

It also left her bald. She bought a wig, but as a die-hard sports fan, she mostly wears a Packers and Badgers winter hat.

"I kind of want to save the wig for school," Brittany said. "Losing my hair was hard. I always had pretty hair."

Had the cancer stayed in the knee, things would be a lot better right now. The problem is that this cancer has a nasty habit of showing up every couple of years.

"The odds are against her on this," Dawn said.

Students show support

Brittany has been out of school since December, and with her ongoing chemotherapy treatments and first lung surgery scheduled for June, she is not expected to be back anytime soon.

She had just earned a role in the school's musical before having to leave.

Her seventh-grade classmates at Pilgrim Park Middle School made sure to let her know that she hasn't been forgotten. Teachers and students made personalized videos telling her to stay strong and be positive.

Alexis Holley, Brittany's friend at Pilgrim Park, said classes feel a little empty without Brittany.

"It's weird not having her there," Holley said. "Her personality is special. She always makes funny jokes and looks at the positive side of everything."

The outpouring of support didn't just come from Pilgrim Park.

Thomas Kotsanis and Dennis Mistrioty, seniors at Brookfield East High School, were in search of a community service project to fulfill a requirement for the National Honor Society, an organization that recognizes honor roll students that demonstrate leadership and character.

Instead of raising money for a national charity, Kotsanis and Mistrioty felt it would be better to help out someone they knew.

"We thought we would help out locally where it's on more of a personal level and more meaningful," Mistrioty said.

Mistrioty has known the Schober family since grade school, having played sports throughout the years with Brittany's brother Zach, who is also a senior at Brookfield East.

Brittany's story resonated with Kotsanis too, who spent a lot of time in the hospital when he was young.

"I kind of know how that feels to just sit in a hospital bed a lot," Kotsanis said.

For a week in December, Kotsanis and Mistrioty - who will room together next year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison - sold neon-bracelets to students at lunch and at basketball games and collected get-well notes. The bracelets became kind of fashionable on campus, the seniors said.

"I kind of learned how nice people can be," Kotsonis said. "Everyone seemed so attached to someone they didn't even know."

Kotsanis and Mistrioty surprised Brittany at Panera a few weeks ago, delivering roughly 100 get-well notes and more than $900.

"She didn't know we were coming," Mistrioty said. "Her mom video taped us walking in and she was really surprised. It was nice to see her happy and out of the hospital."

The students' kindness and the strong support from family and friends has helped Dawn Schober cope with Brittany's diagnosis, and it has helped her realize what is important in life.

"When people say you should live each day like it's your last, it's so true," she said. "You never know, you keep living your life and appreciate everything you have and let people know you love them and care about them."

As Brittany stares down her battle with cancer, she is able to see past the chemotherapy, the surgeries and the time spent at the hospital.

"I know this is going to sound weird, but I'm actually kind of thankful," she said. "I was always healthy before but I would complain about little things, like I want to go on a vacation, or I want this or that. And now I just want to be healthy and that's the most important thing."

A charitable account has been created on behalf of the Schober family. Donations can be made to the "Benefit for Brittany Schober" account at any Associated Bank. For more information, call Dawn Schober at (262) 527-5663.

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