Briar’s Battle - Three-Year-Old Briar Howell Takes on Leukemia



Lisa Patrick

The Ashland Beacon


   Three-year-old Briar Grace Howell is her parent’s little princess. She loves dolls and the color pink and to play with her big brother, Noah. Almost three weeks ago, a monster called Leukemia entered Briar’s life and with the spirit of an almost four-year-old, she is meeting the monster head on for a battle that will take at least two years of her little life.

   On July 17, Briar was camping with her family and she started complaining of a headache. Her mother, Gina Howell, says that “we picked her up and we realized that her heart was just racing.” She said that “we had a friend check her heart rate and it was 140.” Gina said that “it was really hot that weekend. We thought that she had probably overheated.” So they had her drink some water and settle down. Everything seemed fine the rest of the weekend.

   Then Monday, July 20, Briar started complaining that her heart rate “felt like butterflies.” Her parents thought that she was still dehydrated because it had been a really hot weekend. They scheduled an appointment for Tuesday morning with her pediatrician. All morning, she was “being lazy” and “still complaining of a headache.” Her heart was still racing so instead of waiting for the next day’s appointment, her mother took her to the emergency room in Ironton.

   At the ER, Briar’s fever spiked to 103.6. They ran tests and lab work showed that she was severely anemic. So the ER staff transferred her to Cabell Huntington Pediatric Unit for admission. Cabell is still under the “one parent per child” visitor restrictions so only Gina was able to go with Briar and her daddy, Justin Howell, could not be there for either of them.

   Briar and her mother got to Cabell about 7 p.m. Gina said that they started asking her questions like, “has she had any limb pain or is she bruising easily and all these symptoms [that Briar did not have.] I just was not catching on to what they were thinking it was,” said Gina.

   At 11:30 p.m., “the oncologist drove from home to tell us that [Briar] was being diagnosed with leukemia” and that they would begin her treatments immediately. The following morning, they did a bone marrow biopsy, a lumbar puncture, and a mediport for chemo so that they “could get a head start” on treating the B Cell ALL leukemia. The doctors did feel that she had just developed it within the last few days so they caught it very early.

   Briar has now had several chemo treatments and starts her outpatient treatments this week. The treatments will continue for about two years. The plan right now is that Briar will have around six months of intensive treatments and then go to maintenance treatments. Gina said that “she does have a very good outlook of being cured, but it’s going to be a very hard and difficult journey for her.” She is on three different types of chemo - one only takes five minutes, one is given to her through lumbar puncture of which she’s already had two, and one lasts about two hours. There will be times after these chemo treatments that Briar will be very sick, nauseous, and just all around tired.

   The chemotherapy will cause Briar to lose her hair and she has already expressed interest in a wig. Gina said that “when that time comes, we’ll let her pick out whatever she wants, even if it’s pink.”

   While at the Cabell HOOPS Family Children’s Hospital, Briar was “spoiled.” When she was able to come home last Friday, a thirty gallon tub full of toys came with her - gifts given to her by the team there and from care packages that people sent to her while she was in the hospital.

   Briar’s homecoming was a really special surprise for her. She was escorted home by 12 fire trucks and the whole road home was lined with family and friends that stood in the rain waiting on her with “Welcome Home” signs and wearing “leukemia awareness” shirts. They were “all waving and screaming ‘Welcome Home’ at her.”

   Gina said that there have been “so many family and friends that have stepped up and created fundraisers” to help pay for Briar’s treatments costs. They have been selling T-shirts, bracelets, and car decals. They have also set up Go Fund Me accounts. The Raceland and Wurtland Fire Departments and the fire department at Marathon Refinery where Briar’s dad works have all done “boot fill” collections for her.

   Local businesses are stepping in to help too. Norman’s Locker Room is making “Briar’s Knights” T-shirts. Briar’s brother, Noah, plays on the Russell 8u Knights baseball team. The Russell 8u and 9u Knights teams have been wearing the “Briar’s Knights” shirts for all of their games to support her. Other local businesses have signs up with an orange ribbon for leukemia that say “Battle for Briar” and signs welcoming her home on their billboards.

   “We have just received an overwhelming amount of support and love for her. It’s just amazing to us that our small town [of Raceland] will come together so quickly to support one of their own,” said Gina. It’s been family, friends, co-workers, churches and “people that we don’t even know” from across the whole tri-state area who have reached out to us, donated, and put her on their prayer lists at church. Gina said that she is amazed that so “many people love our little girl and want to see her get better.” She says that she “really wants to thank everyone for all the prayers because I think that’s really what’s getting us through.”

   Briar will be four-years-old on August 9 and is hoping for a big parade like her brother got when he turned nine while she was in the hospital last week. There were at least seven fire trucks and all of their family and friends following to wish him a Happy Birthday. Briar is neutropenic so she cannot have visitors but she is still looking forward to her birthday parade.

   Briar’s parents have created a Facebook page for her called “Briar’s Battle.” Her family will post updates on her journey and fundraising efforts there. Briar’s parents are “so proud of her for how brave she has been” while going through treatments and everything else that goes along with it. “We have faith that God is going to get her through this,” Gina concluded.