For so many fighting cancer, remission is the news they long to hear.
It was that way for the Allgoods, when their daughter Brecklynn, who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2015, was declared to have no evidence of disease in October 2018.
Since then, they’ve discovered remission isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
In some ways, it’s just a word.
“When you say remission, you just got a good scan,” said Zach Allgood, Brecklynn’s father. “There’s nothing saying she can’t go get a scan right now and find something in her body. So remission’s really not — it’s just a good scan.”
Brecklynn was diagnosed with pleuropulmonary blastoma, a cancer that begins in the chest and can spread to other parts of the body, and was told she was just the 39th case to ever be discovered. The family was told the outcome for her type of cancer wasn’t good, especially for a 2-year-old. But Brecklynn, her family and thousands around the country and world fought the disease with her, and now, she’s made it through a year of remission.
Read other stories in this series at gainesvilletimes.com/cancer.
Brecklynn has been off treatment for one year this October and the family has been trying to adjust to its “new normal.” Their days used to be filled with doctors appointments and time spent in the hospital, but Brecklynn, now 6 years old, gets to enjoy what it means to be a kid.
“This is pretty much as normal as we’ve been in four years,” said Courtney Allgood, Brecklynn’s mother. “And truthfully, it’s as normal as we’ll be because we still have scans every three months.”
Even in remission, those scans bring what the Allgoods call “scanxiety.” It’s the nerves and worries as each scan approaches. So to them, remission doesn’t mean they can forget about cancer and move on.
“The week or two leading up to scans, it’s that full-blown anxiety over it,” Courtney said. “I say a lot of times we live our life in three-month increments. A lot of times, that’s how it feels. We get a good scan and we’ve got a month and a half before they call to schedule the next one.”
In reality, though, that anxiety isn’t just reserved for those couple of weeks leading up to the scans. The Allgoods feel a state of worry draped over them — it’s the background noise to their daily lives — so they don’t often get to think about Brecklynn being in remission.
It’s really all they’ve ever known since their oldest daughter first got sick.
“The other day, we were sitting in our kitchen eating dinner and she said, ‘My side hurts,’” Courtney said, looking over at her husband. “I mean, we didn’t even talk about it afterwards, but we just look at each other, and it’s like, ‘Does she have a cramp from running around or does she have a tumor in her stomach?’”
Zach said his mind goes to the same place sometimes. Brecklynn had multiple tumors in her brain during her treatment, and every slip of the tongue reminds her parents of that fact.
“She’s sitting here reading a book — and she can read — and gets stumped on a word she already knows, that’s right where it goes,” Zach said.
But they both want to be strong for Brecklynn and their other children, Briley, 4, and Baylor, 7 months. They just keep going, because they don’t want their daughter to see them sad or upset and take on those emotions and that burden herself.
Courtney often reminds herself, “Faith over fear.”
“I just have to say a quick prayer, just kind of pray through it,” Courtney said. “That’s the only real way to get through it, because when I try to do it on my own, it kind of spins out of control.”
They hide those fears for now because that’s not what they want remission to look like for their daughter.
They do want it to look like a lot of fun, though.
As a teacher before she had Briley, Courtney always thought she’d be the mom who made her children sit down and do all their homework when they got home. She thought she’d be the strict one to make sure they’re doing everything in and out of school they’re supposed to do.
But things have changed.
“The things that I think I really would have pushed without this situation, I don’t push as much,” Courtney said. “What really matters is the fact that she’s here and healthy and happy and we get to love on her every day. Don’t get me wrong, we do our homework. But I really do the bare minimum. I don’t mean to sound bad, but I want her to play.”
So she does.
Courtney said they “stay on the go.” They’ll probably miss some school days this year for trips to the beach and to the mountains, just to give Brecklynn a view of the world she hasn’t seen quite yet.
And when they aren’t on the go, Brecklynn enjoys being at home, playing with Briley. Every chance Courtney gets, she simply sits there and watches.
“I just like to sit there and listen to them just make believe and pretend,” Courtney said. “Just some of the stuff we never thought we would get to experience.”
Courtney and Zach find themselves doing that a lot more often nowadays — soaking up every moment they can with Brecklynn.
“You appreciate more time,” Zach said.
Not that they didn’t before, but they now have a new understanding and appreciation of what it means.
“Remission doesn’t mean that cancer is never going to enter your world again,” Courtney said. “Once cancer has been in your world, it’s never leaving your world.”
When people try to be happy for Brecklynn and congratulate her or her family for making it through everything to remission, the Allgoods are wary of celebrating.
“You hear, ‘OK, they’re in remission. They’re clear, they’re cured and they’re getting back to normal,’” Zach said. “But that’s not what that means.”
Even so, remission is a breath of fresh air for the Allgoods. While they never know what’s around the corner with each scan, the family continues to press on and live life with Brecklynn as best as they can.
“You try to push it to the back of your mind,” Zach said. “You almost just have to have faith. Put it in the back of your mind and enjoy what’s in front of you.”
They’re enjoying every moment with Brecklynn while she’s in remission, watching her learn and grow into a mature-beyond-her-years first grader. One day, they’ll tell her what she’s been through and explain everything that has happened, but for now, they’ll let her stay her innocent self, thinking it was something just like the flu.
They’ll enjoy remission and pray to get through anything that lies ahead. And while remission at its core is just a word to them, they’re still thankful for it and for the time they get with their kid, who for the first time in years is able to be just that — a kid.
“Remission means a lot to us,” Courtney said. “It’s a really big deal.”