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Brady’s brave fight: A teenager’s resilient battle and victory against cancer

Brady’s brave fight: A teenager’s resilient battle and victory against cancer

Meet Brady Duncan, a happy energetic 14-year-old sports enthusiast who's always had a passion for baseball, basketball, and track. However, in March 2023, life took an unexpected turn, throwing him a curveball – the kind no one ever expects: a cancer diagnosis.

Facing the tough challenges ahead, Brady stayed strong. Today, triumphant and cancer free, his journey stands as a testament to his determination to overcome life's most formidable obstacles.

In the spring of 2023, Brady began experiencing debilitating headaches. His energy was drained, and he was constantly fatigued, a far cry from the lively teenager he used to be. His family couldn’t put their finger on it, but something was clearly amiss.

“Brady’s body language started to change,” said his father, Dirck. “I could tell something was not right. Our son started losing interest in the things he loved, like sports and hanging out. Brady, who used to have all this energy, had nothing to spare. My wife, Nicole and I, were concerned.”

The Duncans initially sought help from a pediatrician at St. Bernard, and after evaluating and initially managing Brady, the pediatrician advised the Duncans to consult a pediatric neurologist.

While undergoing evaluation by neurology and ophthalmology, Brady’s symptoms persisted with new concerns.

“One night he got home and he had no energy,” said Dirck. “He was going to sleep and he threw up. That’s when we knew something was seriously wrong. At that point, we took him to the ER.”

At the ER, Brady underwent several diagnostic tests including a CT scan. That’s when things took a more critical turn. A CT scan revealed a blockage in his brain. Immediately, Brady was transported to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at Children’s Hospital New Orleans.

Once admitted, a series of crucial steps were taken. Dr. Jerome Volk, a pediatric neurosurgeon, placed a shunt in Brady’s brain to address the blockage and conducted a biopsy to understand the nature of the issue. It was at this point that Dr. Volk confirmed Brady’s diagnosis: a germinoma.

A central nervous system (CNS) germinoma is a type of germ cell tumor that typically originates in the brain. Germ cells are cells that, during normal development, migrate to the gonads (ovaries in females or testes in males) and give rise to eggs or sperm. However, in the case of a CNS germinoma, these germ cells may get trapped in the brain during fetal development and give rise to tumors.

Brady was referred to Dr. Maria C. Velez, a pediatric neurooncologist, who oversaw Brady’s treatment.

“Dr. Velez explained to us that the only way to eliminate these germinomas – the bad cells - was through intensive chemotherapy and possibly radiation,” recalled Dirck. “Learning about our son’s cancer left us shocked, overwhelmed, angry and scared. Up until that point, Brady had been perfectly healthy, and the diagnosis blindsided all of us including his brother and sister. The only early symptoms we noticed were the headaches, lack of interest, and his diminished energy.”

Brady’s treatment journey began soon after his diagnosis in March 2023. He underwent four rounds of chemotherapy as an inpatient, with each cycle posing its own set of challenges.

Every chemo round except the second round, he got sick. Streptococcal infection, pneumonia and the side effects of treatment made the path difficult, but Brady faced it with unparalleled resilience.

He had chemo every 21 days. But that changed accordingly because he was hospitalized for lung infections due to his weakened immune system following his treatments. Before he could resume chemotherapy, his oncology team evaluated his hemoglobin, platelets, and his absolute neutrophil count (ANC), an estimate of the body’s ability to fight infections, especially bacterial infections.

Brady began radiation treatment in August 2023, a daily routine for four straight weeks. Dealing with radiation brought its own set of challenges - tiredness, bouts of nausea and occasional mild headaches. Since the chemo was effective in shrinking the germinoma, the dose of radiation therapy was adapted to these results.

“Central nervous system germinomas are typically treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy,” explained Dr. Velez. “The treatment plan is adapted considering different factors like tumor location, response to treatment, as well as the patient’s overall status. Despite the seriousness of CNS germinomas, advancements in treatment have significantly improved outcomes, enabling many patients to achieve successful survival with appropriate and timely therapeutic intervention.”

With unwavering faith and support from his family and medical team, Brady completed his radiation on September 1, 2023. He rang the bell two times, symbolizing the end of his cancer treatment and the start of his recovery journey.

Today, Brady, a ninth-grade freshman, proudly stands as a symbol of determination and resilience. Despite lingering fatigue from his intensive treatments, he’s back in school, earning a spot on the honor roll, and gradually reclaiming the life he momentarily put on hold. 

“We had an amazing experience with Brady's oncology team, especially Dr. Velez and Dr. Cori Morrison,” said Dirck. “Dr. Morrison was fantastic – she saw us frequently in the clinic, connected with Brady on a personal level, and always had something positive to share. Our nurses, including Nurse Beth, and nurse practitioners Olivia and Cody, were exceptional. They were compassionate and understanding and acted like normal people around Cody. Olivia and Cody took the time to talk to Brady, offering comfort and connecting with him on so many levels. It meant a lot to him.”

Brady is doing well and continues to see Dr. Velez every three months for his follow-up appointments.

For families facing a similar health challenge, the Duncans have these encouraging words to share:

"You've got to keep your faith, no matter what. From a parent's standpoint, you have to do your homework and do research on the situation. People feed off each other, so it is important to stay positive. Never give up hope, and just take things one day at a time. Lean on others for support. "

For more information about the Cancer Center at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, visit: Oncology Services | Children's Hospital New Orleans (