Thursday, February 15, 2007

Asking help for Bryan

Those of us lucky enough not to know what it's like, well, we really have no idea.

We can only imagine, if we can even let our minds wander there. I don't know about you, but I can't do it. The thought of one of my children being stricken by a serious, potentially fatal, illness is too much. When I try to imagine what that might be like, my chest tightens, my body shivers and my mind just won't go there. I guess that what the saying means: I can't wrap my mind around it.

The only reason I've tried to imagine it is, like most of the other lucky parents, I sometimes try to put myself in the shoes of those who've found themselves confronted with a child's illness or even death. The unthinkable. The unspeakable.

"I don't know how you deal with this," I said once to an acquaintance of mine, Mary Lou Tressler. A former owner of Jet Set Printing in Riverhead, our children were in nursery school together.

"I don't have any choice," she answered. "What else can I do?"

Her words stay with me. What else can she do, indeed?

Her son, Bryan, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare, generally fatal, childhood cancer, when he was just 5 years old. Doctors told his parents, Mary Lou and her husband, Bob, that there was no hope. But Bob and Mary Lou refused to give up. They searched high and low until they found doctors willing to treat Bryan with new, cutting-edge therapies that were then still in development. Thanks to such aggressive treatment — some of it classified as experimental — Bryan has survived. He's now going on 14. But it hasn't been easy, and the future, even after all he's been through, is still bleak.

Bryan is a brave young man. He was brave before he understood the meaning of the word "courage." He's instinctively fought a battle he didn't even know he was engaged in at first — he was too young to understand. Maybe that worked to his advantage. He wasn't mentally or emotionally dragged down by the horrible disease trying to steal his life away because he was too young to understand his affliction. So he lived a kid's life, typical of so many little boys. He played baseball. He went sailing with his dad on the family boat. He scraped his knees, collected bugs, played video games.

Now he's old enough to understand the concept of courage. He's also old enough to understand his illness, old enough to ask "Why?" Old enough to be mad as hell at the unfairness of it all.

But he's still brave. Maybe more so, because now he understands. And he still fights.

A few years back, at the Riverhead Relay for Life, Bryan told the crowd how important it is to fight, to soldier on. "We'll find a cure one day," he said. He was maybe 10 or 11. Everyone marveled at his strength, including me. I wrote a column about it, in fact.

Bryan's battle continues. His cancer has come back with a vengeance, yet again. Bryan is a fighter and endures the physical pain of both the disease and its treatments. His parents and siblings are coping. But the cancer and the treatments are now taking a major financial toll on the family and they are in need of help.

The Tresslers moved upstate a few years back. Bryan's father, Bob, sold his printing business, and the family relocated to a rural area, where there would be less pressure and where Mary Lou and Bob would be able to spend less time working and more time with Bryan and his siblings, Robert and Jennifer.

Bryan now has to make a 180-mile round-trip journey for treatment four to six times each month from his home in Granville, N.Y., to Children's Specialty Center in Burlington, Vt. He also has to travel to Albany five times each week for transfusions, radiation and blood tests.

Mary Lou wrote to me last week asking for help, seeking gas card donations to help them pay for travel to and from treatments. Asking for help certainly wasn't easy for her to do, but it's nothing compared with the reality she has to deal with every day.

I know many people in Riverhead knew Bryan and his family before they moved, and many folks would want to know if they are in need of assistance now. If you can help, with either a check or a gas card, mail it to Friends of Bryan Tressler, P.O. Box 92, Granville, NY 12832.

I would love to organize a fundraiser for Bryan. If you have any ideas for how we might raise some money, or want to help with the effort, please e-mail me at

Ms. Civiletti invites you to join a discussion of this topic at Her e-mail address is

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