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Cancer Survivors Day – Brayden’s Story

In celebration of Cancer Survivor’s Day, PayGround shares inspiring stories from our friends and family who have triumphed over cancer. The journey through cancer is deeply personal for us, as PayGround’s origins are rooted in our CEO’s own experience. You can read some of our previous stories here: Vivek, Logan, Hudson.

This year, we are highlighting the story of our friend Brayden. Brayden’s father, Nathan, has been a lifelong friend of Zach Fee, our Director of Channel Strategy. Zach and Nathan have shared a 30+ year friendship, bonded over basketball and consider each other best friends. Amazingly, Brayden was born on Zach’s birthday, creating a special connection between them.

Brayden started showing symptoms of leukemia on his 16th birthday and was diagnosed a few weeks later. His younger brother, at just 8 years old, ended up saving his life. Now, Brayden is set to attend Baylor University this coming fall, where he will major in pre-med.

Discover more about Brayden’s inspiring journey below!

Brayden, tell us about your cancer journey and what your diagnosis looked like.

My cancer journey began on March 15, 2022, coinciding with my birthday when my lymph nodes started to swell. Initially, I was diagnosed with strep throat and prescribed antibiotics. The swelling subsided, but soon after, I began feeling unusually tired during school, and dark circles formed under my eyes. After a second check-up, the diagnosis was changed to mono, which explained the fatigue and general malaise. However, my symptoms returned, with the dark circles worsening, prompting another visit to a clinic and then a hospital. There, I was diagnosed with leukemia, though the specific type was initially uncertain.

I was then transferred to MD Anderson, where they identified my condition as BPDCN Leukemia—a rare and aggressive form of leukemia in pediatric patients. MD Anderson first discovered this type in 2018, and there have only been 20 known pediatric cases like mine. I spent approximately six months in the hospital, with occasional days at home.

My treatment was divided into three phases. The first two phases included only chemotherapy, lumbar punctures to address the cancer in my spine and head, and daily steroids. The third phase was more intense as it involved preparation for a stem cell transplant, essentially giving me a new internal system from donor cells. This phase began similarly with chemo, lumbar punctures, and steroids but later included targeted radiation for my spine and head to ensure the cancer was eradicated, followed by total body radiation.

After a week of radiation therapy, I underwent the stem cell transplant. The subsequent period focused on recovery and monitoring my levels to ensure my body did not reject the donor cells.

Who were the people that helped you through this journey?

To begin with, my little brother played a crucial role in my recovery. He was my stem cell donor, and remarkably, he was a 10/10 perfect match—a rarity among siblings. He underwent a two-day procedure to donate his cells to me, and without his selflessness, I don’t know where I’d be today.

My family was my backbone throughout this entire ordeal. Whether they were close by or in another state, their support never wavered. My parents took turns being by my side every day, providing not just company but also helping with basic tasks I couldn’t manage due to being hooked up to medication, like getting food for me.

Additionally, the outpouring of support from old friends was both unexpected and heartwarming. My family kept everyone updated on my journey through daily online posts, and I was overwhelmed by how many people were cheering me on.

Without the unwavering support of my brother, my family and friends, I wouldn’t have made it through this challenging time.

What organizations supported you during your journey?

Throughout my journey, several organizations were instrumental in providing support. Candlelighters allowed me to choose items from a store each week, which they then delivered to my room. Additionally, is an incredible organization that helps patients in need of donors. By simply taking a swab test and sending it in, you can become a potential match for someone in need. I’ve witnessed children waiting for years in the hospital to find a donor. I’d also like to express my gratitude to MD Anderson for keeping me alive throughout this journey, as the doctors were amazing from start to finish.

What advice do you have for families facing this journey and in a similar situation that you were?

My advice for anyone embarking on this journey is to keep your chin up, regardless of the circumstances. There will be highs and lows throughout the process. It’s crucial to stay well-informed, don’t hesitate to ask the doctors any questions you may have. They are there for you, so if you’re ever worried about something that shows up in a blood test, always ask to ease your nerves. Also, refrain from excessively searching online. The internet often highlights the worst scenarios, which will only increase your stress. Instead, rely on your doctor for accurate information.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I cannot stress enough the importance of donating blood. During my time in the hospital, I received numerous blood and stem cell transfusions to maintain normal levels. Hospitals rely on blood donations every day to keep patients stable and alive. There is always a blood donation center nearby, and the process takes no more than 15 minutes.

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Brayden! As you embark on your college journey at Baylor, we wish you a year filled with excitement, adventure, and good health. Sic ’em Bears!