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Bull Mountain third grader isn't fighting her cancer alone

Benefit concert planned for next week for Deer Creek Elementary student Holly Bruno as she battles cancer

TIMES PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Holly Bruno, 8, strokes her cat Gracie as she sits at home with her family (pictured, from left: older sister Emily, mother Heidi and father Rick).Life for the Bruno family has been turned upside down, and it all began last summer.

Heidi Bruno took her youngest daughter, 8-year-old Holly, to the doctor in August for what seemed to be a bad ear infection. But the symptoms persisted, and got worse. After a series of medical scans and tests, Holly began treatment on Sept. 2 for a form of childhood cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma, or RMS.

“In the beginning, it was kind of a big shock,” said Abbie, Holly's oldest sister, a sophomore at Tualatin High School. “And that was … really different than what I could ever imagine our family going through. But now it's kind of weird that it's just part of our lives, I guess.”

Holly has a tumor wrapping part of the way around her skull. It's extensive enough that surgery was not possible, her parents said. Instead, Holly has been undergoing chemotherapy in an effort to kill the cancer cells and stop the tumor from growing any further. The treatments have caused her to lose her hair and have weakened her immune system, making it difficult for her body to fight off disease.

Tigard-Tualatin schools pitch in

(Image is Clickable Link)     Holly is in the third grade at Deer Creek Elementary School, although her parents said she hasn't been able to attend classes regularly this year.

But the family has not been lacking for support from Holly's school and other schools in the Tigard-Tualatin School District.

Holly was adopted by Tigard High School’s Sparrow Club after her diagnosis. The club encourages students to help children, especially those who are younger, through serious illnesses and injuries.

Last month, the school held what Heidi described as an “amazing” benefit concert for the Bruno family, which raised $4,000.

Next Tuesday, Tualatin High is holding a concert of its own to raise money for the Bruno family.

“I think it's really neat that Tigard stepped up to the plate, and I think it's our turn to reach out and help, too,” said Kimberly Kroeger, the school's vocal music director.

The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. in the school auditorium, with performances by the elite Crimsonnaires choir and vocal jazz ensemble, as well as guest spots by jazz pianist Randy Porter and the Crosswinds Big Band.

“We're just really wanting to reach out and help the family and have a great night of jazz,” said Kroeger.

Check it out

What: Jazz benefit concert for Holly Bruno

Where: Tualatin High School, 22300 S.W. Boones Ferry Road

When: 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 12

How much: $2 minimum per person donation at the door

Holly has also been embraced by her Deer Creek classmates, her mother said, as well as families in their Bull Mountain neighborhood. Strangers have reached out to the family, even bringing over meals, said her father, Rick Bruno.

“We could not have asked for more support,” Heidi Bruno said.

Randall Children's Hospital at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in north Portland has also done its best to make Holly's time there enjoyable, even letting the family bring her kitten Gracie for her to play with during a tough round of treatment last fall. A “chemo pal” from the Children's Cancer Association has kept Holly company and played games with her.

“Just knowing that we have so many resources, it makes a huge difference," Heidi said. "That first week, we just thought that we would never survive — and as hard as it has been, we have found so much happiness and so many great things at the same time.”

TIMES PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Holly Bruno, second from right, laughs with her family (pictured, from left: sister Abbie, brother Connor, sister Emily, mother Heidi and father Rick). Holly was diagnosed last year with cancer.

'She's a tough girl'

Holly has her ups and downs. She feels good some days, like Monday, when she went to school and to her younger brother Grant's soccer practice. Other days are tougher. Sometimes her chemotherapy triggers symptoms like those she experienced during a harsh, monthlong round of radiation treatment she endured in October, which left her with painful sores inside her mouth and a temporary burn that covered the lower part of her face, Rick said.

Heidi said on the whole, though, Holly is “better than we expected.”

Holly's cancer is treatable, and the Brunos said it has been responding well to radiation and chemotherapy intended to kill the malignant cells and prevent them from growing. But even if the cancer cells are all destroyed, Holly will likely carry the tumor in her head for the rest of her life.

“They did say … this type of cancer is one of the more aggressive ones,” said Rick. “But it's also one of the more susceptible, or receptive, to treatment.”

Holly has 11 weeks of chemotherapy left, so if all goes well, she'll be done with treatment by the end of the school year. But even if the cancer cells are killed and she goes into remission, she will still need to have regular tests — probably for the rest of her life, Heidi said — to make sure she is healthy and the cancer doesn't return.

By the fall, Rick said, Holly should be able to play soccer just like her younger brother.

It's been a tough road, and there's a long way still to go, but Holly has been up to it, her family said.

“I felt that she could get through it, because she's a very energetic person,” said Connor, who is a freshman at Tualatin High.

“That's true,” Heidi agreed. “She's a fighter. … She's a tough girl. And this has proved that. She hardly ever complains.”

Holly will turn 9 on April 28. Her birthday party will have a Harry Potter theme, she said, after one of her favorite book series.

Holly's family maintains a Facebook page for well-wishers to send messages and follow her progress.

Tualatin High, where next Tuesday's benefit concert will be held, is located at 22300 S.W. Boones Ferry Rd., Tualatin.

By Mark Miller
email: mmiller@commnewspapers.com
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