The Braden Fleagle Family
The Braden Fleagle Family Story

On Monday, January 4th, 2021, Braden Fleagle turned 16. Like many teenagers, he was excited to get his learner's permit and went to the DMV the day after his birthday. Like many teenagers, Braden failed his permit exam. Unlike many teenagers, he failed due to the vision screening portion of the process, not the multiple-choice questions. Braden was sent to an optometrist, intending to return to the DMV with a successful vision screening. However, this visit led only to a referral to see a specialist the next day and instructions not to return to school until afterwards.

On Wednesday, January 6th, Braden woke up with a headache. His mom bumped up his appointment with the specialist to later that day. The specialist ran test after test before informing the Fleagle family that they needed to get to Hershey immediately, without even stopping at home first.

At the hospital, an MRI showed a mass of some sort sitting in Braden’s brain, and just after midnight Braden was officially admitted into Penn State Health Children’s Hospital. “At this point I was completely out of it,” Braden remembered, “I had just found out there was a mass in my brain.”

On Friday, January 8th, Braden had his first brain surgery. The procedure was to remove a piece of the mass to be biopsied and put in an external ventricular drain to drain excess fluid.

The next week, Braden got some good news. He had cancer! “The oncologist literally came bursting through the door announcing ‘It’s cancer! It’s cancer!’,” Braden laughed. Specifically, the mass in Braden’s brain was Germinoma, a “one in a million chance” which responded well to treatment. This meant that Braden could receive cancer treatment instead of needing to undergo an extremely risky surgery to remove the mass, which is why the cancer diagnosis was “good news.”

After thirteen days in the PICU and another surgery to put in a port for chemo, a titanium plate with four titanium screws, and a shunt, Braden got to go home and watch his movie of choice, Cars 2, with his two younger brothers. “They let me pick,” said Braden, “Well, I mean, they had to let me pick. I was recovering from two brain surgeries so they didn’t fight with me.”

Braden started chemo on February 2nd, 2021. He had two different types of chemo to take, but after infusing the first one, he turned bright red and started sweating profusely. Braden’s medical team stopped the chemo immediately thinking it might’ve been some kind of allergic reaction, but nothing seemed to be wrong. “If there’s the one in 8000 people who experience a side effect, here’s your one,” said Braden, rolling his eyes.

Braden remembers the day (February 19th) when his hair started to fall out. “It was another reminder: This is real. This is what I’m going through.” Throughout four rounds of chemo, Braden accomplished something unusual: He never had any delays to his chemo due to low blood counts! He proudly explained that it was very atypical for him to start all four rounds of chemo on time. After this success, Braden’s family moved to an apartment in Philadelphia for his next round of treatment at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

On May 4th, Braden had the most realistic Star Wars Day ever. He began proton radiation and was “shot in the head with a laser three times!” Braden’s 25 days (75 rounds) of radiation lasted until June 8th, and his family moved back home shortly after. That summer was filled with scans and bloodwork as Braden recovered from radiation. He also had his port removed as he no longer needed chemo treatments, however, his shunt will remain in him forever.

August 9th, 2021 gave Braden an excellent new addition to his mental log of important dates throughout his journey. On that day, he rang the bell to announce the end of his treatment, and the beginning of his remission journey! Throughout his entire experience, his honesty, curiosity, and sense of humor never wavered. “Pediatric doctors and nurses didn’t seem used to so many questions from their patients,” Braden chuckled. Once, he even emailed his freshman year biology teacher to tell her that her class really came in handy for a student with brain cancer. This particular teacher had required her students to memorize 60 words that ended in “-ology”. “Words that mean the study of stuff,” explained Braden, “Like oncology and neurology. In class everyone was looking at each other like ‘when am I ever going to use this?’ PICU. That’s when.”

While Braden still faces daily challenges caused by side effects of his treatments, mainly issues with short term memory, slower processing skills, and slightly decreased energy levels, he is still able to participate in many activities that he loves. Braden is a percussionist involved in marching band and jazz band at his high school. His family is very close and loves to play board games and watch Phillies baseball and Washington Capitals hockey games. Braden is a freshman through Penn State World Campus, and he is majoring in Health Policy and Administration. He hopes to transition to University Park in a few years! He is a part of the World Campus THON fundraising committee, and he hopes to one day work for Four Diamonds. Braden attended his first THON at the BJC in 2023!

On August 17th, 2022, Braden told his story over a Zoom call and happily shared that he was one year, one week, and one day in remission. His advice to someone just beginning their journey with cancer is simple: “Don’t give up. There is no doubt that you can do this and you can win. You have millions of people behind you and people who are going to be by your side the entire time. Never give up.”