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Photo via Ronnie Roth/Go Fund Me
Photo via Ronnie Roth/Go Fund Me
Brooke Pearson, 13, is suffering from a rare form of spinal cancer.

As president of the 104th Precinct Civilian Observation Patrol (GCOP) — the neighborhood’s volunteer patrol unit that assists local police — Mark Pearson interacts with the NYPD often. But when 104th Precinct officers marched by him during the Ridgewood-Glendale Memorial Day Parade on May 28, he was shocked to see at least 30 of them wearing the same yellow rubber bracelet with white lettering around their wrists.

The bracelets bear the name of Mark’s daughter Brooke, a 13-year-old student at P.S./I.S. 119, who is now fighting for her life after being diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer.

“We had no idea,” Pearson said of the officers’ show of support. “It chokes us up every time we think about it.”

Yet, the 104th Precinct was just the latest on a growing list of supporters in the community who have rallied around the Pearsons since word of Brooke’s diagnosis began to spread.

But what exactly the diagnosis entails is something that neither the family nor the doctors have been able to fully understand.

Mark and his wife Trish welcomed QNS into their Glendale home on May 31 to share Brooke’s story. While she did not feel well enough to participate in the conversation, she was listening in the next room, curled up on the couch.

Brooke hasn’t walked since May 14.

It all began 10 weeks ago with a feeling of numbness and tingling in Brooke’s right hand as if her arm had fallen to sleep, except the sensation wasn’t going away. Before long, the feeling spread down her arm and into the neck area. At that point, an orthopedic doctor recommended that Brooke receive physical therapy twice a week.

During three weeks of physical therapy, Brooke started feeling pain in her back and neck and the numbing sensation spread into her left arm. A neurologist then told the Pearsons that the symptoms were probably just anxiety and stress related without even examining Brooke.

With the misinformation causing her parents to fear the worst, Brooke’s condition continued to worsen. The Pearsons took matters into their own hands by getting Brooke’s braces removed just so that she could get an MRI.

“At that point, her left leg was going numb and her gait was off,” Trish said.

Her leg would just give out while she was walking or standing, and she’d just fall,” Mark added.

The day after getting the MRI, Trish went prom dress shopping with Brooke for P.S./I.S. 119’s eighth grade prom, but she had to help Brooke get dressed for the first time since she was a baby, Trish said. The day after that, Brooke was lying in bed in so much pain that the Pearsons took her to the emergency room.

Brooke didn’t want to go because she was afraid of ruining her perfect school attendance record she had been so proud of over the past five years, Trish said.

Brooke Pearson with her classmates at P.S./I.S. 119 after getting out of the hospital, via Ronnie Roth/Go Fund Me

Brooke Pearson with her classmates at P.S./I.S. 119 after getting out of the hospital, via Ronnie Roth/Go Fund Me

Brooke spent the next 12 days in the hospital getting MRIs, CT scans, spinal taps and biopsies, and doctors finally determined that small tumors were on Brooke’s spine affecting her nerves. But because Brooke’s case was so rare, the doctors were only able to say it was a sarcoma — which grows on connective tissues in the body such as bones, cartilage, tendons, muscles, nerves, fat and blood vessels.

To this day, doctors have still not been able to identify a more specific type of cancer or give the Pearson family any sort of prognosis.

“We saw, like, seven different doctors and it didn’t seem like they were talking to each other,” Mark said. “I’m grateful that all these different groups were trying to figure out what was going on, it’s just the communication wasn’t coming back to us, and we couldn’t relay anything to her.”

Once Brooke was finally able to come home, Trish posted something on Facebook to let her friends and family know why the Pearsons had been difficult to contact over the past few weeks. The news spread more quickly than they ever imagined from there.

Ronnie Roth, the secretary for 104COP, asked Mark if he could start a GoFundMe page, and within nine days, the campaign has brought in $8,734. Another 104COP member’s daughter — whom Mark said had never even met Brooke — started to sell the yellow bracelets worn by police to raise money for the Pearsons.

“I was astounded by the amount of support,” Mark said. “People who we don’t even know … I go up on the GoFundMe page and I see names where I was like, ‘who’s that person?'”

The Pearsons then started their own campaigns with purple bracelets and T-shirts with a butterfly logo designed by Brooke’s cousin. The bracelets and shirts read “Team Brooki,” a nickname Brooke uses as her social media handle. She wants to be a YouTube and Instagram star one day, Mark said.

Dozens of people wanted the Team Brooki shirts, including another GCOP member who participates in the Middle Village Relay for Life every year who changed their team name for the event and will wear Brooke’s shirts.

Brooke is receiving chemotherapy and her case is being studied by oncologists at Cohen Children’s Medical Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; her next treatment is on June 13. While she has had many emotional peaks and valleys in the past few weeks, Mark said, her spirit was no more evident than when she decided she wanted to surprise all of her friends at school after getting out of the hospital.

“We hid in one of the closets and the class was in there, she came in and they were all so happy to see her,” Mark said. “She broke down crying … she didn’t think a lot of people even knew about her or felt that way about her.”

If you wish to donate to the Pearson family to help support Brooke’s treatments and the extra measures the family must now take to make her comfortable at home, visit the GoFundMe page here or purchase a Team Brooki shirt here.

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