Meet the Utes' new star assistant coach: Utah football, hoops programs have embraced 8-year-old with leukemia

Published: Sunday, May 4 2014 2:38 p.m. MDT

Macguire “Mac” Brennan was born Dec. 21, 2005. He has an older brother, Patrick, who is a fifth-grader, and a younger sibling, Murphy, who is in kindergarten.

Self-described as “a sports kid who loves to just do what’s right,” Mac was just doing his thing last December when abnormalities began to surface. The kid who never wanted to come out of a basketball game asked to do so. A few weeks earlier, he didn’t want to play because his knee was really hurting.

“Looking back, I know there were symptoms that we didn’t realize,” Kyle Brennan said. “ ... The only thing I get on my kids for when they’re playing sports is their effort. His effort wasn’t there.”

And with good reason.

Mac initially had a bump behind each ear (kind of like when a cold is settling in) and eczema on his chest. The next day, more bumps were detected along his neck and under his arms.

That led to a trip to the doctor’s office, where a young physician that Kyle said looked like she was just out of medical school delivered some unexpected news: “I think he has leukemia.”

Where was the older doctor who had seen such things a million times?

The diagnosis, however, was confirmed within two hours. Approximately 90 minutes later, Mac was admitted into Primary Children’s Hospital.

“I just broke down,” said Kyle, who called it devastating. “You don’t have a chance to read on it or know anything. My images of leukemia are from when I was a kid, I think, and you immediately go to the worst-case scenario. It was awful. The worst day, probably, of my life.”

Beth acknowledged it was horrific and shocking.

Ironically, it was Friday the 13th (2013) when the diagnosis of leukemia (pre-B ALL) was confirmed and Mac was hospitalized.

“It was one of the worst nights of my life,” Mac said.

Treatment began in the form of 28 consecutive days of chemotherapy and steroids.

In the midst of it, though, Beth said the family made a pivotal decision — one that would eventually lead to Mac’s involvement with the Utah basketball and football teams.

“When he was first diagnosed it was terrible, and then we came to a point after we got out of the hospital, a couple of days out of the hospital, where we kind of decided: ‘OK, that’s enough. We need to move forward. How are we going to do that?’” she explained. “We kind of decided we are going to keep things as normal as possible. We are going to keep him involved. We’re not going to isolate him. We are going to try and just get him out and about with other people as much as we can and try to keep a normal life for the rest of our boys, too — for our sake and for our family’s sake.”

The family debated such things as having Beth quit her job and trying to keep everyone at home.

“Then we realized that’s not good for him,” Beth said. “So we need to kind of keep putting one foot in front of the other knowing that at some point we’re going to look back on this time and be glad that we didn’t stop our life at that point, that life continued, for our other boys, for Mac, and for ourselves.”

It’s a decision Beth made after a talking with a friend. She realized it wasn’t productive to cry and talk about it all the time.

“No more tears. We’re done,” Beth said. “We’re moving forward. This is what we’re going to do and we’ve done that.”

The road ahead, though, is a long one. Leukemia treatment for young boys like Mac can take 3½ years to complete.

Challenges along the way

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