SALT LAKE CITY — Brylee Olson hugged her new pink stuffed elephant. Each member of her family kissed a red silk heart and put it inside the animal before it was stitched up.
She has a sweet smile on her face. She's happy. She's content.
The Olson family celebrated a day they never thought they would see. The day Brylee joined the 5 percent of children with an operable brain tumor who live 11 months beyond diagnosis.
Corey and Lara Olson said they didn't think their three-year-old would make it to Feb. 7.
"They told me two weeks (11 months ago), and then once we passed that two weeks they said, oh (Brylee) probably won't make it to her third birthday. Then when she made it past that point and then they said Christmas. Then we made it past that point," Lara said. "Now her tumor's stable."
Eleven months ago, Lara Olson was whisked into a conference room where a doctor told her Brylee, had a tumor — diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma.
"It's kind of miraculous," Lara said. "At this point, we didn't think it was going to be going as good as it is."
But in November, her spirits weren't so high. Brylee was experiencing the same symptoms she had before diagnosis and the family was in the midst of completing Brylee's bucket list — a trip to Yellowstone, one to Disneyland, a trip to the zoo to great the elephants, a host of others.
Elder W. Craig Zwick, a member of the LDS Church's First Quorum of the Seventy, came to the family''s home to share the good wishes of church president Thomas S. Monson — he was on the bucket list — and to give Brylee a blessing.
"I don't remember a lot of the blessing," Lara said. "The one sentence that stood out to me was that her tumor was going to shrink and her life was going to be prolonged."
That was on Oct. 13. On Nov. 15 Brylee's doctor told Lara the tumor had grown.
"As LDS people you're told to believe and have faith. With that kind of priesthood blessing you expect that to be the outcome because that's what you've been taught," she said. "I was devastated. Like absolutely devastated. And I was angry. I was trying really hard not to be angry, but I was really, really upset."
Two months later, the Olsons got the results they had been praying for, that they had believed in. The Olsons sat in a hospital room ready to talk about stopping chemotherapy and getting home help, But the doctor told them the tumor was stable. It hadn't grown since November.
"I was kicking myself," she said. "You know growing up it's always on God's time. It's never on your time. I should have just been fine in November and I should have just kept having the faith but I didn't."
Cory said he lost hope after the MRI in November. But said deep down, when the time came, he knew his faith would be renewed.
"In the back of my mind I was like, it takes time sometimes for these types of blessing to happen," he said. "It'll happen when it's supposed to happen. And if it doesn't, then I'm OK with that."
Cory said he believes Brylee's tumor shrank.
"I'm sure it shrank," he said, watching his daughter wander around the store, picking out clothes for her new elephant.
"It helps me go day-to-day when I see her like that."
Lara said the journey has taught her much about faith and the timing of God.
"You can't even really be mad at Heavenly Father, or expect something from him," she said.
Brylee's life was extended by the mercy of God, Lara said.
"He did that for me, because as a mom I needed that. Even though you think you're ready for your child to leave, you're never ready," she said. "Heavenly Father will know when it's right for me to let go, but obviously right now is not that moment."
And if Brylee has anything to say about it, she'll be around for a while.
"She told me the other day, she said, 'I want another Christmas,'" Cory said. He asked her if she was going to be strong — to fight.
"Yeah," she replied.
"Okay, then you'll have another Christmas."
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