Editor's note: Journalists Emilee Eagar and Jeffrey D. Allred spent more than four months with 3-year-old Brylee Olson and her family. On this Thanksgiving day they offer the intimate account of one little girl's struggle to survive and the joy that comes from being with Brylee.
The room was still, a quiet moment after the whirlwind that began with the rhythmic thumping of an MRI, the rustling of doctor's notes and admittance papers, and the hiss of the oxygen tube.
Lara Olson clung to her daughter, rocked her gently and began to cry.
"I don't want you to leave me," she said in quiet whisper.
Brylee Olson glanced up at her mother from cradled arms, her large blue eyes glassy, her voice unable to pass from paralyzed vocal cords. The muscles in her face were also stilled, leaving her unable to comfort her grieving mother.
Brylee reached for her mother's hand.
How do you tell your 2-year-old daughter she is going to die? How do you know what her reaction will be? What could it be?
"You have a brain tumor and you're going to die and go see Heavenly Father," her mother said, muting the sharpness of the words with the softness of a still voice.
What followed was a conversation without words — the first of many between a mother and daughter.
"She didn't cry," Lara said. "There was no emotion. She just sat there, held my hand and stared at me."
Hours earlier, Lara was sitting with her husband, Cory, and daughter in a waiting room. Lara was one semester away from a criminal justice degree and was using every moment to study.
That's when the doctor came in: "Come with me."
"He just took off running down the hallway and I was trying to cram books in my backpack trying to follow him," Lara said.
"He took us into this conference room, a gigantic conference room with this huge projection of her brain on the screen. … When you walked in you could see this big ol' mass. I'm not a medical professional, but you could tell something was not normal."
Brain tumor. More specifically, diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG; a tumor in the brain stem. Fewer than 10 percent of those with the condition survive.
"The only question I could get out was how long do we have?" Lara said.
"I don't put times on anything. I believe in miracles," Lara said the doctor replied. But the disease is fatal.
Only 150 to 300 people are diagnosed each year in the United States. Usually only two to three a year suffer the tumor in Utah, but this past year seven children have been diagnosed. Brylee's family learned on March 6 that she is among the seven.
"That's why we put the bucket list together, because we don't know how much time we have with her," Lara said. "We don't know how much time we have before those signs and symptoms show back up."