Brantley Francis was a “silly and happy” child with a “contagious laugh.”
He was obsessed with super heroes. “He knew every one of the super heroes ... even ones adults would struggle to know,” said his father, Matt.
Like the super heroes he loved, Brantley had his own battle fighting cancer.
On Dec. 16, 2017, Brantley passed away at age 3.
“We don’t like to say he lost his battle with cancer, because he most certainly did not. He fought so hard, and through all of it had the most amazing spirit,” said his parents, Matt and Jeanna.
To keep Brantley’s cheerful, loving spirit alive, his parents have created the Brantley Francis Foundation.
“Our goal is to be a positive influence for others (facing childhood cancer),” said Jeanna. “When you get the diagnosis, you can feel so lonely.”
Their goal is to positively influence pediatric cancer patients and their families by sharing Brantley’s story, spreading awareness and raising funds for pediatric cancer research and “bringing hope to children and their families when hope is hard to find.”
As part of the foundation’s mission, Jeanna said she will post links and connections to resources on the foundation website.
“For parents, it can be overwhelming, so I wanted to link to resources that were helpful to me,” she said.
Before Brantley’s birth in 2014, his parents learned, via ultrasound, that he had a two vessel cord, a dilated kidney, and a hole in the wall separating the two lower chambers of the heart, known as a VSD. He also had a mass at the end of his sacrum.
“He was born with an imperforated anus and a tethered spinal cord. He was taken to surgery at two days old. The surgery was to remove the mass at the end of his sacrum and to give him a colostomy bag. At this point, the mass that was removed was benign. Nothing needed to be done. Also, while in the NICU, Brantley had surgery to put a stint in his kidney to help drain better,” said Jeanna.
Collectively, the issues Brantley faced were classified as Currarino Syndrome. His parents worked with a team of doctors throughout the United States to manage Brantley’s care.
“April 9, 2015 we were told Brantley's mass was growing back. The mass he was born with was called a Germ Cell Tumor. Typically, the tumor is removed along with the tailbone to ensure everything is gone, and that is all that is needed. It does not usually grow back. Brantley had surgery to remove the mass again. May 28, 2015 we found out that the mass they removed did not grow back the same. It grew back as a cancerous Yolk Sac Tumor,” said Jeanna.
Doctors attempted to remove the tumor, but by September, it was growing back. The family decided to start chemotherapy.
Brantley underwent several rounds of chemotherapy, losing his hair in the process.
“We were at the grocery store and a lady asked him why he had no hair. He told her, ‘The doctor took it,’” remembers Jeanna. “Even when he didn’t feel well, he had the biggest smile.”
“And he wasn’t shy,” added his dad.
Despite more rounds of chemotherapy and additional surgeries, by October 2017, Brantley’s cancer had spread to his liver and lungs.
“Brantley at this point, had completed eight rounds of chemo and exhausted all surgery options,” said Jeanna. With their son no longer responding to chemo, the couple reached out to medical professionals in Minnesota in an attempt to try alternative approaches.
“After only a short time of alternative treatments, Brantley's cancer continued to take over. Thanksgiving of 2017 Brantley was in a lot of pain,” she said. The cancer was growing and spreading fast, taking over his liver and lungs.
“There was nothing more we could do. We brought Brantley home on hospice, and had him home with us for two weeks before he gained his angel wings,” she said.
Throughout his battle, his parents said their son remained playful and happy.
“He was silly and crazy,” said Brantley’s sister, Brooklyn, 7. The pair would play “doggy” together, with Brooklyn as the owner and Brantley as her pet.
But, for Brantley, super heroes and Ninja Turtles were key. Ninja Turtle Raphael — who wore a red eye mask — was a particular favorite.
The cartoon logo for the Brantley Francis Foundation, shows a young super hero wearing a Ninja Turtles-style eye mask and wearing gold (to represent pediatric cancer) and red (Brantley’s favorite color).
The Brantley Francis Foundation will officially launch with a two-day fund-raiser April 2 and 3 at Quad City Pizza Co. For anyone who mentions Brantley Francis on either of those days, the restaurant will donate 15 percent of its sales. Brantley’s family will be at Quad City Pizza Co. from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. each evening.
In the summer, a family picnic will be hosted in the Geneseo City Park to raise funds for the foundation.
“We want to keep everything we do family centered,” said Jeanna.
For more information, visit www.brantleyfrancisfoundations.org.