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Teen’s cancer diagnosis upends New River family’s world; Surprise Squad steps in to help

Surprise Squad is sponsored by Valley Toyota Dealers.
The Surprise Squad thought Brayden and his family could use a happy distraction. Surprise Squad is sponsored by Valley Toyota Dealers.
Published: Mar. 25, 2022 at 8:51 AM MST
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NEW RIVER, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- When a teenager gets sick with cancer, it takes a physical and emotional toll not just on the child, but also on their entire family. The Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad saw that firsthand when they drove out to visit a New River family. Brayden, 14, has been ill for more than two years. His mother, Libby, had to quit her job as a teacher to focus on him, which means Brayden’s dad is the only one currently working. On top of all that, their home’s septic tank is unexpectedly failing, and they don’t have the money to repair it fully.

The Surprise Squad thought Brayden and his family could use a happy distraction, which is why 3TV’s Olivia Fierro and the crew paid them an unexpected visit. Libby was at a loss for words when she opened the door and saw the team standing there. “I didn’t even know this was happening,” she said with a smile. “Well, that’s the very definition of surprise, so I guess we pulled it off,” Fierro said.

When a teenager gets sick with cancer, it takes a physical and emotional toll not just on the...
When a teenager gets sick with cancer, it takes a physical and emotional toll not just on the child, but also on their entire family. The Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad saw that firsthand when they drove out to visit a New River family.(Arizona's Family)

The crew set up some chairs in front of Libby’s home, where she and Fierro began talking about Brayden’s ordeals.

“In August of 2020, right after COVID hit and the school closed, he finished out his seventh-grade year,” Libby said. “He kept falling down, and his back would collapse. He just would fall down and stay down and be like, ‘Please don’t move me. I’m in a lot of pain.’ Eventually, he was transported to Phoenix Children’s, and that’s where they saw it. That was on Aug. 8, 2020. We were told that he has cancer. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia on the b-cell. So, it’s one that is treatable, and I’m so grateful, and I cannot complain -- not one minute -- because there’s a cure,” Libby said with tears in her eyes.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, ALL, is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood, explains the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. There’s no clear cause, and it can progress quickly if not treated.

“With the chemotherapy and the steroids they give him to fight this, he was getting every side effect,” Libby continued. “They had to do a surgery on his ankle because the steroid killed the bone on his ankle. And he’s just now, after four months of no weight on it, he’s able to walk with a crutch and put just a little weight. They’re hoping that he will be finished with chemotherapy and be able to ring the bell on Dec. 29. So our motto is ‘Cancer-free in ‘23.’”

Ringing the bell marks a milestone in cancer treatment, usually the end of chemo or radiation.

When a teenager gets sick with cancer, it takes a physical and emotional toll not just on the...
When a teenager gets sick with cancer, it takes a physical and emotional toll not just on the child, but also on their entire family. The Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad saw that firsthand when they drove out to visit a New River family.(Arizona's Family)

“Does Brayden want to come out and join us?” Fierro asked. Walking with a crutch, Brayden sat down next to his mom. “He’s now a freshman at ASU Prep online,” Libby said proudly.

“What is the main thing you miss about life before everything changed with your body?” Fierro asked the teen.

“Probably just walking, standing, running. Playing basketball,” he said. “Seeing your friends,” Libby added.

Brayden said he enjoys drawing and playing video games, so Fierro handed him a plastic card. “We wanted to give you a gift card from Valley Toyota Dealers that you can use for some video games. You’ve got $200 there, which is a splurge to add to your gaming or anything else you might like. That’s just totally for you.”

When a teenager gets sick with cancer, it takes a physical and emotional toll not just on the...
When a teenager gets sick with cancer, it takes a physical and emotional toll not just on the child, but also on their entire family. The Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad saw that firsthand when they drove out to visit a New River family.(Arizona's Family)

Fierro then handed Libby an envelope. “We know that you’ve stepped away from work. You deserve a little downtime for yourself. What do we got there?”

Libby gasped when she opened up the envelope and read the certificate inside. “A spa day for two at Camelback Inn. Oh my gosh.”

“The Camelback Inn is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s a Southwestern feel,” Fierro said. “It’s at the JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort and Spa. You also mentioned something that was going on. We heard the word ‘septic.’”

Libby explained what was going wrong with their septic tank. “It’s failing. The medication that passes through him goes into there and kills all bacteria, which we did not know. The monthly maintenance that we do on it is not enough, so it’s failing.”

“So, to help you out with that, we have something for you courtesy of your Valley Toyota Dealers,” Fierro said as she handed Libby a second envelope.

Libby’s eyes opened wide when she read that the Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad was giving her $5,000 to help with repairs. “No way. No way. I can’t even function right now. There’s no words. Thank you guys so much. And we’ll expect you there for ringing the bell.”

When a teenager gets sick with cancer, it takes a physical and emotional toll not just on the...
When a teenager gets sick with cancer, it takes a physical and emotional toll not just on the child, but also on their entire family. The Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad saw that firsthand when they drove out to visit a New River family.(Arizona's Family)
When a teenager gets sick with cancer, it takes a physical and emotional toll not just on the...
When a teenager gets sick with cancer, it takes a physical and emotional toll not just on the child, but also on their entire family. The Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad saw that firsthand when they drove out to visit a New River family.(Arizona's Family)
When a teenager gets sick with cancer, it takes a physical and emotional toll not just on the...
When a teenager gets sick with cancer, it takes a physical and emotional toll not just on the child, but also on their entire family. The Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad saw that firsthand when they drove out to visit a New River family.(Arizona's Family)