A scratchy throat that became a bronchial infection in May 2012 was the first sign Brenda had that anything was wrong. She tried to tough it out but collapsed while taking her long-awaited test for a black belt in karate. Later that same day she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), the same disease that had taken her brother 17 years earlier.
Brenda spent the next seven weeks in isolation at Charles LeMoyne Hospital in Quebec. Her karate teacher visited her in the intensive care unit the first week and presented her with the coveted black belt. She went on to endure days in a coma, rounds of chemotherapy, bone marrow biopsies, transfusions, and numerous infections. She had a Hickman catheter installed in her chest. She finished chemotherapy in September 2012, then fell ill with what turned out to be a fungal infection in her lungs. The powerful medication caused hallucinations and affected her eyesight. By the middle of October she was ready to be discharged and the Hickman catheter was soon removed.
When she finally got the okay to resume training, she was so weak she couldn't do a single push-up or sit-up. She was weak and frail and had lost a lot of weight. She set two goals for herself. The first was to work very hard to gain her strength and vitality back. The second was to qualify for the Canadian karate and kickboxing team and compete at the World Championships.
She started slowly exercising in her basement and then started attending classes at the dojo. She competed at tournaments in December and January and was disappointed to realize how far she had to go, and how much she had lost. She began running every day and working out with weights each morning. Six evenings a week she attended classes at two different karate schools and began to feel stronger. In the spring, she took second place in a local tournament. She qualified for nationals and finished second in two fight divisions. Later that year she traveled to Greece for the world championships where she won a gold medal in light contact kickboxing, and a silver and bronze in point fighting.
Brenda knows that none of her accomplishments would have been possible without all the research and medical advances that have been achieved since her brother became sick in 1993.
"I owe my life to the incredible people who cared for me while I was sick, always with respect for my dignity, and with kindness," Brenda said.