Almost 13, Valley seventh-grader battles cancer with a smile |

Almost 13, Valley seventh-grader battles cancer with a smile

by Sheila Gardner
Nevada Appeal News Service

Last Feb. 26, right after Elaine Brockhage celebrated her 12th birthday, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

In a matter of hours, her doctor scheduled an MRI scan and she was whisked away that afternoon to Children’s Hospital Oakland for a 10-hour operation by one of the country’s top pediatric neurologists.

It happened that quickly for the Faith Christian Academy seventh grader who had been experiencing headaches and weight loss.

“It was a very surreal moment,” said her mother, Karen.

For Elaine ” dancer, poet, artist, student ” it’s been a year that has tested her resources and strengthened her faith.

Treatment means regular trips to Oakland for chemotherapy and Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno when other medical issues crop up.

“I would not wish this on anybody,” Karen Brockhage said. “But we’ve met some phenomenally wonderful people.”

Some days, Elaine is strong enough for a couple of hours of school or a dance class.

“I mainly try to keep up with math and English,” she said.

Math is her favorite subject.

“That’s because two plus two always equals four, no matter what,” she said.

Last year, just weeks after surgery and radiation treatments, Elaine danced in her recital to a standing ovation.

“It’s really important not to let the cancer win,” Karen Brockhage said. “We try to have fun when we can.”

Elaine decided to cut her hair and donate it to Locks of Love, an organization that provides wigs to people who lose their hair to cancer treatment.

“For people who are going to go bald, what else are you going to do with extra hair?” she asked.

She could have kept the hair for herself, but Elaine gave it away.

“That’s the theme of Elaine,” Karen said. “She’s amazing. She’s always concerned about the other kids who are undergoing treatment. She gives her (hospital) roommates little gifts.”

That included an origami box she made and her own “courage beads” the hospital awards patients after treatment and Elaine gives to other sick children.

Her teachers at Faith Christian Academy call Elaine “a quiet hero.”

She completed sixth grade at Scarselli Elementary in the midst of her treatment and moved over to Faith Christian for seventh grade.

It was a homecoming for Elaine who attended kindergarten there.

Her classmates and teachers pray for her regularly, send her notes and gifts when she can’t come to class, and offer an arm or a hug when she needs extra help around school.

“There are 13 seventh and eighth graders and three teachers,” Karen Brockhage said. “Everyone knows her situation and why she’s wearing the hat. Nobody stares at her, and whenever she needs an arm, somebody’s right there.”

Her teacher makes regular home visits to Elaine.

“One of her teachers told us she’d been praying for months that Elaine would come back (to Faith Christian). They look at it as a privilege to have her there,” Karen said.

When she is housebound, Elaine is entertained by her brother, Andrew, 11, three cats ” Sunny, Genius and Matilda ” a fading pink corn snake named Rosie and a gecko.

“Andrew has been a trouper,” Karen said.

A student at Scarselli, Andrew recently won the school’s geography bee and remains close to his sister as Elaine works through what he calls “her dilemma.”

Her father Don is home with her as he studies for a masters in business administration. Karen Brockhage is a full-time occupational therapist.

Mornings begin with Karen reading to Elaine before work.

In addition to Elaine’s birthday, the Brockhages are planning a celebration in two months when she completes her chemotherapy for the cancer that has an 85 percent cure rate.

Karen keeps friends and family up-to-date through Elaine’s page on the Caring Bridge Web site.

“Thousands of people I have never met are praying for Elaine,” Karen said. “God’s really given me a forum to share hope. It’s easy to say you trust God when things are going well. The cancer is bad, but we can still honestly say God is good.”

Through it all, the Brockhages’ belief that they are on a path set by God has sustained their journey.

“God had a plan for us and we stay strong remembering that God is there,” Karen said.