As a little girl growing up in Grand Forks, ND, I fell in love with sports. From being dropped off by my parents at all the early morning practices to the many late nights of spending extra time in the gym with my younger sister and brother, I really only knew how to do life with sports. Basketball was my thing, basketball was Brittany. The athlete in me absolutely loved anything that involved competing, being a teammate and making memories. Little did I know that I was learning so many traits and experiencing so many moments that would become key for when I would be fighting for my life.
In October 2008, I had two basketball games on a Saturday. During the games I had asked to sit out to catch my breath. Right then and there my family and I knew something was not right. Following the games, I went to the doctor and was prescribed medicine for an infection of a lymph node. Four days later, my body internally knew there was something far more to this “infection”. My mom made an appointment for that afternoon for a third opinion. On the afternoon of Wednesday, October 15, my parents and I were told that the doctors believed that I had cancer. I was referred and emergency airlifted to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN as I had a grapefruit sized tumor pressing on my trachea. After tests and procedures, I was diagnosed with T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and instantly began my two-and-a-half-years of treatment. Thirteen-year-old Brittany now has pediatric cancer and soon would learn a whole new perspective of life, or as I call it, my ride.
With my family in the back and I in the passenger seat, my dad drove 90 mph with the flashers on to get me to the Grand Forks Emergency Room. When we arrived, I was 98% paralyzed and could only move my head left to right.
From the beginning, my body responded very well to chemotherapy and I went into remission early on. Continuing to check off months of receiving chemotherapy, I prayed daily for the simplest things I missed or simply took for granted. My new perspective on life was quickly altered by the intangible, purest meaning of life.
In June 2009, my perspective on life became even more imperative. As a normal part of my treatment, I had received my 13th spinal tap of chemotherapy on a Wednesday. That following Saturday my body started to react negatively. Extreme tiredness, weakening muscle strength and diminishing body function became very raw and real within my body. Sunday morning, I woke up at the lake with my body becoming paralyzed. With my family in the back and I in the passenger seat, my dad drove 90 mph with the flashers on to get me to the Grand Forks Emergency Room. When we arrived, I was 98% paralyzed and could only move my head left to right. I could not talk and was unable to move any part of my body. It was as if I was trapped in my own body. For the second time in nine months, I was emergency airlifted to Mayo Clinic. There, the doctors confirmed the 13th spinal tap was toxic.
I spent 16 days on the Rehab Floor retraining and relearning many functions of the body and life; just like a newborn baby. Once I arrived back home, I continued physical therapy to keep overcoming this road bump. Mayo considers me ‘one-in-a-million’ as my reaction was very rare and the most severe case they had ever seen. Now at fourteen years old, a whole new competition in life was handed to me.
My ride continued with other expected road bumps and I finished cancer treatment in February of 2011. I am still in remission and will have checkups the rest of my life.
Everyone is on their own unique ride. The perspective and determination that ignites you from within mixed with your experiences and passions should be what inspire you day in and day out for what you do both personally and professionally. This is your ride and you only get one chance at it.
Road bumps are often viewed as a negative, but for me it’s not. Many things throughout my cancer journey, including the road bumps, became my inspiration for how I wanted to live and enjoy the rest of my life. One of those things was my career.
Although my ride is different than the perspective I had as a little girl, that does not change who I am. Instead I have a new competition. Practices are no longer my sport practices; rather it is every day working to keep improving as a person.
As cancer and sports are the two biggest things that encourage and challenge me, I want to give back, empower, and change these categories of life. My family and I were fortunate enough to attend and be part of many different sporting games, a variety of community events, benefit from organizations and foundations and be a reference point for families going through similar situations. This truly was a big part of our coping and healing with everything going on. It allowed both my family and I to enjoy life as we knew it while appreciating another day of us all being together. These memories are what my family and I reflect on to this day. They were the good times during such a scary part of life. It is in this way that I want to give back, change, and impact another family’s life, just like how ours was.
With six years in, it has been a true privilege thus far of laying and building from the foundation for my dream career. It all began when I was in college and was a Special Projects Intern with University of North Dakota Athletics. For two years, I experienced many new things within the department. Through my hard work and passionate personality, the UND Alumni Association and Foundation asked me to join their team as an Athletics Development Intern. Still a student finishing my college degree, I enjoyed adding three more years of hands on, real life experience in the world of athletics, but through a new perspective. The five special years of unforgettable experience with UND Athletics and UND Alumni Association and Foundation opened the opportunity to my first full time position. From my dedicated heart and positive attitude, I was asked to join the team at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks. As the Assistant to the General Manager for over a year, I am having the opportunity to listen, learn and lead. With being home to some UND Athletic programs, it has been through yet another new perspective of growing and sharing the love of athletics with a community.
Although my ride is different than the perspective I had as a little girl, that does not change who I am. Instead I have a new competition. Practices are no longer my sport practices; rather it is every day of working to keep improving as a person. Games are no longer my sport competitions; rather its life and being the best version of myself that I can be. This is Brittany. This is my ride and I would not change one aspect of it for the world. I am so excited and eager for what more is to come on my ride!
Brittany Dvorak is a Cancer survivor, and is currently the Assistant to the General Manager at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, North Dakota. A graduate of the University of North Dakota with a degree in Communications, Brittany has spent the last 6+ years working in and around the sports business. She also volunteers with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Cope Well Foundation, and has done work with the Love Your Melon foundation on campus at UND. She's a former athlete, she's beating cancer and she's an inspiration to all of us in sports business and beyond. You can connect with Brittany via LinkedIn here.