Selflessness, positivity and generosity is how South Surrey resident Brandon Durieux, 26, will be remembered.
Durieux began his fight with leukemia a few days after his diagnosis in August 2015. The fight ended on July 4.
After being diagnosed, Brandon and his wife Michelle quickly exhausted all local treatment options before moving to a specialized treatment facility – Anderson MD Cancer Centre – in Houston, Texas last year.
There, Brandon underwent hundreds of blood transfusions, an array of treatment options, and, on July 12, 2016, a stem-cell transplant.
After the transplant, he went into complete remission for two months until doctors learned that he was in the process of relapsing. He started another treatment option, which seemed to be working, and the hope was to get him back into remission for a second transplant, Michelle told Peace Arch News Saturday.
t wasn’t enough to get Brandon back into remission for the second stem-cell transplant.
He was given the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial last March. He was the first person in the world to try this new drug and all pre-clinical studies showed that if it worked, it would be a great benefit for Brandon, said Michelle.
“We took a really big chance,” she said, noting that within a week of starting the new drug, Brandon went into respiratory failure, ended up in ICU and had to breathe through a ventilator.
“At the time, they didn’t know why…. They didn’t expect him to come off the ventilator.”
Two days later, he was breathing on his own.
“From the time in March until the time that he passed, he went through a lot being on the ventilator and ICU. It’s been an uphill battle over the last four months of his life trying to rebound from that and get strong enough for the aggressive treatment.
“It was a battle every single day,” Michelle said.
At the end of June, Brandon made the difficult decision to leave the medical treatment centre in Houston to be closer to friends and family in South Surrey.
“We all knew what that meant and what that looked like. We knew coming back here, he wouldn’t be able to continue. We knew that it would probably be a short time before he passed. The most important thing at that point, we had been away from home for a year-and-a-half (and) he hadn’t seen a lot of family or friends, people who loved him. It was his last wish to come home and see the people who loved him.”
On Friday, June 30, Brandon was transferred by air ambulance from Anderson MD to Peace Arch Hospital.
“That day was absolutely beautiful in so many ways. That morning he got to visit all the doctors and nurses at Anderson MD who came to love him so much because he made such a huge impact there. We got to renew our vows that morning and that was incredibly special.”
As the air ambulance arrived at PAH, a crowd of 60 friends and family – people who loved and supported him – awaited with banners and balloons.
“The smile on his face coming out of that ambulance was something that I will never forget,” Michelle said.
That Sunday, Brandon was given a day-pass from the hospital. In the morning he went to his family’s house, sat on the couch with the door open, looked outside and got to breathe the fresh air.
Asked if he wanted anything, he had one request – a slushy drink from Mac’s.
“So we got him this extra-large Slurpee, he was just over-the-moon excited.”
Sunday evening, when he was back in PAH, he started to have seizures. Michelle said the family is still unsure what caused them. By Monday morning, he was transferred to Peace Arch Hospice.
“The next day-and-a-half we were surrounded by so much love and support.”
He passed away July 4, but the legacy of Brandon, and what he taught those who surrounded him, will live forever, Michelle said.
Michelle offered an anecdote that stands as a testament of Brandon’s character.
Last winter, when Brandon’s health started to rapidly deteriorate, he was approached by a social worker at Anderson MD. The woman worked for an organization similar to the Make-A-Wish foundation, but for young adults.
He was told he could have or do whatever he wanted.
“His reply was that he wanted to have a party for kids in the children’s hospital. She was just so taken aback, and we all were. For her, she never heard someone want to do something for someone else instead of themselves. He had always talked, from that point forward, about wanting to do a party at the children’s hospital and dress up as a super-hero and go down there and put a smile on all those kids faces. “
Brandon never regained the strength necessary to throw the party. However, the Durieux family started The Burgundy Foundation. The first priority of the newly formed foundation is to host a super-hero-themed party at BC Children’s Hospital.
Michelle said her husband built quite a reputation at Anderson MD, which operated as a research facility. He was always the first to put his hand up when doctors asked for bone marrow samples to help further cancer research.
“He had almost 20 bone marrow biopsies and almost every one of those he went through excruciating pain for 15 minutes so they could salvage more for cancer research,” Michelle said.
“He said if he could prevent this from happening to just one other person, then it would make it all worth it.”
Brandon’s willingness to help, even through tremulous times, has inspired Michelle to carry on that part of his legacy.
Information on giving blood or the bone marrow registry can be found here.