• By Dana Sparks

Helping Others Heal: Joy and blessings during cancer journey

January 2, 2019

cancer patient Reese Buntenbach smiling and playing in her small playhouseReese Buntenbach is like every other 3-year-old in many ways. She snuggles close and sucks her thumb as her mom, Brandi, holds Reese on her hip. She snacks on mini marshmallows and eats an ice cream treat that leaves a chocolate mustache. She can't wait to ride the carousel at Mall of America again, which she calls "Up- Down." She claps her hands and gleefully cries, "That's my baby, that's my baby," as her dad, Eric, unboxes a new baby doll for her. Then she cradles it gently and quietly beams for several minutes. She plays and laughs together with her older sister, Kinlee, 5, as they make up games while waiting for the adults to finish their business. Her favorite color is purple. That's why the brace she wears on her leg has purple straps and kittens.

"Most people that see Reese say they wouldn't even know she was ever sick with how she looks today," Brandi says.

Together, Eric, Brandi, Kinlee and Reese will always be a happy family. Nothing can take that away in this journey. They are grateful for their blessings granted by God and have been able to find joy in each other even when a huge chasm opened up in their lives, threatening to swallow their happiness.

Missed Milestone

While Kinlee had started to walk at 12 months, Reese was still unable to stand without assistance. When Reese had not yet taken her first steps at 16 months old, her parents took her to see their pediatrician.

Missing this important developmental milestone worried Reese's parents. Brandi remembers that something also seemed off with how Reese awkwardly positioned her right foot as she pulled herself up to stand or crawled up the stairs. "But everyone always told me it was nothing," she says.

An MRI scan revealed troubling news: There was a large mass covering the left side of Reese's brain. After emergency surgery at their local hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, the Buntenbachs learned that Reese had a fast-growing ependymoma, a rare and cancerous tumor.

The surgery didn't remove the entire tumor, leaving nearly a third of it behind. Doctors worried that removing more of it would cause major cognitive deficits in Reese, the Buntenbachs say. Read the rest of the story.