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Bren Doreck: The Battle of a Lifetime

Bren Doreck

“I don’t think I could have had a better doctor, honestly. He had a whole plan laid out.”

Bren Doreck
Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML), Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS)

Texas native and former Navy Lt. Cmdr. Bren Doreck is no stranger to embracing the unknown; he faces challenges head on. At the age of 39, he went from fighting for his country to fighting for his life.

In 2011, while supporting the military’s special operations force in Afghanistan, Bren started getting nose bleeds and noticed he was more tired than normal. In great physical health, he attributed his symptoms to his body acclimating to the dry climate of Afghanistan.

However, after almost six months of experiencing symptoms, his fatigue was getting worse, and on Easter, April 8, 2012, he went to the health clinic on his compound. A clinician measured Bren’s blood oxygen levels and was concerned.

“It was only reading 83% oxygen uptake into my system (normal oxygen levels are above 95%), so [the clinician] said you’re going to the hospital,” said Bren.

After several more tests, Bren learned that his spleen was the size of a watermelon, and he had a high white blood cell count. It was there, at a hospital in Afghanistan, where Bren was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), a blood-cell cancer that begins in the bone marrow.

Days later, the Navy flew him to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland to begin treatment. After being at Walter Reed for a month, the oncology department was at a crossroads with his treatment because of his status as a Navy reservist on active orders and having cancer versus an injury.

“I was in a situation where they really didn’t know what to do with me,” he said. So, Bren, his wife Kim, and his doctor, decided the best option was to go home to Texas to explore treatment options.

Back home in Carrollton, Kim spoke with her cousin – an oncology nurse and survivor of childhood leukemia himself – who recommended Brian Berryman, M.D., hematologist, medical oncologist, and blood and marrow transplant specialist at Texas Oncology–Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center Blood and Marrow Transplant.

They met with Dr. Berryman, and after confirming his leukemia diagnosis, Bren was placed on targeted therapies. Unfortunately, over time his leukemia progressed and evolved into another hematolymphoid malignancy called, myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS).

“I can’t remember how many drugs we tried or even the names of them, none of them really worked,” said Bren.

As Bren became dependent on transfusions for platelets and blood, Dr. Berryman recommended a stem cell transplant. After not finding a match through the National Marrow Donor Program, Bren, who was adopted, turned to his biological mother and half siblings for help.

“Bren and I were able to work together to determine the best course of action to treat his CML,” said Dr. Berryman. “When his cancer wasn’t responding to traditional treatment, we turned to a stem cell transplant, and his birth mother was a good match.”

On July 4, 2013, Bren checked into the hospital to receive a haploidentical (haplo) transplant, a stem cell transplant using half-matched cells from a family member – his birth mother.

The transplant was successful, and Bren says that his birth mother provided him with a second chance at life. “In reality, she gave me life two times,” he said. “First when I was born and again when she agreed to donate her stem cells to save my life.”

Bren is also thankful to Dr. Berryman for giving him a fighting chance.

“I don’t think I could have had a better doctor, honestly,” he said, “He had a whole plan laid out. Even when I go in today, most of it is us talking through life. He’s looking at the whole patient. He wants to know how you’re doing, and he’s really a great friend.”

Eight years later, Bren watched his son graduate high school, walked his daughter down the aisle, and recently celebrated his 28th anniversary with Kim.

“I like telling people my story because a lot of times you hear doom and gloom when people talk about cancer treatment, but even though my experience had its challenges – every battle was worth it. Now, I get up every morning, and my wife still has to put up with me,” he joked.

The information included in this testimonial is based on one patient’s unique experience and is not intended to represent all patient outcomes or expectations.