WEST FARGO - Vanessa Gilbertson isn’t a mom who normally fusses over some sniffles. But just a few days after her son, Brodie, got his flu shot in October, she knew something was definitely wrong.

“He was real sick,” Gilbertson said Thursday, Nov. 11. “He tried to go to school and he was in the (school) nurse’s office because he felt faint and dizzy and just didn’t feel right.”

Gilbertson emailed her doctor and was told to bring Brodie into a Sanford Health walk-in clinic.

It was a good call.

Two hours later, he was admitted to the hospital.

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What originally was thought to be mononucleosis turned out to be much worse. Brodie was diagnosed with B-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

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Now Brodie, an outdoors-loving teen who wants to someday be a conservation officer or police officer, is four weeks into chemotherapy, and he has at least eight more weeks to go, his mother said.

The intravenous chemotherapy, of which Brodie's had five rounds of treatment so far, leave the 14-year-old feeling drained and sick for days. A bone marrow biopsy on Friday was no picnic, either.

“Any type of movement of my back makes it hurt,” Brodie said in a telephone interview Sunday, Nov. 14.

The support of his friends and family helps, he said. But he has to take things a day at a time. A treatment at a time.

“It just kind of sucks, really,” Brodie said.

Brodie’s diagnosis has shaken up the lives of mother and son.

“It’s turned our world upside down. As a single mom, I felt like everything was stable. I had a great work life balance. We were in a financially good spot. We were stable and all our bills were paid on time,” Gilbertson said. “We were in the hospital nine days. I don’t know how I’m going to pay my bills now.”

Gilbertson’s cousin set up a GoFundMe account to help pay those bills. As of Monday, Nov. 15, it had raised nearly $6,100 of its $25,000 goal.

There is also a Brodie D. Gilbertson Benefit Fund set up at Bell Bank.

Brodie Gilbertson is seen holding a pheasant after an October 2021 hunt. The outdoors-loving West Fargo teen is now undergoing chemotherapy to battle leukemia. He said he might like to become a conservation officer someday. (Submitted Photo)
Brodie Gilbertson is seen holding a pheasant after an October 2021 hunt. The outdoors-loving West Fargo teen is now undergoing chemotherapy to battle leukemia. He said he might like to become a conservation officer someday. (Submitted Photo)

Gilbertson works in the front office for Precision Plumbing in West Fargo. She is also a volunteer range safety officer at the Red River Regional Marksmanship Center, also in West Fargo.

She expects that she’ll have to take a lot of time off. Her employer and co-workers have been generous with their assistance, but she knows “at some point, all of that runs out.”

A positive note is that doctors have told mother and son that the form of leukemia Brodie has is one of the most beatable. Still, getting to the point where he is declared in remission will be a two- or three-year process.

It’s been a head-spinning turnaround for Brodie.

Six weeks ago he was hunting deer and had shot his first buck.

Five weeks ago, he had gone pheasant hunting.

Now, the freshman at West Fargo High School will spend at least the rest of this year learning online. He misses the buzz of school and going to classes.

“It’s a pretty big bummer,” Brodie said. “I miss socializing with my friends and my teachers are really funny, so I miss all my teachers as well.”

Brodie’s also active in the West Fargo Police Department’s public safety cadet program - the youngest cadet accepted this year.

The officers and his fellow cadets have tried to help keep his spirits up.

Officers visited Brodie in the hospital and along with some cadets greeted his discharge with a banner saying, “One team, one fight.”

“We like to say we broke him out,” WFPD Officer Travis Johnson said Friday.

Johnson has run the cadet program for a dozen years. He says Brodie has been a go-getter from the start, even through his treatments.

“He was a little under the weather, but he did fantastic with it,” Johnson said. “His doctor allowed him to do moderate stuff. His doctor gave him the OK to join, trying to keep him active.”

Some cadets have visited him at home, too.

“He’s gone to the meetings and has been so excited when I’ve dropped him off. … They made him feel as normal as possible, despite some of the things he can’t do,” Gilbertson said. “Some of the volunteer opportunities he won’t be able to do, due to health and safety concerns. But they’ve been amazing.”

Brodie is glad for the support and companionship. But he asks for some help for others, too.

“There’s a shortage of blood products right now in the United States,” Brodie said. “If you could donate blood, or plasma or platelets, because people with leukemia, like me, need blood platelets.”

Brodie Gilbertson and his mother, Vanessa, are seen in this undated photo. The West Fargo 14-year-old is now undergoing chemotherapy to treat leukemia. Contributed / Vanessa Gilbertson
Brodie Gilbertson and his mother, Vanessa, are seen in this undated photo. The West Fargo 14-year-old is now undergoing chemotherapy to treat leukemia. Contributed / Vanessa Gilbertson

Gilbertson worries for her son, but she's glad they went in for the flu shot. His immune system's unusual reaction was the red flag that revealed the leukemia.

“Honestly, if it had not been for the flu shot, we would not have caught it as early as we did,” Gilbertson said. “If I had waited longer, there’s no telling how it may have worked out. … You never know.”

To donate to the Bell Bank benefit account for Brodie, checks can be made payable to the Brodie D. Gilbertson Benefit Fund and mailed to: Bell Bank, PO Box 10877, Fargo, ND 8106-0877. Donations can also be made by calling 800-450-8949 and referencing the Brodie D. Gilbertson Benefit Fund.