When FOSS student Brianna was diagnosed with B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in late September 2019, it was a devastating blow for her family and changed her life forever. While the most important thing was battling the cancer, she lost the ability to do a lot of things she loved – like swimming and attending Foss Swim School.
She missed swimming so much, in fact, that when she was able to make a request of Make-a-Wish Foundation, her wish was for her own above-ground swimming pool – a wish the organization was happily able to grant.
But with a pool comes the need for water safety. “Knowing they have a body of water at their house, Brianna’s mom was really focused on making sure comfortable being in water,” said Juliet Kratochwill, a FOSS instructor and manager. So Make-a-Wish and FOSS teamed up to grant Brianna’s family private swim instruction as well, with Juliet as her teacher.
Back to the pool, back in school
So almost two years later, after a health journey full of ups and downs, Brianna was finally able to return to the water. “It was so fun to get to know her,” said Juliet. “She is such a bright, warm, funny girl. Being in the water was so big for her. The moment we had our first lesson I knew I was making a positive impact.”
The feeling was mutual. “She hadn’t been able to swim since her journey to beat cancer began,” her mother wrote in a note to the school. “Brianna … loved that she was able to get to go back to FOSS Swim School for swimming lessons. This is another thing that had to stop when she was diagnosed. Seeing Brianna back in the pool with her teacher, it was like she never left.”
Juliet and the family agreed that the goal was to regain comfort in the water and gain safety skills, while leaving plenty of time for fun. “We focused on floating, making sure she was comfortable in the water, and on side breath,” Juliet recalled. “She also worked really hard on some really difficult strokes like the butterfly and breaststroke, in addition to freestyle and backstroke, to make sure she had the strength to lift her body out of the water.”
At the heart of it all, Juliet said, what Brianna wanted to do was to play. “The Olympics were on, so that was part of our play when we worked on strokes. Sometimes she wanted to play mermaids, or diving for rings, or try on flippers, and we let her call the shots on that.”
Getting back a piece of childhood
In some ways, it seemed like Brianna was making up for lost time, and Juliet was happy to be a part of it. “We would do maybe two laps of backstroke, and she would say, ‘OK, now can we dive for rings?’ She was able to be herself and get back some of what had been taken away from her.”
With her swim confidence strengthened and a new pool to enjoy, Brianna is continuing her journey. “Since she has gotten her pool, she spends any time she can in it,” her mother said. “She says it’s the wish that keeps on giving. This wish gave back a piece of her childhood that was missing when cancer came in.”
Brianna’s gift continues to give beyond her family as well. “I really loved working with her,” said Juliet. “She was an absolute light bulb, and taught me to show my light bulb as well.”