During all this, her strength and drive did not falter. She simply kept moving forward.
Brooke Gulbrandson had three passions in her life, family, baking and volleyball
Brooke always had a family first priority. She never was far from her hometown of Albert Lea. She attended St. Scholastica and Mankato State for college. There is where her lifelong friendship with Lee, turned into love. They were wed at a fantastic shindig on October 13, 2012. Their marriage included dancing, camping, the love of the Freeborn County fair and all that it has to offer, motorcycling and building their dream home on Lee’s family land just 2 miles from where Brooke grew up. The best part of their marriage was bringing the two most wonderful two children, Gracyn and Garth into this world. She was a devoted mother and loved her children dearly. They are the center of her world.
Brooke’s other passion was baking. If you were smart enough to order one of her creations, you were not only given the gift of delicious tasting confectionery but also a stunning piece of art (flamingo, Harley Davidson gas tank, pumpkin, loot llama- to name a few). She had a talent to take the vague idea her customer gave her and turn it into something spectacularly perfect.
Being athletically gifted, she excelled in volleyball and basketball. She could post up with the best of them and watch out for her elbows after she came up with the rebound. The love of volleyball carried through her entire life. She played 6 days a week throughout college, participated in several leagues after college graduation and even played far into both pregnancies. She also coached many levels of volleyball for Albert Lea Schools.
On December 23, 2020, Brooke went to urgent care for some abdominal pain that had been there since thanksgiving. She thought it was due to carrying around and breastfeeding their 6-month-old son, Garth. Her liver labs were elevated and a CT scan innumerable lesions in her liver. After a biopsy which was sent to a company called Tempus, PET scan, MRI, and more lab work than you can imagine, she was found to have a very rare, aggressive and incurable cancer called intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (cancer of the bile duct). This cancer is typically found in late stages as it is asymptomatic until it is widespread and in a much older population.
Brooke tried a chemotherapy drug twice but this backfired both times and landed her in the hospital. At this point, the cancer had blocked most of her bile ducts in her liver, causing her to be jaundice (yellow skin and eyes). She had many admissions to the hospital due to infections during the first several weeks after her diagnosis. She often had to stay inpatient alone due to Covid and the restrictions on visitors. During all this, her strength and drive did not falter. She simply kept moving forward.
On February 9, her results from the Tempus (company that has a data base for cancer and can scan for immunotherapy options) came back with a possible actionable drug called Pemazyre. This medication was only approved a year prior. After a battle with the insurance company, Brooke was able to start the medication. To say that it was a miracle drug would be an understatement. Within a couple of weeks of starting the medication, her color returned to normal, she started feeling better and the scans showed that her cancer was calcifying and not spreading.
Brooke was able to spend several months enjoying her family. They were able to take a vacation to South Dakota in June. She was able to spend the entire day at the Melby Memorial Volleyball tournament in late June 2020. Brooke and Lee were able to take their children to 4th of July festivities. They attended the Freeborn County Fair and she and her sister, Brie, took at quick get away in August.
In late August, Brooke’s symptoms started to worsened and new scans showed that the miracle drug was no longer working. The cancer had spread to her lungs and she was having worsening cough and shortness of breath. Her cancer team at Mayo tried to seek approval for a trial medication but her cancer was spreading so fast that she did not qualify. By mid-September, she and Lee were told there was nothing they could do. Brooke passed away on September 21, 2021 surrounded by her family, just 3 weeks after her 34th birthday.