Skip to main content

Bright Futures

Articles and Updates from Phoenix Children's

September 21, 2023
High school senior celebrates cancer-free milestone
Brett and family

When he was just 13 months old, Brett Kallmes had open heart surgery at Phoenix Children’s to repair a ventricular septal defect – a hole in the wall (septum) separating the lower two chambers of the heart. He made it through surgery with flying colors.

Then, two years later, Brett got a nosebleed, and his health journey took a new path.

‘Your son has leukemia’

Just before his fifth birthday, Brett’s nose wouldn’t stop bleeding, and the blood was thinner and more transparent than normal. His parents took him to the emergency room at Phoenix Children’s.

“Within minutes of our arrival, the ER doctor told us, 'I'm pretty sure your son has leukemia.’ Two days later, we got the official diagnosis. Despite our shock, we were reassured by the amazing care Brett received to get him stabilized while they ran more tests to confirm the diagnosis and begin his treatment plan,” added Chris.

The road to remission

Brett spent the next three and a half years having a variety of treatments at Phoenix Children’s. His care included chemotherapy, blood transfusions, home therapy, and numerous injections and blood draws. By the end of his first year, Brett had logged roughly 75 overnight hospital stays and “more injections and blood draws than we could count,” said Chris.

photo of Brett in hospital chair

“The hospital did an excellent job alleviating some of the worries we were going through,” said Chris. “We would ask, ‘What's next month going to look like?,’ and they would say, ‘You don't need to worry about next month yet. Focus on the next two weeks. Here's what we're working on right now.’ It was hard for us because we're planners, but having that kind of restricted view forced us to be in the moment and to focus on what we needed to do right then. I really think it helped reduce a lot of our stress.”

Putting cancer further in the distance

Three and a half years after his first treatment, Brett took his final dose of chemotherapy while at Disneyland surrounded by family, friends and Jedi Masters from the Jedi Training Academy he attended. He’s been cancer-free ever since.

Brett recently marked his ninth anniversary of being treatment-free and his fourth anniversary of being cancer-free. The celebration took place on the field during a halftime celebration held during a Kick Cancer event at a Phoenix Rising football club game.

Brett and parents at soccer game

“Every year is another year that Brett’s cancer is further in the distance. It’s another year that we don’t have to worry about relapse,” shared Chris.

Giving back, helping others

Brett started raising money for several nonprofit organizations when he began treatment for leukemia because he wanted to help children going through health challenges like he was. He currently fulfills numerous leadership roles, including student body president at Westview High School and membership on the Youth Leadership Council for Make-a-Wish of Arizona.

Brett also shares his story to support successful blood drives at his school and has raised money for Phoenix Children's in partnership with Costco and the Children's Miracle Network for the past decade.

“It’s important to me to take on leadership positions because of how much leadership I’ve been around all my life," said Brett. "In sixth grade, I started getting involved with student council, and it changed my world. It's so amazing to be able to lead and to be able to be so involved.”

Brett standing in front of family house today

Handling the challenges of cancer helped prepare him for life’s challenges as well, according to Brett.

“It's definitely made me a stronger person mentally and physically. Cancer was a lot to go through as a kid. I've had an experience that I can share with others and relate to them,” shared Brett. “Looking back on it, I appreciate how well my parents did and how lucky I was to have the doctors that I had.”

Share this page