“She really wanted to swim with dolphins.” Briana Shull’s mom says that Briana also wanted to go to Greece, but COVID prevented this from happening and then there just wasn’t time.
Last month, Berean Christian High School lost one of their own. Twenty-year-old Briana Carol-Lynn Shull died on January 8 after battling cancer. Briana graduated from BCHS in 2019.
After graduating in May 2019, Briana and her family got in the car and traveled to Oregon for a family vacation. For six months, Briana had been coughing… a lot. But she wasn’t in pain. Her mom encouraged her to see a doctor about it, but Briana could be stubborn when she chose to be.
The coughing continued while they were in Oregon. Then they noticed that Briana got winded just from walking up a set of stairs. They found a hospital. Briana’s parents had to convince one of the doctors that Briana needed to have a CT scan, something was wrong. Finally, the physician agreed. The results of the scan were ambiguous, but Briana’s mom had a strange feeling about it. They needed to get Briana back home.
Briana loved working and playing with kids. Every summer she found ways to serve God with her time and talents. More than once, Briana went on a mission trip to Arizona where she visited and worked with adults with disabilities. On those trips she helped organize and run a vacation Bible school for children.
The doctor in Oregon did not like the results of the CT scan. The results weren’t conclusive, but something was wrong. The doctor told Briana's parents that, "The results are weird." Briana stayed in an Oregon hospital for five days while her parents figured out the best and safest way to get her home. When they felt that they couldn’t delay any longer, they got in the car and drove back to California. Out of their car windows, the family could see the smoke rising from the many forest fires burning across Oregon.
Briana’s interests ranged from the down-to-earth (she thought about becoming a librarian) to the cosmic (she loved Astronomy). Briana appreciated a good story. She read books about Greek mythology, loved everything about Harry Potter, and was a superfan of the Marvel universe.
When they finally got back home, Briana and her family waited more than a week to see an oncologist. But when they did, it was obvious that the problem was serious. The doctor ordered a barrage of tests. They went to countless appointments and spent much of their days in medical waiting rooms. When the tests came back, the results were devastating. It was lung cancer, stage four, and it had already spread to her brain and spine.
Briana’s mom says that it was hard to know how to talk with her daughter about what was happening, and the healthcare system lacked the support to help her age group.
“Briana’s age is awkward for healthcare support systems,” she says. “Twenty year-olds fall between the structures created to support kids and adult patients.”
Briana talked with her youth pastor about some big-picture issues that she was facing. But there was never a time when Briana thought that she was at the end of her life. She was going to recover from this. This was just a bump in the road. Briana knew God was with her, and he loved her. Nevertheless, she was frustrated and angry at times.
The chemotherapy sapped Briana’s energy. At the end, the cancer affected her speech and took away her sight. She was’t steady on her feet any more. For a girl who appreciated her independence, enjoyed shooting guns, and had a stubborn streak, this was infuriating.
Briana’s family and friends will remember her energy, her big heart for kids, her occasional demonstrations of strong will, and her dreams of traveling and swimming with dolphins. But mostly, those who knew her will remember how sweet she was.
Even when the cancer had taken her strength and she needed help with basic tasks, Briana remained polite, considerate, and kind to everyone around her. And to those who were lucky enough to be close to her for twenty years, Briana changed the world for them.
Briana’s mom shared the following story with the Berean community:
"Every day, for about three days, I would ask, are you ready to go to heaven? The first time she told me no, and I responded with, "Why? Because you are having such an enjoyable time right now?" I actually got a chuckle out of her, like a pffffhh. The next day I asked, she said yes. So, I said, "Ok, look for Jesus, grab his hand and go!! You don't have to keep fighting. It will be ok. We will be ok. It will be hard, but we will be ok. Go meet your grammy."
The Berean Christian community grieves her loss.
You can read about Briana's entire journey here. Briana is not here anymore, but the story continues.