Branden Bissell, 22, has spent the last six years battling to protect the United States as a member of the Army reserves. In January, he began battling for his life against a deadly enemy, cancer. Two months ago, the 2009 Adel-DeSoto-Minburn graduate was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), which is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
"Around Thanksgiving I started to feel sick," said Bissell. "One of my buddies got sick and found out he had the stomach flu. So I just assumed it was the flu. At Christmas time, I still felt sick but didn’t think anything of it." Bissell realized something was really wrong when he reported to military drill at Fort Des Moines and couldn’t make it 20 minutes before being sent home.
"Everyone told me I looked green," said Bissell. The Monday following drill, Bissell walked into the doctor’s office to schedule an appointment for later that day. After setting the appointment, he returned to his car only to see the nurse running out to stop him.
"She asked me, ‘Are you always that green? We need to see you now.’ After a finger prick in the office, the results showed a hemoglobin level of four. Normal levels are between 13 and 15, while anything below five is critical.
Bissell was immediately sent to Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines to receive a blood transfusion. He received four pints of blood and spent three days at Broadlawns, where he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
"Within an hour that they told me I had leukemia, they had me in an ambulance on the way to Iowa City," said Bissell. "When they told me I had leukemia I reverted back to my military training. "Don’t ask questions; just do what they tell me to do. "Now I’m more comfortable with it and I know what’s going on. For the longest time it was, ‘take this and do this.’"
Bissell spent 19 days in Iowa City undergoing treatment before being released. He recently had his treatments moved to John Stoddard Cancer Center in Des Moines.
To help with medical costs, the Adel community came together Saturday, March 29 to support Bissell at a spaghetti dinner and fundraiser held at the Raccoon Valley State Bank Community House. The dinner wasn’t the first fundraiser held for Bissell. In February, Captain’s Quarters of Adel held an event that raised $3,355.
"It blows my mind," said Bissell. "Words do not describe - it’s hard to even talk about. People I’ve only met once or twice in my life have been coming up to me wanting to help me and my family. "The support is crazy, and I’m so blessed to have it."
Event organizer and friend Kylee Short said the community support has been "absolutely wonderful."
"It’s very heartwarming to know that I’m choosing to raise my family in this community," she said. "We’ve pulled together so much for Branden. When we found out Branden had cancer, (our) first reaction was shock and denial.
"Then it was ‘Oh my God’, Brynlenn, his daughter, needs her daddy. He needs to see her ride a bike, graduate, get married and all the wonderful things you get to see your kids do."
She added that she and her husband, Jordan, would "help support him in any way we could (because) we understood the struggles of being young parents."
Short received tremendous response from sponsors including AHeinz57 Pet Rescue and Transport in De Soto which was the main non-profit sponsor for the event. AHeinz57 sponsored pasta and pasta sauce from Barilla in Ames-enough to feed 200 people.
"I have many ties to Branden….he is my friends with my son, his mom makes blankets for our dogs, and (he) adopted a dog from us a few years ago so, of course, I said yes," owner Amy Heinz said. "I am happy AHeinz57 can help secure this meal." BASE of Adel also donated all the hamburger and 14 pounds of lettuce, among other items.
Another friend, Joey Sinwell, helped make the event possible and also started a GoFundMe account for Bissell’s medical costs.
"We’ve gotten really good response from the website," commented Sinnwell. "It’s easy to go on there and put in five bucks. I’m going to keep that open probably 30 days after this event."
Sinnwell immediately created the website after hearing news about Bissell’s diagnosis.
"I didn’t really know what else do, I was in shock," Sinnwell said. ""I didn’t know what to think, and then started thinking about his family and how crazy it is that someone younger than me was battling cancer."
Sinnwell and Bissell are close friends from high school who also serve in the military, both joining in 2008. Sinnwell has also been blown away by the outpouring of support from the community.
"When we threw this event up, people I don’t even know were messaging me telling me they would provide whatever he needs," Sinnwell said. "It was awesome. It really is awesome how Adel will come together for people they don’t even know." The site, http://www.gofundme.com/spc-bissell, has already raised over $800.
Although Bissell has been in remission since Feb. 14, he still visits the cancer center once a week to receive eight different types of aggressive chemotherapy. He will continue his current schedule for 10 more months due to the high probability of the disease returning. After the current 10-month chemo schedule, he will then receive chemo treatment for an additional two years, possibly in pill form.
Currently Bissell hasn’t received many big bills from his extensive treatment, but said he knows they "won’t be pretty." Even with looming medical bills, Bissell said the toughest part the last two months been the time spent away from his 14-month-old daughter, Brynlenn.
"She’ll be 14 months on April 1," commented Bissell. "It’s been really hard because she’s been sick a lot and I’ve been sick. My immune system was shot so I couldn’t be around her for a lot of time. "That was probably the hardest part of everything; she’s at home while I’m stuck in Iowa City not being able to see her."
His daughter is his main motivation to stay strong, but the outpouring of support from family and friends has made it easier for Bissell.
"Her, my family and friends keep me going," said Bissell. "It’s really hard to get down and be sad when you have so many people pushing you. I couldn’t do it without them. "Everyone has been so supportive and makes it that much easier. That’s what keeps me going."
Despite the whirlwind of medication and treatment, Bissell places a smile on his face and keeps a positive attitude.
"Keep on, keeping on," laughed Bissell.