Last week, I got some pretty shocking news. One of my oldest friends, Brienne, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. I had to Google what that was, but basically, it's a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). And it's called acute because it's so fast-acting – meaning, it must be treated immediately and intensely. It always comes as a shock when you discover somebody close to you has a serious illness, but it was especially hard to believe with Brienne: she's pretty much the healthiest person I know. She runs a fitness studio in St. Louis (B3) and over the years has taught every exercise class known to man: step, dance, sculpt, barre, and more.


The really intense-looking girl on the right, with the killer arms? That's Brienne.

Brienne and I met our freshman year in high school on the cross country team. For the next four years, besides running cross-country and track together, we were pretty much inseparable: going to football games, FCA, parties, concerts, the mall – you name it – and devising elaborate schemes to get the guys we liked to ask us to Homecoming and Prom. Brienne is one of the funniest people I've ever met, so it's nearly impossible to be around her without your side hurting from laughter. We parted ways in college, me heading north and her heading east. She later moved to St. Louis and I ended up in NYC, but we'd reconnect on trips home to Nashville.

Brienne's always been a fighter. She's worked for years in the public school system teaching kids with special needs. She's always taught exercise classes on the side, but last year she took the plunge and started her own fitness studio so she could inspire other people to get in shape and live healthier lives. Starting a business is always a challenge, but it's especially amazing for a single mom with two little kids! But Brienne never gives up. She keeps on keeping on, with a postive attitude and a huge smile. Which is why, when I heard she has cancer – despite feeling heartbroken that she had to go through this – I was (and am) hopeful. Because if anyone can kick this disease, it's Brienne.


Brienne donating her hair to Locks of Love.


Brie and her amazing boyfriend Kyle; uh-oh, she found a barre in the hospital...


Our friend Erica made Brie a shirt to go over her picc line! Hospital chic.

She started intensive chemo last week, and despite the fact that it's painful and horrible, her attitude has been amazing. These pictures will give you just a little bit of Brie's sparkle and sass. a) She's wearing workout clothes in the hospital. b) She's rocking an amazing new pixie haircut: she knew she was going to lose her hair from chemo, so she had a friend cut off her thick, wavy hair to donate to Locks of Love. c) She's got nicknames for all of her nurses from "Argumententative Tammy" to "Getting Married Natalie." (If you follow her Caring Bridge blog, you can read all of her hospital observations.) She writes about the fact that each day she wakes up with a choice: to despair and ask 'why me?', or to really try and be positive and present, and to let God use her even in the hospital. I'm blown away by her resolve.


Brienne sporting her new haircut; her sweet kids, Josie and Lucas stopped by for some cuddle-time.

But here's the deal: she can't do it alone. She needs our help. She's going to be in the hospital for the next month (at least) which not only means time away from her kids and from work, but staggering medical bills. She just signed up for health insurance last week, but that won't even begin to cover the costs. Which is why I want to help.

You know how I told you all a few days ago that when things feel out of control, I cook? Well, in this case, I'm baking. This weekend (with the help of a few good friends!) I'm going to make 200 jars of my Crunchy Maple Pecan Granola in Brienne's honor. For everyone that donates $20 (or more) to Brienne's GoFundMe website this week, I'll send you a mason jar of homemade granola (it's gluten and dairy free, in case you were wondering) and a thank you note. My goal is to "sell" all 200 jars in this "online bake sale" this week, so I can help Brienne raise at least $4000 towards her treatment. If we raise more, even better!!!


Granola photo by Signe Birck.

Here's how it works:

1) Go to Brienne's GoFundMe site and donate $20 (or whatever you feel led). Where it says "Leave a Comment" write #granolaforbrie (so I can keep track of orders).

2) Send me a quick note at [email protected] with your mailing address.

3) Write an encouraging note to Brienne in the comments below - she'll be reading them!! If you like, follow her journey on her Caring Bridge blog.

4) Spread this post on social media so more people can get involved! If I end up needing to make another 200 jars of granola, I totally will. Excited to see how much we can raise.

I have to share one last thing...I'm a big believer in "paying it forward" in life. Last week, Brandon and I received an anonymous gift from someone wanting to encourage B and me in his battle with Lyme. We were blown away by this unexpected generosity and wanted to do something special in return. So it's with this amazing gift that we're able to pay for all the granola ingredients, the jars, and the shipping costs. (Thank you, whoever you are!!) So all money raised can go directly to Brienne. We were blessed, so we bless others. God is good.

Thank you, dear friends, for helping me help a good friend!

xo, Anna