The story of Ella Bresee isn't over, her impact will be felt by everyone she touched
|Thursday, September 15, 2022, 12:24 PM- -|
I like to think I have courage. I like to think I have strength. But whatever I’ve shown in my life pales in comparison to the courage, strength, and out-and-out fight shown by Ella Bresee, her brother Bryan, and the entire Bresee family over the last year-and-a-half.
Ella Bresee, aged 15, fought until the end, surrounded by her family, those she loved, with love filling the room where she took her last breath. Her older sister Kendall posted a picture of the family this past weekend, each one in a circle around Ella’s bed, everyone with a hand on their loved one. It was a heartbreaking picture, yes, but it also brought a small smile to my face because I know that Ella knew she was loved, from the day she was born until the day she left.
Bryan, the big defensive tackle and protective older brother of Ella, spent time with me last year detailing the role his sisters played in his upbringing.
Bresee grew up in a household with three sisters. Two were older – Bailey and Kendall – and those two helped mold their younger brother into the scrapper he is today. They picked on him. They tormented him. They made him tougher and fueled his competitive fire. But they also loved him, fiercely.
“My sisters heavily shaped my childhood. My two older sisters always would pick on me when I was younger and all that kind of stuff,” Bresee told me. “So, I think just having a big family in general kind of adds on to that.”
When the youngest child, Ella, came along, Bresee didn’t take over the role of a tormentor. He turned into the protector.
“Me and Ella, we're pretty close in age. She's 14 now,” Bresee said last year. “We've been really close through our childhood and stuff. She would come to all my sporting events. Our family's just really close in general. Everybody, all of my siblings, are really close. Definitely with her more than anybody else (as the protector), but just over all of my siblings as I got bigger, but definitely Ella. Just trying to keep her out of harm's way was really important to me.”
No one dared mess with Ella as long as Bryan was around. He’s always been bigger than most of those around him, and he plays the game he loves with a violent edge that is both noticeable and thrilling. One look at the older brother sent most would-be troublemakers packing.
But the family received news last year about something that not even her tough brother could protect her from.
Ella was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. Medulloblastoma is a cancerous (malignant) brain tumor that starts in the lower back part of the brain, called the cerebellum. The cerebellum is involved in muscle coordination, balance, and movement.
Bryan said that Ella inspired him with her fight, her toughness, and her attitude even though she had treatments and didn’t feel like her normal self.
“Going through all this, I've never seen her in a bad mood or upset... She keeps a really positive mindset throughout all this, and even though... how sick she feels, how awful she feels, whenever I see her or I call her, she's smiling,” Bresee said. “That just keeps everybody around her positive, too, when you see that she's going through all this, and she's able to smile and laugh and stay positive through all of it. It just radiates throughout everybody.”
Bresee laughed when he was asked if Ella had the same intensity he exhibits on the football field.
“She's a little bit more laid back than me, but super competitive,” he said. “She has all the fight in the world in her.”
Ella was a dynamo to anyone that crossed her path. She had a quick smile, a sassy outlook on life, and when Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney invited Ella and the family to Clemson last week no one hesitated. Ella spent time with all of her older brothers and planned to attend the game when the illness intervened – she was airlifted back to the National Children’s Hospital in Washington, DC.
Bryan stayed with his teammates, and I don’t know how he played. It’s obvious in the video and pictures released by Clemson following TigerWalk that the weight of the world was on his broad shoulders. His head drooped as he fought back tears at every turn. How he summoned the fortitude, the courage, and the fight to play is beyond me. But he had a great inspiration, the bravest fighter he knew, in Ella.
I don’t know how any of her big brothers played in that game. It was obvious that she made an impact on all of them, that she made an impact wherever she went, and that they were all thinking of her during and after the game.
Linebacker Barrett Carter wanted to send the message to her that all of her brothers had her back. The coaches were emotional in talking about her journey, and then Bryan walked out of the locker room to talk about his sister.
“It’s a tough situation. Life throws you a curveball sometimes,” Bresee said. “Gotta keep pushing. It’s hard being away from home, and having the support that I have here is super special. This team has been my support system when I am down here and not at home. They have been there for since all of this started a little over a year ago, and they done a great job of being behind me.
“She is super outgoing and just a positive person to be around. No matter what is going on, she brings a smile to my face whenever I’m around her. She was here this week and got to spend some time with the players and the coaches so everyone kind of got to see that.”
As Bryan told me last year, just the thought of Ella keeps him motivated.
“When things get tough, I do (think of Ella). It's like when you need that extra push or that little extra motivation,” Bresee said. “When you think about what she's going through, it just gives you that. Because it's like, if Ella can go through all this, I can finish this. This is nothing compared to that.”
I also lost my sister, and it happened when I was Bryan’s age. She was the light of my life, and it broke me. If I could pass along anything I would say that nothing anyone can say right now really helps, there are no magic words to take the pain away. Cry when you need to cry. Let it out and don’t hold back. Hug your family and lean on all of them – lean on all of us – for support. There will come a time when you will think of her and smile instead of cry, but for now, it’s ok to both grieve for her and celebrate what she meant to you.
Ella should be in class today as a sophomore at Urbana High School. She should be attending high school football games, learning to drive, posting funny dancing videos on TikTok and thinking about prom at some point. But cancer, that awful word, robbed her of that.
However, her journey has inspired thousands. She impacted an entire football team in Clemson. Ella impacted an entire community at home, and that beautiful smile will live on.
Fly high, Ella. We will do our best to help those you love, until you all meet again.
Please stop by and sign our sympathy card for the Bresee family.
Ella Bresee will continue to be a source of light and strength for this program and the entire Clemson community. Please join us in sending our love and support to Bryan and the Bresee family. #EllaStrong pic.twitter.com/uoxuUf27p1— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) September 15, 2022
The single strongest person I’ve known thank you for the impact you’ve had on my life! https://t.co/8JOZXglFbh— Groovy (@_TreWilliams) September 15, 2022
Our heartfelt condolences to the Bresee family on the passing of Ella. She will always be an inspiration to the Mount family for her perseverance and bravery in her fight. Please join us in support and prayers for the family during this difficult time. #EllaStrong pic.twitter.com/LsmmjVL5u4— Mount Athletics (@MountAthletics) September 15, 2022
Such a beautiful young soul. Prayers for the Bresee family. #EllaStrong— Xavier Thomas (@atxlete) September 15, 2022