Local teen fights for his life on the fairway

When doctors told Ashland teen Michael Bruhn — for the fourth time since the age of 11 — to prepare for the end, he did what any life-loving 17-year-old golfer would do.

He grabbed his clubs and decided to play a few more rounds.

Battling leukemia for the past six years, the soon-to-be Ashland High senior recently was given a chance to have a special wish granted by the Children's Cancer Association's Link Program, geared at helping families whose children have limited treatment options left.

While Bruhn shrugs off any notion he'll stop fighting to live, he could hardly pass up an offer to golf at the renowned Bandon Dunes Golf Resort with his dad, Eric Bruhn, and best friend Kyle Breeding.

"It's ranked as one of the top golf courses in the country," Bruhn said, just days after returning home with a sunburn after spending three summer days on the expansive greens.

"I went golfing pretty much every day over there, and it was an amazing experience. I wore myself out and got a little sunburned, but it was definitely worth it."

Navigating her son's medical woes since he was a sixth-grader at Bellview Elementary, Kimberly Bruhn said the golf getaway, which included lodging, food and full access to the world-class resort, was a needed reprieve for the family.

After a three year battle against acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), from sixth grade until age 14, Michael relapsed within days of ending his first round of treatment. Subsequent treatment would make his first three years, "seem like a cakewalk," Kimberly Bruhn said.

In more recent years, Michael has endured rounds of rounds of chemotherapy, hospitalization for issues related to his leukemia and, with treatment options severely reduced, participated in some treatment trials in Maryland that involve removing and treating T cells.

A ray of hope, the family was recently approved to return to Maryland for another round of trials — the first round showed marked reduction in the presence of leukemia in Michael's blood — but a blood test just days before showed evidence of leukemia in his blood, requiring he "go back on chemo or he would die in a couple days," said Kimberly.

Waiting for an increase T cell count before trying to head back east, the golf trip provided a nice distraction for the family.

Erik Peterson, director of communications at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, said resort staff was impressed with the maturity and golfing skill Michael displayed during his visit.

"When we heard about Michael's story, it wasn't even a question about whether we would have him here. It was an honor to have him and his dad and his best friend," Peterson said.

"We were all incredibly impressed by not only the fact he was so passionate about golf but his attitude about being given the chance to be here and that the genuine happiness he had about life was indelible."

Peterson said Michael's golfing abilities were an added surprise.

"After hearing about all that he's been through and what he's still facing, my first thought was, 'I hoped Bandon Dunes doesn't wear him out.'" Peterson added.

"When he arrived and I saw him hitting some practice shots and saw the way he was holding his clubs I realized he was probably better than most of the golfers that played golf that weekend."

An added treat for Bruhn, 73-year-old retired longshoreman Jerrold Wyatt, a sometimes resort caddie affectionately known as Wyatt Earp, signed on to caddy for Michael's golf weekend.

An interesting coincidence, Wyatt, who has been battling bone cancer since 2008, had much the same attitude as Michael about being sick.

"This is a man who has been fighting cancer for years, just like Michael, and he doesn't let it slow him down," said Kimberly.

"His advice to Michael was, 'Don't listen to the doctors. Keep living your life.' He has cancer and the doctors have condemned him, too, but he just takes every day as a gift and doesn't focus on being sick."

Too busy to be sick, die or think about anything other than living, Michael focuses on staying healthy enough to undergo more trials and one day teach his grandchildren to play golf.

While he acknowledges the grim prognosis from doctors, he shrugs off the number of times he's had what his mother jokingly calls "the come to Jesus talk" from doctors.

"I'm glad I got to go to Bandon but I didn't take it as a last wish because were still hoping for trials and such. I guess I kind of feel like just in case it was a last wish or whatever, there's no better way to spend my time than with a good friend who plays golf and my dad," said Michael.

"I guess I've been hearing bad news for so long now but I feel like I have a lot of things going for me so I don't believe it's my last chance to do something special. Yea, some doctors say it is, but I've still got stuff to do."

Not one to sit around, Michael is looking forward to getting his driver's license and doing some more golfing.

"I laid in bed for eight hours one night after getting back from Bandon but that's definitely not my usual," he said.

"I'm getting good at golf so I try to at least hit the range or play every day. I lay around enough when I'm in the hospital so I don't like to sit around when I can actually be out living my life."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

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