In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

August 6, 2015

“Proton Beam Triplets” Forge Friendships During Cancer Treatment

By In the Loop

Ashley Sullivan, Kylie Harer and Jessie Brenholt call themselves the "proton beam triplets."Two months ago, they were strangers. Today, Ashley Sullivan, Jessie Brenholt and Kylie Harer call themselves the "proton beam triplets," sharing a bond not of birth, but of circumstance. The three young women — all in their 20s — share the bond of having been diagnosed with a brain tumor and are among the first patients to undergo proton beam therapy at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus. And that was, as Bogart would say, “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Jessie tells us she felt an “instant bond” when she met Ashley and Kylie. “Most people our age can’t relate to what we’re going through,” she says. With Ashley and Kylie, she didn’t have to explain side effects or worries about the future. They already understood. “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, but I’m glad to have them to go through it with,” Jessie tells us. “Before I met them, I felt alone.” The friendships allow the women to “share their concerns, acknowledge their fears and be really hopeful together,” says Colleen Diffely-Sullivan, Ashley’s mom, who adds that “it’s been very helpful for Ashley to be able share this very unique experience” with Jessie and Kylie.

The “PB triplets” also explored Rochester together.But it wasn’t all cancer talk. “We had a hoot together,” says Jessie. “We cracked jokes all the time, which made things a lot easier.” The “PB triplets” also explored Rochester together, touring the Plummer Building and Assisi Heights. They fed geese at Silver Lake Park, visited animals at the humane society, and started a prayer group at Hope Lodge, where all three stayed during treatment. When there was something to celebrate — a sibling’s birthday, or someone’s last day of treatment — Jessie, a pastry chef, baked their favorite treats. And each week they’d go out to dinner together, with their mothers, taking turns picking the restaurant. Having friends to spend time with, says Kylie, helped her time in Rochester “seem like everyday life.”

As much as the women came to treasure their friendships, returning to “everyday life” was the end goal for each of them. “I really just want to get it over with,” Ashley told the Minneapolis Star Tribune of finishing treatment, “and get back” to her job as a dog-walker. Kylie is looking forward to using her mechanical engineering degree; she’d had her first job offer just 6 days before her diagnosis. And Jessie plans to build a business as a custom baker. (We’re always available for tastings.) “I'm excited and ecstatic to be done and be back being a 23-year-old living my life again,” she told KAAL-TV, “but it's kind of bittersweet because I'm going to miss everyone down here.”

It’s our guess that “everyone down here” at Mayo Clinic and Hope Lodge will miss the proton beam triplets, too. (And not just because of the baked goods.) Ashley, Jessie and Kylie are “incredible young women,” says Colleen. “They bonded because of who they are as people: very kind, compassionate and inspirational young women.”

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Tags: Cancer, Patient Stories, Proton Beam

I am so glad you all have each other to talk to and spend time with. I am a Brian cancer patient and survivor that had surgery, chemo and radiation and Mayo Clinic. I had surgery on December 6 2004. They removed a stage 4 multiform glioblastoma. It was a very difficult experience but I had my family, children, friends and pastor helping me along with my wonderful Dr. Jan Buckner at Mayo. I still go every 6 months -1 year. You Ladies stay strong! God is Good!!

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