May 30, 2020

Surprise parade celebrates ‘Brier the Brave’ as 6-year-old inspires through cancer fight

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WILMETTE, Ill. — There were no church services, no egg hunts and no restaurants booked for brunch on the North Shore Sunday.

But like an Easter egg, the day held a surprise for a brave girl whose fight against cancer has inspired her friends — and her community. 

Brier Johnston was headed to the hospital for cancer treatment when she was greeted by a surprise holiday parade down Ashland Avenue.

It provided the perfect substitute for the hugs and high fives she would normally get from friends.

“We can’t wrap our arms around her, right? But this is like the biggest hug we could give her,” her friend Debbie Mcintyre said.

Led by the Wilmette police and fire departments, the parade stretched for four blocks. In a way, it’s symbolic of Brier’s journey and the support she’s seen along the way.

“We have a huge community that’s behind us, they’re with her every single day. It gives her hope, but the funny thing about the journey we’ve been on is it give us hope, too,” her father Brinker Johnston said.

Last year, Brier was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a solid-tumor cancer that most commonly occurs in young children.

The St. Francis School kindergartner undergoes treatment every 21 days. And every time she goes to Lurie Children’s Hospital, she sends her signature positive vibes back out to the world by posting a picture of herself giving everyone “two thumbs up.”

That courage earned her the nickname, “Brier the Brave.”

But even the bravest among us sometimes need a little boost. Even coming during a pandemic where so much is unfamiliar, that doesn’t take away the beauty of the unexpected.

“I couldn’t believe it, I burst into tears. The amount of love you feel is so special, and it gives us the strength to keep going,” said her mom, Michele Johnston.  

When Brier goes back to Lurie on Tuesday for stem cell transplant, she’ll be taking the warm embrace of her community with her.