Family struggles with a member's illness


April 18, 2001|By Donna Koros Stramella | Donna Koros Stramella,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

DESPITE ALL THE government programs for those in need, sometimes a family slips through the cracks. That apparently is the case of one Glen Burnie family.

John and Bonnie Bryan are already struggling to pay for everyday living expenses for themselves and their three grandchildren. But they also have a greater worry. They won't have the money to pay for funeral expenses for a family member with terminal cancer.

About three years ago, John's stepdaughter and Bonnie's daughter Shannon Zerby noticed an unusual mole on her back. After the mole was removed, she was diagnosed with melanoma, and the tissue that had surrounded the mole was also surgically removed.

But the cancer had already spread.

Zerby underwent three operations to remove lymph nodes, followed up by several rounds of chemotherapy. By all appearances, Zerby and her family thought she was in remission. But this year, she began suffering from an intense earache.

A CAT scan confirmed a tumor in the brain. A portion of the tumor was removed, but subsequent tests showed cancer in her liver, kidney and stomach.

According to John Bryan, the prognosis is bleak.

Zerby has been at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for a month. She is separated from her husband, Harold Zerby, a member of the military. But since they have not divorced, Army insurance is paying for her hospital stay.

The couple's three children live with the Bryans. Their father, who is stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., has applied for a transfer to Maryland so he can help care for them. In the meantime, the Bryans find their resources dwindling.

The Bryans are also paying toward the children's expenses, especially clothes for the two eldest children, who attend Hilltop Elementary.

Doctors are recommending that Shannon's next step should be home hospice care, and Bryan says that the family will need help to care for her.

"I'm not sure if insurance will pay for a nurse to come in and help," he said.

Even though he describes Shannon as a fighter, he has accepted the inevitable. He wants to be able to give Shannon a funeral. "I don't want her cremated," he said. "I want a place where her children can go and visit her and talk to her."

He has considered trying to raise money through an event, but says he doesn't have the time to put into such a venture. He is a part-time electrician, and making the 70-mile round trip to Walter Reed in Washington almost every day with his wife.

So Bryan has taken another approach. He has placed donation canisters in several Glen Burnie locations. He said the cans have been generating about $30 a week, but that those donations will still not be enough.

Also, one of the cans he placed has been stolen.

"I'm still looking for other places to put those cans," he said. "I don't think Shannon would like it. She still has so much pride."

If you would like to make a donation, canisters may be found at the Red Rose Flower Shop, Subway restaurant and Advanced Wireless Communications store, all on Hospital Drive, and the 7-Eleven on Quarterfield Road.

Donations also may be sent to John Bryan at 410 Phirne Road West, Glen Burnie 21061.

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