As she giggles and does cartwheels across the floor of her Oklahoma City home, it's nearly impossible to see little Abria Glenn's scars.
One is on her arm. Another runs along the scalp near the right side of her forehead.
The other scars aren't visible. About a year and a half ago, Abria's older brother, Gregory Dwayne, died of complications from the condition she's now battling.
Like any 6-year-old, Abria is full of curiosity and spunk. She talks about losing her front teeth (to the “tooth fairy-ologist”), her favorite color (pink) and her trip to Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., courtesy of the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
The trip is one her brother always wanted to take.
“It's me,” Abria says, showing off a self-portrait on construction paper. The painted girl, composed as perfectly as a first-grader can do with an explosion of colors, wears a princess tiara.
Abria had a lesion removed from the right frontal lobe of her brain in July, just weeks before starting first grade at Stanley Hupfeld Academy. The discovery of the growth was devastating for family members, who had hoped the lesions would never spread to her brain as they had with Abria's brother.
“We'd already lost one child,” said Gregory Glenn, Abria's father. “We were going to do everything we could to save her. As a parent, it's something you don't want to think of ... it's not right ... parents shouldn't have to bury a child.”
Abria has a condition where tumors form on the body and brain. They can grow quickly and have debilitating symptoms. While the family copes with the loss of one child, they're constantly keeping an eye on Abria for symptoms she might have a lesion growing somewhere they can't see.
Just around the corner from the living room where Abria plays is Gregory Dwayne's bedroom. Full of sporting equipment and pictures from baseball and basketball leagues, the bedroom has become a remembering and mourning space.
He was 10 when he died in April 2011 after the removal of a cavernous malformation from his brainstem.
With cavernous malformations, clusters of abnormal, tiny blood vessels and larger blood vessels fill with blood. They can continue to swell and even leak and, depending on their location, cause no symptoms or result in memory loss, seizures and other neurological problems if they are near the brain or spinal column.
The American Association of Neurological Surgeons estimates one in 100 to 200 people have cavernous malformations. Some 30 percent or fewer will ever develop symptoms.
The family takes comfort in Gregory Dwayne's memory and in the fact they were able to donate his organs.
As much as they can, the family tries to maintain normalcy. Anbria Glenn works in administration at the Civic Center. Gregory Glenn, a retired pipe fitter, referees basketball and keeps busy with the sports his son loved.
He swells with pride recounting Gregory Dwayne's good behavior, catching personality and aptitude for sports. He fights back tears as the weight of the loss creeps in.
Anbria Glenn has been told by doctors that her children's illness likely is hereditary, but no one in either of their families has been diagnosed with the disease. Since her son was diagnosed, she's read up on everything she can about the rare condition.
“My son's surgeon told me to stay off the Internet because I was quoting things that I had read and asking her about them,” Anbria Glenn said. “A doctor in one of the medical centers who asked me what was going on with my son asked me if I worked in the medical field after hearing my explanation.”
It's often said that the family that laughs together stays together, and the axiom isn't lost on the Glenns.
“They're my team,” Gregory Glenn said of his wife and daughters. He has an older daughter who is grown and lives outside the home. “We couldn't do this without each other.”
Trip of a lifetime
They giggle about how a doll in the likeness of Gregory Dwayne — about the size of little Abria — sits on the couch next to his sister. Anbria Glenn said the family often positions the television remote on the doll's lap, because Gregory Dwayne always liked to have control over the television.
The doll was with the family in September when Abria found out about her trip to Walt Disney World Resort in front of her teachers and classmates at Stanley Hupfeld Academy.
Donning purple fairy wings, a tiara and a magic wand, Abria's teacher, Beth LaFave, a cancer survivor, granted Abria's wish for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. The organization helps children who have life-threatening medical conditions.
“I think her wish had a lot to do with honoring her brother,” LaFave said. “To be able to give her something positive is precious. That smile on her face, that says it all.”
LaFave said she often talks to Abria about her illness. Though Abria's youth keeps her from fully understanding some things about it, LaFave said it's given her a maturity and a kindness that's exceptional.
In front of her school and classmates, Abria was a princess, crown and all. She smiled shyly and hugged her teacher and parents, whispering to them that she loves them.
Gregory Glenn carried with him the Gregory Dwayne doll so Abria's brother could be a part of the special event.
As they smiled and thanked everyone for being there for their family, the send-off was somewhat bittersweet.
Abria held tightly to her parents, and said without flinching that her brother would be with them on the trip to Florida.
Despite everything, the family would be together on this journey of a lifetime.