As a police officer in Escondido, California and a former Marine, Brett Byler has protected and served his community for most of his adult life. But after being diagnosed with a grade-4 brain tumor in February 2020, the young father of three was the one in need of a bit of support as his 31st birthday approached.
Brett's wife, Mariah Byler, says her husband, who was told he had 12-18 months to live when he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of terminal brain cancer, has had surgery to remove 80% of his tumor and is currently undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments. As coronavirus spreads throughout the U.S., the Byler family has remained in isolation with the exception of traveling to radiation treatments, something that has made Brett's difficult prognosis even harder.
"Prior to the coronavirus taking a strict, isolating turn, Brett was able to have visitors constantly, which mainly consisted of his law enforcement buddies and his older brother, Brandon, who is on the force with him as well," Mariah Byler explained. "What lifts Brett's spirts the most is being around people and just talking and cracking jokes. With coronavirus limiting human interaction and touch, it's been really hard to maintain his positive spirits."
Before the need for social distancing, the Bylers, who have three young daughters ages 18 months to 6, were thinking of holding a barbecue to celebrate Brett's 31st birthday on Sunday, April 12. As the big day approached, a co-worker of Brett's reached out to Byler to ask what she'd think about them organizing a parade to celebrate.
"I was instantly stoked about it," the Temecula, California mom told TODAY Parents. "Given that our time is limited, every day counts, and this virus isn't helping that. We can't go out and make memories with our girls, friends and family because of the isolation orders. It's been really hard to maintain lifted spirits."
Byler and her husband's co-worker invited everyone they knew, asking them to participate in a drive-by birthday parade for Brett.
"Right away I got 40 responses and I thought, 'Wow! 40 people! How great!'" said Byler. "Little did we know that more than 120 cars would circle through our neighborhood with signs and gifts and love for Brett."
The show of support couldn't have come at a better time.
The night before, "he was having an emotional time," Byler recalled. "He was sad to wake up on his 31st birthday barely able to walk and not able to celebrate with extended family and friends or go out and do something fun at one of his favorite places."
"It was so hard to contain my excitement," Byler added. "But I knew it would be totally worth it."
They coaxed Brett out of the house by asking him to take his motorized scooter out on a walk with his daughters, who "were going stir-crazy." When they arrived at a small park in their neighborhood, Brett saw it had been decorated with balloons. It was then that his older brother, Brandon, drove up in his patrol car, followed by a line of cars decorated and covered in signs with encouragement and inside jokes.
Desiree Fortin, a TODAY Parenting Team contributor and friend of the Byler family, participated in the parade with her husband, Ryan and their 4-year-old triplets.
"Brett and Mariah are dear friends and to be able to be a part of something so special and come together as a community to love on Brett was such an honor," Fortin said. "Despite what Brett is currently facing, these moments brought unwavering joy, hope and love. It was truly one of the most beautiful things I've ever been a part of."
"We couldn't help but burst into tears; the love was overwhelming," she said. "People came from near and far just to drive by and show their love for a few seconds, seconds that lifted Brett's spirits. It was exactly what he needed...and our faces hurt from smiling and waving for almost an hour straight."
"I was super surprised," said Brett. "It was overwhelming, and I couldn't help but get emotional...given the circumstances, it was the best birthday ever. It's proof that in this family, no one fights alone."
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