'She saw the best in me': Ridgefield student who died of cancer remembered for positive spirit

Brooke's sister Riley and mother Madeline, left, accept flowers and a jar of purple M&M's from Nutmeg Chapter member Ashley Gotti, right. Purple was Brooke's favorite color.

Brooke’s sister Riley and mother Madeline, left, accept flowers and a jar of purple M&M’s from Nutmeg Chapter member Ashley Gotti, right. Purple was Brooke’s favorite color.

Alyssa Seidman / Hearst Connecticut Media

RIDGEFIELD — Brooke Blake has been described by family and friends as a talkative student who was full of life even as she battled brain cancer for years.

Last weekend, about 60 people gathered near the entrance of Barlow Mountain Elementary School where a cherry tree was recently planted as a symbol of the Ridgefield student’s zest for life.

The Nutmeg Chapter of the National Charity League in Ridgefield hosted the tree planting Saturday, which would’ve been Blake’s 13th birthday.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Blake’s mother Madeline, who hand-selected the tree. “Even though Brooke herself was not a member, they really took her in and loved her just as any of the other members.”

Blake was 7 years old when she was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, a rare form of cancer with a 10 percent survival rate. Blake, however, surpassed the two-year life expectancy and went on to live for four and a half years after her diagnosis. Blake, who died June 4, 2020, was attended Barlow Mountain through fifth grade while undergoing treatments, her mother said.

During the ceremony, six of Nutmeg’s class representatives read original poems and presented gifts to Blake’s mother and her older sister, Riley, in memory of the student. The readers also pointed out butterfly-shaped ornaments that swung from the tree’s branches and lavender ribbons secured to its trunk — purple was Blake’s favorite color.

“This tree will be a reminder of the bravery and strength Brooke displayed when she was confronted by dark skies,” Nutmeg Chapter President Andrea Sica said. “It will help us to remember the magnetic inspiration of … her journey, and her ability to spread love, kindness and compassion.”

Andrea Andrews, who was Blake’s second-grade teacher when she was diagnosed, recalled stories of her former student’s infectious classroom demeanor. She also spoke of the time she visited Blake at Memorial Sloan Kettering in Manhattan and, in her sociable way, asked her teacher, “What do you think of IVs?”

“She saw the best in me,” Andrews said, “and I saw her see the best in others.”

The chapter is planning to install a memorial stone at the base of the tree this summer. Madeline Blake said she hopes the plaque’s message will inspire students at Barlow Mountain to “believe,” a concept that was central to her daughter’s fight.

“I think the story (of her fight) is important, but how she lived is just as important,” Madeline Blake said. “In some way, she’s giving to the community through the people who knew her and cared for her, and in that way, she’s always going to live — and the tree symbolizes that.”

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com