Woman shares story of survival

Hope: Eleven years after she learned she had breast cancer, a Crofton resident encourages others not to give up.

October 26, 2003|By Stephanie Tracy | Stephanie Tracy,SUN STAFF

Daryl Brown, 51, of Crofton, never misses an opportunity to talk with someone about breast cancer.

While pumping gas one afternoon, Brown complimented a woman at the pump next to her on the hat she was wearing. The woman was taken aback and took the hat off to show her reason for wearing it.

"I felt so bad," said Brown, who quickly recognized the hair loss caused by chemotherapy treatment. "I didn't mean to draw so much attention to her."

But Brown, who will be a featured speaker today at an American Cancer Society fund-raising walk, turned the embarrassing situation into an opportunity to share her story of survival and hope as an 11-year survivor of breast cancer.

"If I can help somebody else, I'll be there in a flash," she said.

Brown's appearance today is part of the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk at Patterson Park, part of a nationwide program to raise money for cancer prevention, education, treatment, research, patient services and advocacy efforts.

In Maryland, breast cancer was diagnosed in 3,714 women in 1999, and 782 women died from breast cancer that year, according to the state's annual cancer report. Maryland had the nation's fifth-highest mortality rate in 1999.

"My main message is to tell those you love to stay current with their mammograms and self-exams," Brown said. "The only reason I'm here is because of yearly mammograms and breast self-exams."

Brown's breast cancer was first diagnosed on her 20th wedding anniversary, March 18, 1992. She said nothing could have prepared her to hear the words, "Mrs. Brown, you have breast cancer."

Brown had gone in for a mammogram March 17 and was stunned when the results were displayed in front of her.

"I looked at the film and said, `Oh, my God, what is that?'" Brown said. A biopsy the next day confirmed her fears: an aggressive form of breast cancer.

"As much as I didn't want to hear it, I somehow knew in my heart that I had it," said Brown, who had two children in high school at the time.

In the days that followed, Brown began to cope with the diagnosis and a disease that she knew very little about. She had never known anyone with breast cancer and had no family history of it. However, when she returned to work as a project specialist at what is now Hewlett-Packard in Greenbelt, Brown began to hear the stories.

"Within days of returning to work after the biopsy, I had upper-level management pulling me into their offices to talk," she said. "One man pulled me aside to tell me that his mother was a 25-year survivor."

Encouragement

She shared the news with her project team and asked members to share their stories of encouragement.

"I wanted people to be comfortable with me," Brown said. "A lot of people just don't know what to say in situations like that, but I wanted to make myself available to talk about it with anyone who asked."

Brown soon had co-workers and employees who worked in other departments calling her or stopping by her desk to share their stories of breast cancer survival.

During the course of treatment, Brown also began volunteering with the American Cancer Society and its Reach to Recovery program, which provides one-on-one support between breast cancer victims and survivors. "I wanted to find out more about breast cancer and more about how other people were successfully dealing with it," she said. "I also just wanted to give back to those people who had helped me so much."

After six months of chemotherapy and a subsequent six weeks of radiation, Brown and her family took a celebratory trip to Bermuda in June 1993 to mark the end of Brown's treatment and her entry into remission.

To mark the occasion, Brown tossed her wig over the side of the cruise ship.

"Through all of it, I chose to focus on the positive," Brown said. "Every single day, I just kept repeating the thought, `I will survive.' I wanted so much to be a part of my kids' lives and to be with my family."

Brown considered herself lucky when she was able to help her daughter get ready for her senior prom and watch her son's team win a lacrosse championship.

Another crisis

Life slowly was returning to normal. But in January 1995, on a trip to the Bahamas with her daughter, Brown found another lump in the breast where the cancer had first occurred.

A mammogram confirmed the existence of another tumor and, fearing that the cancer could spread, Brown elected to have a double mastectomy. The surgery was scheduled for her 23rd wedding anniversary, March 18, 1995. Brown said it was the only way to guarantee more time with her family.

"You really realize how special your family and loved ones are when you're dealing with something like this," she said.

Last year, Brown took a year off from her job to concentrate on her family and to help her daughter plan her wedding. She went back to volunteering at the American Cancer Society and was asked to become a speaker with the American Cancer Society chapter in Gambrills.

Registration for today's event begins at 8 a.m., and the noncompetitive walk starts at 9 a.m. For more information about Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, call 800-787-4337 or visit www.cancer.org/stridesonline.

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