Howard Brown shines brightly
June 8th, 2021 4 minute read
Howard Brown was a deer in headlights when he heard the words “You have cancer.” Just 24 years old, he was fit, healthy, and completely in shock.
Brown was diagnosed with stage IV Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He tried three different chemotherapy recipes, but none worked. Luckily, his twin sister Cheryl was an exact human leukocyte antigen (HLA) match and he received a bone marrow transplant.
To this day he still holds tight to the bag that was once filled with Cheryl’s transfusion. He laughs as he holds it up to his laptop camera, thinking I might be freaked out. But he shows it off proudly, because it was the purple substance in this tiny bag that saved his life.
Brown was in remission for 28 years. He married his wife, Lisa Naftaly-Brown, and they had their daughter, Emily (11 years frozen sperm using invitro fertilization). He “put cancer in the rearview in mid-1991.” But when he went in for his recommended colonoscopy at age 50, he heard the dreaded words again. Brown was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer. Two surgeries and 23 inches of colon removed later, he still progressed to metastatic stage IV. After four courses of Irinotecan and Avastin chemotherapy, Brown showed regression (shrinkage). With a glimpse of hope, he began researching a life-extending surgery. Like a veteran who has been through the war, he knew how to keep his head on straight.
On March 13, 2018, Brown had Cytoreductive Surgery (CRS), which involves massive debulking of seen cancer cells, and HIPEC (Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal (heated) Chemotherapy). What many call “the mother of all surgeries,” it took 11.5 hours to complete.
Eighteen months later, Brown got his first NED (no evidence of disease) CT scan in September of 2019.
Despite the physical and emotional uphill battle Brown endured, he didn’t let himself get shaken down. Although cancer patients are allowed to think “Why me?” Brown encourages them to find their happy place. This doesn’t mean he never had days where he couldn’t get out of bed, it means that he kept pushing through.
“You have to play the cards you are dealt,” said Brown. “Nobody asks for a cancer diagnosis.”
For Brown, his happy place is basketball. Whenever he has a chance to step onto the court, he takes it. Aside from this, he spends time with his family, hikes, bikes, and mentors others.
“Without hope, days can get very dark,” said Brown. “That one thing, that glimmer of light, which I call shining brightly, is really vital.”
Brown found hope through his journey. He sought out support from others, and needed to be a bit selfish. However, he also knew that cancer didn’t just affect him, but everyone around him. Having experienced it all first-hand, he knows Circle of Hope will be an excellent resource for patients and caregivers.
“One of the most important things is emotional support, for both the patients and caregivers,” said Brown.
Brown lived to see his daughter graduate from high school, recently celebrated his wife’s 60th birthday, and just yesterday his 31st bone marrow transplant birthday. Although cancer became a large part of his life, his story is not over. He now gets to decide who he wants to be when he grows up, and is currently searching for a job.
Howard Brown is an inspiration to all. His story is one of many that shows the power of hope in times of darkness. And who doesn’t need the gift of hope?
Keep a lookout for Brown’s soon-to-be-published book, Shining Brightly. The memoir explores Howard’s life and features themes such as entrepreneurship, determination, resilience, family, hope, and paying it forward.
For more information on Brown, read part 1, part 2, and part 3 here.
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