Over the course of four weeks, members of the community will be sharing their story. These stories are about individuals and their experience with cancer. They are the reason the Lowell community comes together for the Pink Arrow Football Game. Each story is written by the person you will read about or by someone on their behalf. We thank them for sharing their story and courage.
Photo courtesy of Heather Eveland and is used with permission. Heather donates her time to get to know those she is photographing and capture an image to be used with each story. You can visit her photography website and Facebook page for more information about her work.
Heather is also the volunteer coordinator for Pink Arrow events. If you are interested in helping out at the Kidz Zone during Riverwalk (Saturday, July 14), Community Day (Thursday, Aug. 16), or game day (Thursday, Aug. 30) please contact her by calling 616-291-8907 or send an email to Heather.Eveland@gmail.com. Heather will let you or your group know what help is needed to determine the best fit.
The following is from Carey Brown. She tells of her cancer journey.
These are words I’ve used to describe some amazing women like two of my aunts, a friend and coworkers. I own words like wife, mother, sister, friend. Those are my titles! They fit me, and I cherish those words. My life is organized, driven and passionate. Suddenly, I am breathless as I am told my title is changing. I don’t want a new title but that is not for me to decide. My vocabulary, my knowledge of the “C word” and my journey are all about to change. Life as I know it is about to change…..and my new word is terrified.
I am Carey Brown, wife, mother, professional, and breast cancer survivor. My husband Pat, and I have been an active part of the Lowell community for our 24 years of marriage. We raised our three wonderful kids here. Kaeleb and Paige graduated from Lowell High School. Our son Noah will start his senior year this fall. The Lowell community is our home. This has never been more apparent than during this past year. When we entered an extremely difficult chapter in our lives, the people of Lowell rallied around us. We felt honored and supported with thoughts, prayers, and well wishes. The love and strength of this small-town community surrounded us in so many ways.
Lowell’s Red Arrow Shooting Team, which Noah is a part of, hosted a fundraising event. My sister-in-law had 300 bracelets made to distribute in support of my battle. I draw great strength from the enormous support network I have here in our hometown. My family has participated in many Pink Arrow events over the years, but I never imagined that one day I would be part of the cause. I have a new-found appreciation for the way this community pulls together to embrace survivors and the families of those who lost their battle. I am honored to participate in the Pink Arrow Game this year. I look forward to standing on the field and representing the hope I found in this community and in Gilda’s Club of Lowell in particular.
Breast cancer runs in my family, so I knew the importance of regular exams. I have two aunts that have battled breast cancer and survived; one of them is now fighting for the third time. I never really thought this would happen to me. Still, I was proactive and followed a disciplined exam regimen. Just four days before my annual physical, I found a lump. The instant concern and panic in that moment cannot be put into words.
My doctor ordered a mammogram right away, but I had to wait ten nerve-racking days to get it done. I was angry it took so long; my impatience didn’t fit well with the doctor’s over-booked schedules. I knew something was wrong after that initial mammogram. I was quickly scheduled for follow-up tests (an MRI, an ultrasound, 3D mammogram, and several biopsies). No one had told me what was happening, but when you are scheduled for an immediate whirlwind of testing, you know they found something. I didn’t need it spelled out. I knew my title had changed.
When doctors tell you tests show cancer, it is surreal. You can’t process what is being said. Your mind goes into self-defense mode and refuses to understand or accept it. When I was able to regain composure, I knew I had to tell our kids. How does a mother tell her children that she has cancer? Mom is pretty sick, but I don’t want you to worry. Those words don’t even make sense!
As a mother, it’s my job to take care of our family and take away their worries. Now I am the cause of their worry and desperately need their support. I wasn’t prepared for this! I am the strong one. However, our kids showed me that they also are very strong. They continue to amaze me. They took my diagnosis in stride and were ready to go to battle with me. What a blessing!
Our next step was to share this news with our extended family and closest friends. This is when I realized that I had an amazing support system. The care of family, friends, and co-workers got me through the next few days and weeks. Fighting cancer is hard, but when the struggle became overwhelming, there was a text, a card, an email, or a gift on my doorstep that kept me going. Sometimes I would see a stranger wearing a ‘Carey’ support bracelet. When my spirit was low and I wanted to give up, a loved one was always there to lift me up.
Once reality set in, so did my true nature. I am a doer, a problem-solver, a fighter. I told myself: Women conquer this all the time. I’ve got this, let’s get started! We scheduled an appointment with the Multi-Specialty Team (MST) at the Lemmen-Holton Pavillion. This one-day evaluation with a team of doctors from several specialties results in an all-inclusive personalized treatment plan. By the end of the day, I was told I had a very aggressive, but very treatable, form of breast cancer. I had accepted my diagnosis by then and was ready to start battling my new enemy. I knew I had to fight, for my husband, for my kids, but most of all for me. How I stepped forward from here, how I managed my feelings and fears, and how I embraced this new role were completely up to me now.
While I appreciated my amazing supporters and my devoted husband, I lacked a group of people that could truly understand what I was enduring. No amount of explaining (not that I wanted to) could help family and friends relate to this diagnosis or the toll it was taking on me. While I was in surgery having my port installed, Pat looked into Gilda’s Club. (Seriously, every woman should have a husband this supportive in their corner.) As chance would have it, the breast cancer group was meeting that night. I wasn’t sure I was ready to socialize around breast cancer. The surgery to install my port made everything very real. I was feeling extremely emotional and hated this foreign object implanted in my body. Despite my reservations, I decided to attend the Gilda’s group meeting that night.
I changed my mind a dozen times while driving there. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this. I was in pain from my port surgery. I was going to have to talk about cancer… Will they all be dying? Will most of them be survivors from 20 years ago? I’m not sure I am ready for all of this reality. Everything was happening so fast, from diagnosis to treatment. I was on a runaway rollercoaster. My new title included words like cancer patient and fighter, but somewhere deep inside, I was also still my old self. I needed to learn all I could about this new foe trying to steal my precious life I’ve worked so hard to create.
I was pleasantly surprised when I walked into a room full of gracious women who wanted to know my story. From that day on, every time I go to a Gilda’s Club meeting, I am met with questions about how my appointments have gone since the last time they saw me. These women remember what treatment I’m on and what appointments I have been to, and they truly want to hear how I am doing. I cannot describe the comfort I felt surrounded by women who have walked in my shoes, who shared their stories so openly and offered suggestions, kinship, and love when I needed them most.
The beautiful women in the Breast Cancer Support Group at Gilda’s Club of Lowell have battled breast cancer and are surviving. They range from recently diagnosed to 20 years fighting and winning. Some have faced cancer once, while others have battled several times. These women were a crystal ball into my future through this fight and beyond. They have been through mastectomies, lumpectomies, hormone replacements, ports, chemo, and radiation. These ladies have a wealth of knowledge and are always willing to enlighten me on side effects, emotions, and issues that doctors don’t talk about or forget to mention. They are caring, kind, and relatable. Most of all, they give me hope. We celebrate each other’s successes, cry with each other when it gets difficult, and answer the questions we are all nervous to ask. They have welcomed Pat into the group too. While family members are always welcome, Pat is often the only man in the room. They make him feel comfortable and encourage him to participate. This has helped my husband immensely.
I am currently cancer-free and will finish out my treatment plan the remainder of this year. I have settled into my new ‘normal’. I still have endless doctor appointments and ongoing treatments, but I have gotten some of my life back. It’s hard to convey how much of your time and freedom are taken up in the cancer battle. You learn to appreciate times when you can relax and enjoy life because you don’t have a treatment. You treasure the days you feel well enough for a little fun like enjoying some sunshine and fresh air with your family. I don’t feel 100%, but I hope to soon. My life will never be the same as it was before cancer. I will never be the same person I was before cancer. I have managed to work, keep busy and avoid dwelling on my illness. There are times this still seems like a terrible dream. Maybe that is denial sneaking in or maybe that’s just how I am coping. Either way, I am changed. I like to believe I have changed for the better. I am wiser, more appreciative and loving. I have learned the value of precious people, time and health. I have learned the power and significance of a kind word or deed. I am altered! I will be forever indebted to the loving, generous and inspiring people who carried me through this battle. My Gilda’s friends are at the top of that list. My new title is eternally grateful!