ARLINGTON – For Caryn Brown of Arlington, Relay for Life really is about celebrating life.
It was 10 years ago this November when she found out she had Stage 2B Triple Negative Breast Cancer.
“My mind exploded,” she said this week. “What does one need to do to survive?”
She was only 36. Her family has no history of cancer. She lived a healthy lifestyle.
“I felt great. But I am so thankful to my doctor for telling me to get it checked out,” she said of a lump he found during a routine physical.
She said hearing you have cancer is hard to deal with, but telling your family is even more difficult. “I remember being so nervous and scared to tell my husband I had cancer,” she said. “Then, we had to tell our three kids.
“My 8-year-old’s first words were, ‘Are you going to die?’
“As a family, we decided we were going to battle this together and fight for the best outcome… and we did it.”
Brown had to endure four rounds of aggressive chemotherapy and six weeks of daily radiation.
“Chemo and radiation treatments fight the cancer, but they also wear down your body and mind,” she said.
Her husband, Arlington High School basketball coach Nick Brown, was her rock.
“He was there for me during my emotional times, during my hair loss, during sickness and during the aftermath,” she said.
When people think of cancer, they think of treatment as the hard part. But Brown said the aftermath is also hard.
“When diagnosed with cancer, you do what you must do to fight it. You keep a healthy lifestyle, you listen to your doctors, you take your meds, you rest when you can… You just keep going,” she said.
When the doctor says the cancer is gone, “You sigh in relief and think, ‘I did it. I beat cancer.’”
Along with her husband, Brown was also thankful for their community support. “My children were still young so my main request was to take care of them so that I could do what I needed to do to fight and heal,” she said.
They don’t have family in the area so the community also helped with meals, taking kids to schools and sports, and more.
“Doing anything to help my kids keep their minds off of what was really going on,” she said.
Friends also helped take her to appointments, and staying with her during chemo and radiation treatments, “that are uncomfortable, lonely and tiresome.”
“I thank God for getting us through and for placing helpful friends alongside us,” she said, adding she is also thankful for family and the medical staff.
Also, she said you think about what you just went through – What just happened? – and try to move on to the next stage of life – discovering the new you.
But in the aftermath, the biggest question, the one that’s hard to get out of your mind, is, “Will it come back?” Instead of being a victim, Brown has continued to fight cancer in other ways the past decade.
She received so much help that she wants to pay it forward and help others. So she volunteers with the American Cancer Society. Along with Relay for Life, she’s involved with the Coaches vs Cancer Basketball Game and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. She also is involved in Ford Warriors in Pink Program through the Ford Motor Co. They also donated to the Community Resource Room at Providence Regional Cancer Partnership. She said that is a great resource for those in treatment, providing counseling, wigs, classes, blankets, hats, etc. “These programs were all very important to me during my diagnosis,” she said.
Brown said she loves having her family involved, especially Nick with the basketball event.
“It is hard for husbands to see their wives go through the battle with cancer,” she said. “Nick had to learn to let his guard down a bit and accept help from the community, as well as learn to let emotions out when needed.”
She said AHS students, staff and families supported him, so he gets a lot out of supporting others through the fund-raising basketball event.
“He knows cancer sucks, but for one night let’s lift each other up and come together to fight it,” she said.
Support is so important, not just for cancer patients, but for their families and friends. The Snohomish County Relay for Life, which will take place July 20 as Asbery Field in Marysville, is another positive event where people gather together to show support and raise money to fight cancer.
“As a family we have seen the power of help from others. We could not have made it without the support that we received,” Brown said.
Her first relay was in 2010, the same week she finished radiation treatments. “The whole event was emotional, as you see you are not the only one dealing with this disease,” she said.
You learn about those who not only beat cancer, but also those who didn’t. She called the Survivor Lap enlightening.
You “walk with humility knowing you and your loved ones did some amazing things to get you where you are,” she said. When there aren’t basketball conflicts, she’s been able to put together teams made of Coaches vs. Cancer participants. “Each year there is guaranteed to be laughs, tears and exhaustion – and all totally worth it to spend the day at Relay.”