In 2003, Bethany Brown found out she’d gotten an interview for nursing school. She tried calling her father to share the good news, but he didn’t answer. When she finally got ahold of him, Bethany gave her father a hard time for not answering earlier.
That’s when he told her why he’d been reluctant to take her call: her biopsy results had come back. She had cancer – specifically, sarcoma.
Fear and determination in the face of sarcoma
Looking back 12 years later, Bethany recalls her first reaction was “fear, absolute fear.” She was only 20 at the time and remembers crying louder than she’d ever cried before -- so loud that a neighbor heard her through the wall and came to check on her.
But her determination to be a nurse never wavered. If anything, getting that sarcoma diagnosis solidified her decision to attend nursing school. Bethany talked with her professors and advisors, who told her to take time off to take care of herself and return when she was ready. Bethany dropped out of school for one year -- a year in which she says her entire goal was getting back to school.
Choosing to live
Since her initial sarcoma diagnosis, Bethany has endured infertility, right-side facial paralysis, and left-side peripheral neuropathy. She was in remission from 2009-2013, but has had nine recurrences since 2003. She’s currently receiving chemotherapy.
While frustrating, these constant changes in her health have taught Bethany the importance of living her life. “Don’t wait until you’re looking good on paper because you may not ever be 100% cancer-free on paper,” she says.
When she was in remission, Bethany traveled, went to parties and dated. She got married in 2011, just one year after meeting her husband.
“I enjoy things when I can,” she explains. “Don’t wait, don’t put things off. You may never feel 100%, so if you feel good enough, do something.”
Coming to MD Anderson for sarcoma treatment
It was during one of her sarcoma recurrences that Bethany came to MD Anderson, first as a patient and later as a registered nurse.
Thinking back on her first visit to MD Anderson, Bethany remembers the “nice lady” who gave her directions, the staff who helped her work out some insurance questions, and how easy it was to navigate the facility. She was impressed by how organized everything was. “They had cancer treatment down,” she recalls. “The way I was treated as a patient at MD Anderson made me want to work there and give back.”
In February 2015, Bethany left her job at MD Anderson to resume sarcoma treatment, but she continues to give back as a volunteer with the myCancerConnection, MD Anderson’s one-on-one support program that connects cancer patients and their caregivers with others who have been there. “When I was diagnosed with sarcoma at age 20, it seemed like everyone was a child or a lot older than me. I also had a rare cancer,” she says. “I wanted to participate in myCancerConnection so I could provide support for someone who felt just like I once did.”
Bethany’s advice for other cancer patients
When asked what tips she has for others in her position, Bethany responds without hesitation: “Get an advocate, a person who will ask questions and do research.” She says that when you’re tired or just not in the right headspace, having an advocate allows you to just be a patient. “Sometimes you just aren’t going to feel like it.” It’s times like that when Bethany counts on her own advocate, her father.
When Bethany was first diagnosed more than 12 years ago, the statistics weren’t encouraging. “If I had looked at the numbers when I first got diagnosed, they said I wouldn’t be here,” she says.
But rather than worrying about those statistics, Bethany has stayed focused on the future. “I knew I wanted to be a nurse. I knew I wanted to be a wife. I knew I wanted to be a mother. Those were things I just kept my sight on,” she says. “That’s what I saw on the horizon.” With the support of her family, Bethany hasn’t allowed cancer to deny her those things.
Through it all, Bethany has lived by a simple motto: “Don’t wait to live.” Bethany hasn’t waited, and 12 years after her cancer diagnosis, she’s still making the most of her life.
To connect with other cancer patients and caregivers through myCancerConnection, please call 800-345-6324 or visit myCancerConnection online.