A mountain called cancer
by Laura Nation-Atchison

Home features editor

She likens her journey with the disease to making her way up and around a mountain, at times, the journey was daunting.

And other times, Patsy Brown’s encounter with cancer has meant sitting on a ledge, as she describes it now, or finding strength to continue the climb.

Brown’s mountain analogy for experiencing cancer is used in the title of her book, “My Mountain Has a Name,” meaning the disease itself.

Brown’s journey with cancer came last year, after months of severe pain and discomfort in her face and head which had been diagnosed as trigeminal neuralgia, a nerve disorder that causes severe pain.

But no matter how much of the pain medication Brown took and endured, her pain continued and even worsened.

By this time in her life, Brown, who had been a stay at home mom who returned to college at 39 to pursue a nursing career, found her way to settling upon becoming a radiology technician, loved her work and had gained the medical knowledge that goes with her chosen field.

When two knots appeared on her forehead in the spring of 2011, Brown knew she was dealing with something other than the nerve disorder her condition was thought to be.

She reported to her doctor that the knots were growing, and was given even more pain medication.

When the pain progressed to the point Brown knew she had to get herself to a hospital, “I was poked, prodded, stuck and a CT scan was ordered,” she said.

A specialist reported to her case and after taking a close look at the “knots,” told her that they were not a symptom of trigeminal neuralgia.

Through all of these months, Brown continued working, or trying to, but each shift became more and more difficult for her.

Having the background she has in radiology, Brown took her story to another technician at the hospital who worked on a surgery floor.

“I decided to take matters into my own hands,” she tells.

It was then Brown met the person she now calls “the saver of my life,” the woman who became her surgeon, Dr. Rene Chambers.

Chambers called Brown to be in her office first thing on a Thursday morning and called her case “high priority.”

“Thursday, April 14 (2011) finally arrived and my life would never be the same again,” Brown writes.

She and her new friend, the surgeon, developed a wonderful, sometimes frightening, and other times, laughing together, relationship that put Brown on the path to knowing what her problem really was.

During their meeting, Chambers told Brown she needed an MRI “with and without contrast,” that very day.

“This would mark the turning point of my cancer,’ Brown said.

She went home from the procedure, but within two hours, was called back to the hospital for a CT scan of her chest, abdomen and pelvis, and again, “with and without contrast.”

When they viewed the films together, Brown said her reaction to what she saw was unbelievable.

“The two little knots were now one and it had penetrated through my skull and into my brain,” she said. “I was devastated.”

There were more tests the next day, there appeared to be cancer in Brown’s colon as well.

“I realized that fear was going to become a big part of my life,” she said.

“There was, and still is, nothing anybody could do to take away my fear. It was something I had to process. It didn’t matter what Dr. Chambers told me, or anyone else for that matter, I knew I had to confront the fear myself,” Brown said.

Brown said she had become so weak physically to even sit up for any length of time.

“I felt lost, deep in the woods, with no way out,” she said.

“I wanted to stop up my ears because I didn’t want to hear what was being presented about my health to me. I wanted choices, but there were none.”

Brown writes that she knew no matter who you are or what you do in life, “you are not exempt from having bad things happen to you.”

But she still felt that her life wasn’t “hers” anymore and that she was at the mercy of whatever was done to her.

“With my body taking a beating as never before, I realized that conditions in our lives do change, but God never does,” she said.

Brown said she drew strength from her faith, which has always been a constant for her, and from family, friends and her doctors.

She had surgery for the growth in her brain, and explains that her surgeon “got all she could see.”

A series of chemotherapy and radiation followed, Brown had her last radiation treatment last September.

Now, a year and a half after the disgnosis, Brown is technically in remission, and she explains it as “It’s not doing anything now.”

She began her book as a journal, at the recommendation of a friend, who thought it could be important to record how she felt and the things that were happening to her.

It turns out that it was, and as Brown continued writing, her journal notes evolved into her book that she hopes can help steer others through facing the fears she faced and the disease as well.

“I included all the parts of this, there were funny parts, and of course there were the sad parts, but it was all part of it,” she said.

She started calling her IV pole “Donnie,” which is actually her husband’s name, and for a certain time, Brown said she truly thought the pole was her husband.

Then there were setbacks, a bad reaction to a drug, her immune system kept dropping, but for each additional problem she encountered, there came a treatment.

The technical name for her cancer is large diffuse B cell non Hodgkin lymphoma, which Brown said means that the disease is in her blood.

By the time she found Dr. Chambers, Brown said she was convinced that there was cancer, but the reality of the news was still overwhelming at the same time.

“I already knew about the tumor,” she said.

“And I asked Dr. Chambers if I was going to die. She told me that was ‘the stupidest question.’”

Brown has found her way through the surgery, the treatments, and in coming to terms with the disease.

“Right now, I’d say I feel that I am sitting on a ledge,” she said.

Brown loved her work, but she isn’t thinking about returning right now.

She said she focuses on enjoying each day, she loves playing her guitar and singing-“The Beach Boys are my favorite” and is thankful for her husband’s support-“he’s my rock”-, her family’s and her friends.

“I don’t just sit,” she said. “I find something to do.”

And, through it all, she has learned that God really was with her the entire time through the illness, she said.

“This may have shaken my foundation, but I have learned that God was with me,” she said.

“I enjoy life and have always been that way.”

She hopes that her book can give strength to others facing the kind of life changes she has.

Has the experience with cancer changed her?

“I love more deeply now,” she said.

“And I still laugh a lot, but I cry, too. I feel that I do have a lot to smile about, but I do cry because it cleanses my soul and the tears cleanse my fears. And it lets me know that I am…still alive.”

Editor’s note: Patsy Brown’s book is published by Author House and is available on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble web-sites.

She grew up in St. Clair County and now lives in Pinson.

© 2012