Diane Brown, 66, always wanted to have a family. “I have 15 grandchildren and one great-grandchild and I’ve never been pregnant!” she shares of how her family came to be when in her 20s it didn’t look as promising. “I had a total hysterectomy at the age of 26.” She later adopted a daughter, Aaryn, and a son, Trent. Three more children joined her family when she married her husband, Larry. “They are the loves of my life.” Though she could not have known it at the time, Diane saved future generations from possibly inheriting BRCA2 – a gene mutation that increases the risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Diane felt a lump when she was 58. With a strong family history of breast cancer, she knew she needed to get it checked out immediately and was diagnosed with breast cancer. “There’s so much cancer in our family I decided to get tested,” she adds of pursuing genetic testing. She tested positive for BRCA2. “My daughter said to me, ‘Mom, for the very first time in my life, I am so glad I don’t have your genes.’” With her family by her side, Diane understood the impact of her journey to have a family. “Cancer stops with me!”
After five years of oral chemotherapy and reconstructive surgery, Diane had been living cancer-free for five years. “I thought I was free,” she says. However, in 2013, she noticed she was more tired than usual. Then she felt another lump. “Since I had no breast tissue Dr. Michael Lary said it was, ‘peculiar.’ The tumor was in between the pectoral minor and pectoral major – in front of my arm pit.”
Facing treatment once again, Diane found herself with a new perspective. “It has been a humbling experience,” she says. “I feel blessed. I depended on God and my faith. While resting, I listened to Christian music. The song ‘I am’ reminded me that God is holding on to me, while I am holding on to Him. I could rest in that when I had no more strength.”
When she did have strength, Diane celebrated her journey with family, friends and her church. “I decided I was going to beat this,” Diane adds. “Prideful the first time, I didn’t want to lose my hair; it was my best feature. The second occurrence, I was less prideful. I humbly decided to make it a fun opportunity. We invited the elders to our home to pray and then celebrated with a ‘Hair Be Gone’ party!” Diane’s hairdresser came to the house and shaved her hair among the support of family and friends. She wanted everyone, especially her grandchildren to know that “Grandy” was going to be OK.
“’I think you are beautiful without hair,’” Diane says her 5-year-old granddaughter, Addison, told her. Once again, Diane underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Through this experience her family grew to include the doctors, nurses and staff at the Harrington Cancer Center at BSA Health System. “They are all family. They are loving, caring and personable. They call me by name. When I see them out and about we always talk and visit. They always want to know how I’m doing.”
Today, the retired teacher still travels throughout the Texas panhandle training teachers a new curriculum through the line of books she represents. She never passes up the opportunity to share her story with anyone else going through breast cancer, passing on her wisdom and lessons learned. “I want to take away the fear and bring encouragement. This is not a death message. Even the memories of being ill in bed with my grandkids, playing dress up with wigs, fedoras and scarves– I count my blessings constantly. Adding ‘class to cancer’ remains a fond memory.”