The Supermom: Wendy Brown

December 14, 2011

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, GC will be featuring women who are living with cancer.

We begin with the luminous Wendy Brown…

A few weeks back I interviewed Amber Dusick: The Blogcomic, who introduced me to her best friend, Wendy Brown. Wendy is a stay at home mother of three beautiful babies. Her days are filled with all things kids, dogs and cats… and when Wendy isn’t juggling family life, she’s dealing with stage IV breast cancer.

Although, I haven’t met Wendy in person, I can feel her radiant and determined spirit through her words and pictures. I’m honored that she is sharing her story…

 

where are you from?
I grew up in Fresno, CA. I moved to Southern California for college and stayed here after graduation.

what do you do?
I am a stay at home mom. I have 3 kids: ages 6, almost 4, and 2. I also have 2 large dogs and 2 cats. I am busy.

what did you want to be when you were a kid?
I wanted to go to UCLA and become a veterinarian. Well, I accomplished half of my dream! I love animals, but I was horrible at science when I was in school. I just could not fathom the schooling to become a veterinarian.

describe your life 10 years ago.
I was just exiting the corporate world. I had spent a few years post college climbing the corporate ladder when I hit a bump. I was burnt out and decided it was not for me. I gave it all up and went to culinary school. It was full time and intense and I loved it! Back then life was all about me, only I didn’t realize it at the time. I have to admit that my initial reaction to this question brought tears to my eyes: You know, life before the C.

describe your life now.
Fast forward 10 years and life is so not about me. I am super busy with my kids. I volunteer at their schools, carpool, take them to all of their activities, and go to LOTS of birthday parties. Sometimes I feel like I am constantly feeding or grooming either kids, cats, or dogs. Did I mention that within the last 6 months I spend a lot of time at the hospital? That is almost a full time job in itself.

how did you find out that you had cancer? what was that day like?
It wasn’t a single day. It was more of a metamorphosis. Denial is so powerful and, unfortunately, I am a master at it. At first I noticed a lump. I was breastfeeding then. Of course I automatically assumed it was a clogged duct. I couldn’t get rid of it. I tried self diagnosing myself online to put my mind at ease. For every possibility that was not breast cancer, I could eliminate it based on symptoms and descriptions of the other conditions. Breast cancer came up as a possibility each time I did this, but I couldn’t even explore this option. I was in my 30s. I had spent the last 5 years either pregnant or breastfeeding, which lowered my risk. Over 90% of all lumps turn out to be harmless. Truth be told, I didn’t want to know. When I finally stopped focusing on what it couldn’t be and started looking into the characteristics it did have, it was textbook. It took me over 2 months to get officially diagnosed. I went to numerous doctors for physical exams. The protocol is to do a physical exam first, then a mammogram, then a biopsy, if needed. Everyone had a wait list of about 6 weeks just to get a mammogram. I refused to wait. I had waited long enough! I was referred to an emergency room, urgent care, different breast clinics. Each time I was told that I would be having a mammogram. Each time they did a physical exam and referred me to someone else due to urgency. When I finally made it in for a long day of a mammogram, chest x ray, ultrasound, and possibly a biopsy, I was shocked. I was alone. My husband was at home with our kids. No one else knew. I waited hours for my last appointment for the ultrasound. When I was finally called in, the ultrasound technician was there with a surgeon. They quickly showed me on the screen that everything that was black was the tumor. Virtually my entire breast was black on the inside. My surgeon told me right then and there that she had absolutely no doubt that this was cancer. She needed to do the biopsy to confirm before I could start treatment. She told me the results would just be a formality. I remember fighting back tears as she performed what seemed like a never ending biopsy. I was shaking. Later I drove myself home and the song “I Will Survive” came on the radio. I blasted it. And sang at the top of my lungs. And cried.

describe your support system.
First and foremost, I have my mom. Ever since I broke the news to her, she has given up her own life to basically live mine. She lives about 200 miles away and drives me to all of my appointments. These days I usually only have to go to the hospital once every 3 weeks. My mom stays for about one week after chemotherapy to make sure I am feeling okay. During that time, she takes care of the kids, the pets, the house, and me. She has seen me through my toughest and lowest times and we survived together. We have also had a lot of good times though recently since we are spending so much time together. One day in particular comes to mind when I had a long break between appointments and we decided to go on a shopping spree to nearby Pasadena. We were on our way back to the hospital when my mom turned to me and said how much fun she had. She was worried that she would hate and resent the new shoes she had just bought if I had bad news that day. Almost as if on cue, my doctor called to eliminate my waiting time and told me the results were good. It was a day for the memory books.

Also, I have my dad. He always takes the day off from work whenever I have an appointment at the hospital. He calls and texts me every day. My dad always keeps me stocked with my favorite dumplings from an amazing Chinese restaurant near the hospital. I have spent more time with him than ever before since I got sick and I cherish it.

Lastly, I have lots of true friends and family who have stepped up and helped me out in numerous ways. There is nothing like a girls night out to put a big smile on my face and make me feel “normal” again!

does your family have a history of cancer? did you realize you were at risk?
Yes, both my grandmother and my aunt died of breast cancer. Before I had cancer I would say that of course I knew I was at risk, but I never thought  I was at risk at such a young age. Now when I am asked about family history at a medical appointment, my voice quivers and I usually fight back tears.

what can loved ones do to help?
The biggest thing that I truly appreciate is just keeping in touch. I love hearing from friends and family no matter how distant. I know it is tough for a lot of people because they don’t know what to say. I get that. I’ve been there. You don’t have to say the right things. That doesn’t exist anyway. Say anything! This experience has really exposed the people who genuinely care. It means the world to me to have those people on my side.

what do you want people to know about you?
I am still me. Having cancer has changed me in a lot of ways, but it hasn’t consumed me. I openly talk about my journeys with regards to cancer, but it is not the only thing I like to talk about. That is what I love about my best friends:  They ask me and I talk about my struggles, but then we move on to other subjects. My cancer is real and I don’t want to ignore it. However, life is supposed to be fun. I don’t want to waste my time complaining about life when I could be enjoying it instead.

what would you do on a much needed vacation?
My cousin and his family live in Hawaii. Their 6 year old daughter, Olivia, was diagnosed with brain cancer just prior to my cancer being diagnosed. We have said since the beginning that we wanted to get our families together in the spring and meet on then island of Maui. I have never met Olivia, but she has been my inspiration since I started traveling down this road.

what achievements make you most proud?
Hands down, I am proud of my children more than anything else. My kids are pretty sweet, get along with each other and other kids, and almost always have smiles on their faces. Am I bragging?! Sorry. They are my angels and, in my opinion, they are the most important achievement I can pass down from generation to generation.

what do you collect?
I try not to collect things as I have 3 kids and a small house! Clutter is my enemy!! Prior to having kids I used to collect menus from trendy restaurants. I used to be a foodie, eating at gourmet restaurants regularly. The menus would inspire me sometimes when I was looking to cook something different.

what has been the toughest part to date of having cancer?
As far as a single incident, telling my mom I had cancer was the toughest thing I have ever done. Overall though, when I think about the future and look into my children’s eyes, it makes me want to sob. I want the world for them and most of all I want them to have their mother.

has cancer had any positive effects on your life?
Absolutely! My mom wrote a beautiful poem for me for Mother’s Day that listed all of the things that have benefited me since being diagnosed. I think the most important thing is that I have reclaimed my life as far as doing things for myself sometimes. When I started having kids, I gave up everything for them. There was literally no time for myself. I have learned that balance is healthy and keeps me happier. I regularly go out with friends now and try to go on power walks at the beach almost every day. Life is short. Live happily!




The above illustration is by Amber Dusick who wrote and illustrated a guest post for Scary Mommy about Boys vs. Girls. The story features best friends, Wendy and Amber, and their adventures together as moms.

Amber also illustrates and tells her story about having a friend with cancer on Parenting. Illustrated with Crappy Pictures.

I asked Amber what it’s like to have a best friend who is fighting cancer. You can read her heartfelt answer here…

Thank you for sharing your story Wendy Brown!

Photos provided by Wendy Brown. Ilustrations by Amber Dusick.