10-year survivor was unlikely candidate for cancer

June 10, 2008|By JANET HEIM

HAGERSTOWN -- Laura Brown doesn't mind bad hair days. After losing her hair because of chemotherapy treatments, she said she'd take a bad hair day to being bald any day.

The bonus - if that's what you can call it - is that Brown's hair came in curlier, darker and thicker than it was before chemotherapy.

"It grows in completely different," Brown said.

Brown, 35, will be the survivor speaker at this year's Relay for Life and entertainment co-chair for the event, an overnight fundraiser set for June 20 and 21 at Hagerstown's Fairgrounds Park. She is also co-captain of the Moms R Us team.

Brown celebrated 10 years free from cancer Jan. 5, the anniversary when doctors say a recurrence of cancer is unlikely. She was only 25 when she started having strange symptoms.


Like clockwork, she endured symptoms of stomach flu for a week, followed by a three-week reprieve before they'd kick in again. Each month, though, the symptoms worsened.

Then came the huge welts - which Brown now knows are a sign of undiagnosed cancer - that went away when treated with steroids, then reappeared.

Six months later, she had a CAT scan that didn't show anything and she left the doctor's office with a less-than- satisfying diagnosis - constipation. A referral to a gastroenterologist meant a monthlong wait for an appointment, but a cancellation earlier in the schedule resulted in a New Year's Eve Day appointment that turned Brown's life upside down.

Brown was diagnosed with colon cancer, an unusual diagnosis for someone her age who had no family history of the disease. After her diagnosis, though, Brown's grandfather died of colon cancer in his 80s.

She also didn't have any of the telltale symptoms. Brown was admitted to a hospital in Virginia with a tumor the size of a grapefruit and five days later had surgery to remove about one-third of her colon.

Chemotherapy treatments began in September 1998, which caused her hair to fall out.

Eventually, Brown sold her house in the Bristow/Manassas, Va., area and moved back in with her mom, who lived in Fairfax, Va. Her mother remarried and she moved with Laura to Virginia.

Fate stepped in the day of Brown's move. As she was unloading her possessions, Jerred Brown, who grew up in Williamsport, was moving back into his town house four doors down.

He came over and introduced himself, they began dating and six months later were married in April 2000.

Brown is now active with Relay for Life, an annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. She said she even met Katie Couric, whose husband died of colon cancer, at a walk in Washington, D.C., in October 2000.

Her young age and hopes of someday marrying and having a family led Brown to choose a type of chemotherapy that would allow her to still have children. When the Browns had trouble getting pregnant, they sought fertility treatments and in August 2003 were blessed with healthy triplets - Jack, Gabriella and Olivia.

"After all that, we ended up with three little miracles," said Brown.

The Brown family moved back to Washington County when the children were 3 months old. Jerred Brown found a house in the Cedar Hills East development on the Internet.

Laura Brown said before she knew it, they were packing up and moving, something she has little memory of thanks to her then-postpartum haze.

Each year the Washington County Relay for Life grows and raises more money. This year's event is June 20 and 21 and is a jam-packed mix of activities - from celebrating survivors to remembering those who have died from cancer to educating those present.

"Everybody's been affected by cancer somehow," said Brown, whose nonsmoking father died of lung, kidney and brain cancer.

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