The year 2001 was a year many of us will never forget. For Vicki Brown, it was the year that changed her life forever. Brown, a resident of Wilmington, Delaware, found a lump in her right breast. Her annual mammogram was already scheduled for later in the month, but it was an ultrasound that revealed the tumor.
In late November 2001, a biopsy revealed her cancer diagnosis. Her breast surgeon found a second tumor, also positive for cancer.
“I owe my life to the diligence of my surgeon who found both tumors, both estrogen receptor positive, HER2 negative,” said Brown. She had a modified radical mastectomy and chemotherapy, later developing cellulitis, which resulted in another hospitalization for antibiotics.
Brown’s husband, Larry, immersed himself in the science of breast cancer and the latest advances in treatment.
“He was an incredible support to me, accompanying me to every doctor’s visit and to all of my chemotherapy treatments. As I recovered, my sister, Debbie, gave me such a wonderful gift – she put her own life on hold to stay with me and my husband, taking care of us for several weeks,” said Brown. “She made sure that I ate well, exercised and kept my spirits up. She gave me the wonderful gifts of time and love.”
Brown had two more breast reconstruction operations in 2002 and 2003, and in 2007, she completed five years of Tamoxifen, a drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. American Cancer Society-funded researchers developed the drug and carried out the first trials to prevent recurrence in breast cancer survivors more than 30 years ago, in 1978.
“There was no history of breast cancer in my family going back several generations,” said Brown. “My mother passed away in November 2004 from complications during treatment for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. While my mother was undergoing chemotherapy treatments, I was there with her. My own cancer experience helped me help my mother in the last year of her life. I worked closely with her doctors to ensure the best possible care for her.”
“Part of my own recovery and ability to help my mother was due to the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program. My breast surgeon had shared information on the program with me, and one of the first calls I made post-diagnosis was to the American Cancer Society to request a Reach volunteer. I cannot tell you how much it meant to talk with someone who had walked along the same road that I had just begun to travel. My volunteer kept in touch with me and introduced me to another breast cancer patient who was in the middle of her chemotherapy treatment. Talking with these women took much of the fear out of my own upcoming treatment.”
In March 2003 Brown became a Reach to Recovery volunteer, because she believed that “no one should have to go it alone.”
“We survivors are a great group of women helping other women, and making a difference. Having breast cancer was truly a gift to me. As a volunteer, I became passionate about helping others through one of the most difficult times in their lives,” said Brown.
In October 2003 Brown began fundraising for and walking in the American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk.
“What a great way to give back and rally family, friends and colleagues to the cause that is so near and dear to my heart. The American Cancer Society makes a difference, and I know that I’m making a difference when I make strides,” said Brown.