Coping with Loss
- Alex Brown is a high school quarterback who just had the game of his life after scoring eight touchdowns and leading his team to victory. And while a win is always sweet, this one was especially meaningful after losing his mother to a nearly 15-year-long battle with breast cancer just the day before.
- Mammograms, a standard screening procedure for breast cancer, and self breast exams can save lives. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends women begin mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer.
- Coping with the loss of a loved one to cancer is incredibly challenging, but moving forward with the lessons your loved one shared and remembering you don’t have to forget them to move forward can be a great place to start.
Brown is a senior at Red Bank Catholic High School in New Jersey. And when he stepped onto the football field with his teammates last week, he knew he was right where he was meant to be.Read More
Brown had lost his mother to breast cancer just the day before, but his father encouraged him to play in the game. With a show-stopping performance that earned praise from NFL star quarterback Tom Brady, Brown led his team to a triumphant victory where he threw for six touchdowns and ran two into the end zone himself. His talent was fully on show Friday night, but Brown gives all the credit to his mom.
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“Watching her struggle with cancer for almost 15 years, it just made me a stronger person,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever be as strong as she ever was, but watching that struggle and being with her throughout the whole time it just made me the strongest person I can be as a football player and as a human in general.”
And while he was undoubtedly impacted by her strength, Brown also carries some of her kind soul with him today too.
“My mom, she was a kind-hearted person. Extremely funny, very artistic, very beautiful,” he said. “She was the most kind and loving person you’ll ever meet. She always wanted everyone else to be happy before she was happy, and I kind of got that from her. And I still wish she was with us, but she’s in a better place.”
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In a touching Instagram post, Brown shared a heartfelt message for his beloved mom.
“Dear mama, you brought me into this world and made me the happiest boy on earth,” he wrote in his caption. “There was never a moment I was not smiling by your side, and that is because of how amazing of a woman you are. From your model looks, to your amazing paintings, to making me laugh until I cry, to being the strongest fucking woman I know. I will always remember our amazing memories. And thank you for teaching me, teaching me to be my crazy self, to love music and singing, to always believe in myself, to follow my dreams in football and in life, thank you for being my amazing mother. And I will miss you so much but it’s okay, because I know that you will always be with me. I love you my phoneix fighter. Until we meet again❤️”
He’s lost a very powerful figure in his life, but thankfully Brown has his father, his younger brother and his football community to lean on for support as he continues down the road of coping with his mother’s loss. And while his high school career is coming to a close, he’ll have his mother’s spirit by his side as he continues to pursue his football dreams at Bucknell University.
“I want to just thank everyone for being there for me,” he told FOX News. “We’ll get through this together because I know she’s still watching over me as I saw in the game.”
Understanding Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a common cancer that has been the subject of much research. Many women develop breast cancer every year, but men can develop this cancer too – though it is more rare, in part, due to the simple fact that they have less breast tissue.
There are many treatment options for people with this disease, but treatment depends greatly on the specifics of each case. Identifying these specifics means looking into whether the cancerous cells have certain receptors. These receptors – the estrogen receptor, the progesterone receptor and the HER2 receptor – can help identify the unique features of the cancer and help personalize treatment.
“These receptors, I like to imagine them like little hands on the outside of the cell, they can grab hold of what we call ligands, and these ligands are essentially the hormones that may be circulating in the bloodstream that can then be pulled into this cancer cell and used as a fertilizer, as growth support for the cells,” Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet.
One example of a type of ligand that can stimulate a cancer cell is the hormone estrogen, hence why an estrogen receptor positive breast cancer will grow when stimulated by estrogen. For these cases, your doctor may offer treatment that specifically targets the estrogen receptor. But for HER2 positive breast cancers, therapies that uniquely target the HER2 receptor may be the most beneficial.
Breast Cancer Screening
Screening for breast cancer is typically done via mammogram, which looks for lumps in the breast tissue and signs of cancer. And while mammograms aren’t perfect, they are still a great way to begin annual screening. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends women begin mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer.
For screening purposes, a woman is considered to be at average risk if she doesn’t have a personal history of breast cancer, a strong family history of breast cancer, a genetic mutation known to increase risk of breast cancer such as a BRCA gene mutation or a medical history including chest radiation therapy before the age of 30. Beyond genetics, family history and experience with radiation therapy, experiencing menstruation at an early age (before 12) or having dense breasts can also put you into a high-risk category. If you are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer, you should begin screening earlier.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Connie Lehman, chief of the Breast Imaging Division at Massachusetts General Hospital, said people who hadn’t reached menopause yet should prioritize getting a mammogram every year.
“We know that cancers grow more rapidly in our younger patients, and having that annual mammogram can be lifesaving,” Dr. Lehman said. “After menopause, it may be perfectly acceptable to reduce that frequency to every two years. But what I’m most concerned about is the women who haven’t been in for a mammogram for two, three or four years, those women that have never had a mammogram. We all agree regular screening mammography saves lives.”
It’s also important to be on top of self breast exams. If you ever feel a lump in your breast, you should be vigilant and speak with your doctor right away. Voicing your concerns as soon as you have them can lead to earlier cancer detection which, in turn, can lead to better outcomes.
Losing a Loved One to Cancer
As Alex Brown can surely attest to, coping after the loss of a loved one to cancer is never going to be an easy journey. But remembering all the wonderful ways your loved one enriched your life and moving on from there can be such a powerful way to move forward.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Caleb Farley talked about his mother’s battle with breast cancer and how he opted out of his position as a cornerback for the Virginia Tech Hokies due to COVID-19 concerns. Having lost his mom to breast cancer in 2018, he knew he wanted to be extra careful during the pandemic.
Farley announced the news of his opt-out in an Instagram video saying, in part, “I cannot afford to lose another parent or loved one… Though the competitor in me badly wants to play this season, I cannot ignore what’s going on in my heart, and I must make the decision that brings me the most peace.”
Farley trained for the NFL draft instead of playing for Virginia Tech, and his efforts paid off. He was selected by the Tennessee Titans as the number 22 overall pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft.
Farley’s mother fought two battles with cancer. He watched as she went through multiple rounds of chemotherapy while still working and taking care of her family. Although his “superhero” mother will not get to see him play in the NFL, Farley will take many lessons he learned from her and apply them to whatever challenges he faces in life moving forward.
“My mother raised me to be very religious, very God-conscious. That’s been everything to me, and my life. That’s like the building blocks of my, of my life,” Farley told SurvivorNet. “Anything that’s happened to me, any adversity, any good times, any bad times, I’ve always kind of stood on that rock of faith. I can’t thank her enough for how she raised me and because it was her who gave me all of that, um, spiritually, she, she just filled my heart with love and joy. I’ve had a happy life because of her.”
Doug Wendt also lost a loved one to cancer. He told SurvivorNet that after losing his wife, Alice, to a two-year battle with ovarian cancer, he’ll never really get over losing her, but he does hope to move forward.
“We’re never gonna move on, I don’t even think I want to move on, but I do want to move forward,” Doug said. “That’s an important distinction and I encourage anybody who goes through this journey as a caregiver and then has to face loss, to think very carefully about how to move forward.”