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On the Friday evening before Memorial Day in 2001, Torrie Brown was changing her clothes to go to her 5-year-old daughter Mariah’s Tee-ball game, when she found a lump on her right breast.
Brown, 24 at the time, went to the game that evening and spent the long weekend worrying about the lump. She did not share her worries with anyone — not her parents nor her soon-to-be husband.
“I just had a bad gut feeling,” she said, sitting next to Mariah, now 17, and son Johnathan, 10, on the front porch of their Edinburgh home.
A few days after the first visit to a doctor, a biopsy revealed she had cancer.
“It was very upsetting,” she said. “You have those thoughts of, ‘Oh my goodness, I have my kid.’”
And you have a hundred questions about possible treatments, she said.
“You’re totally blindsided by everything.”
But after a few somber days, Brown said she just woke up one day and made a pact with herself to fight to the end.
“I decided I can’t let it beat me,” she said.
After a lumpectomy, which turned into a partial mastectomy because her cancer was aggressive, she had eight chemotherapy treatments at Johnson Memorial Hospital, typically on Wednesdays.
She would take the day off, spend Thursday recovering from nausea and body aches and typically go back to work Friday afternoons.
Her long, wavy blonde hair began to fall out about three weeks after the first
“That was pretty rough to deal with,” she said.
She wore a wig and kept it on a stand in her home so that she could put it on
whenever anyone came to the door.
She has had short hair ever since.
“I never thought I’d like myself in short hair,” she said, “but I liked the way it looked, and it was much easier to take care of.”
Six weeks of radiation at Franciscan St. Francis Health-Indianapolis.
She recovered fully and got married the following year — though she and her husband divorced about three years later.
In June 2012, at her annual checkup, her doctor asked her how long she had had the knot in her left breast. Brown remembers asking, “What knot?”
The doctor immediately scheduled a mammogram. A biopsy followed the same day of the mammogram. Three days later she got the news: Cancer. Again.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Brown said.
Beyond having to endure the treatments again, she faced telling her children, 16 and 9 at the time.
“That was the part I dreaded the most,” she said.
That evening, she sat her kids down and told them that she had cancer, and that with everyone working together, she could beat it again.
“It was very emotional,” Brown said, tears welling in her eyes.
Johnathan said he remembers being scared that his mom might die.
Both children said that when their mom sat them down, they thought she was going to talk to them about taking a trip together.
Mariah said she hoped the family was finally going on a vacation to a beach, which they had never done before.
But Mariah had a bad feeling because she overheard her mother a few days earlier speak to her grandmother on the phone about the doctor’s appointment.
It was crushing news, Mariah said.
“I kept thinking ... I didn’t know what I would do without her,” she said.
Brown said that getting the diagnosis a second time was tough — although she said that knowing she had beat cancer before, and knowing what to expect from the treatments, eliminated some of the uncertainty she had felt after her first diagnosis.
The children, meanwhile, dealt with the news in different ways.
“(I) tried not to think about it,” said Johnathan.
Mariah talked about the situation with her boyfriend, Zach Burton, whose grandmother was battling cancer when they met.
“He helped me through it, and I helped him through it,” she said.
Mariah said she helped around the house, and Johnathan said he tried to be nicer and not get in as much trouble.
Brown said the recurrence persuaded her to have a bilateral mastectomy, even before she found out she had a genetic predisposition to breast and ovarian cancers.
That turned out to be a good decision, she said, because during the surgery July 16, 2012, doctors also discovered a recurrence on the right breast.
The chemotherapy that followed made her nauseous again, but this time also blistered her feet.
“I had to walk on the sides because they hurt really bad,” she said.
Her understanding bosses at Danzer Veneer Americas allowed her to wear slippers to work. They said they did not care so long as she was comfortable, she said.
She said her children, family and colleagues provided a lot of support and it helped immensely that on days she felt weak that other people could step in and help around the house.
Soon after she recovered, she had to provide comfort to her older sister, Michelle Darnell, who had tested positive for the genetic predisposition and was weighing her options when the cancer struck.
It was “overwhelming” Brown said.
Her sister Buffy Perry, who sat next to Brown on the front porch recently, said her sisters’ experiences have prompted her to get routine checkups.
And she plans to get a mastectomy after Darnell recovers, she said, as tears formed in her eyes.
Brown said she worries about having passed on the genetic predisposition to her children, who cannot get tested until age 18.
But knowing of the possible predisposition early also allows for more options, she said.
Brown still deals with some lingering side effects from the chemotherapy, but overall, she said she feels great.
She recommended that women, regardless of their age, stay on top of their testing and doctors’ visits. And to stay positive.
“Being headstrong is probably 90 percent of the healing process,” she said.
Lives in: Edinburgh.
Works at: Danzer Veneer Americas.
Age at first breast cancer diagnosis: 24.
Age at second diagnosis: 35.
Family: Children Johnathan, 10; Mariah, 17.
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