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Surviving and thriving

Sabrina Brown was 36-years-old when she found four tumors on one of her breasts. It was three more years of doctor visits before the tumors were removed and Brown got confirmation that she had breast cancer.

In 2011, Brown was motivated by the cancer treatments she was under going to sponsor the first “Paint the Town Pink” walk in Poplarville.

“I wanted to do something to try to prevent people from going through what I went through, and so we did a walk,” she said.

Although October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, every day is breast cancer awareness day to Brown, because of how profoundly it has impacted her life.

“I was 36 when I first found my tumors, but we didn’t know they were tumors at that time. I immediately went to my doctor because I knew something wasn’t right,” said Brown.

Brown saw five doctors in three years, trying to find out what was going on with her body.

“They were telling me it was from caffeine, because I didn’t have any characteristics. I wasn’t overweight, I didn’t drink, no family history, none of the criteria that normally someone with breast cancer would have.”

On Dec. 17, 2010, Brown had an abnormal mammogram that detected a change in the tumors. She decided she was tired of the cycle of doctor visits and wanted to get to the bottom of what was going on with her body. So she told her doctors that she wanted the tumors out. The tumors were removed March 8, 2011.

“Two days later they called me and told me they were all four cancer,” said Brown.

Brown got copies of all of her records and took a binder with her test results to eight doctors over two weeks as she searched for a team to treat her.

“My husband, the first person that he called, he lost his wife to breast cancer and that was one of the first things of advice he told us, was to take our time and choose the doctors that we want on our team, because it takes a team, and (pick) who you wanted to still be seeing 10 years down the road.”

Brown’s husband advocated for her at the doctors appointments. He wrote out questions ahead of time that he wanted to ask at appointments and researched treatment options and ways to help empower Sabrina.

“He was pretty much that advocate for me because I would pretty much sit there, because it was almost like I was in shock,” said Brown.

Brown used her gut to choose doctors she trusted.

“At the time, I was angry at doctors, so they had to really, really shine for me to like them. I had to be comfortable.”

The cancer had moved to her lymph nodes, and Brown underwent multiple surgeries, including a double mastectomy. She also had chemotherapy radiation and took a chemo pill for seven years.

“I was always able to keep a positive outlook and thank God for every situation I was in,” said Brown.

She took nine months off of work while going through treatments.

“When I was losing my hair, I cut it myself because my husband had read that it’s sort of empowering because the cancer is not taking it. You’re making a choice. It hurt to fall out. That sounds crazy, but it did.”

Her husband also suggested she have a wig made before she started losing her hair so that the color would match. The wig was uncomfortable, so she saved it to wear at church services. On other public outings she’d cover her head in other ways, such as with turbans her mother made for her.

“I hated that wig. My boys did not want anyone to see me without something on my head, because that was the only time that I looked sick.”

Throughout her treatments, Brown went through many ups and downs.

“I had more problems with the reconstructive than I did with anything else and I guess that’s just one of those things that you have to endure.”

Her body rejected her breast implants, and the day after her drains were removed, which happened to fall on Mother’s Day, she found herself back in the operating room to remove them.

“That was the one time I did cry, because I wanted to be at home with my boys.”

Throughout her journey with cancer, Brown has tried to raise awareness and support others. Paint the Town Pink began in 2011 and the funds raised the first year were donated to the American Cancer Society. Then organizers began giving money to local breast cancer patients to use for whatever expenses they needed help with. Three years ago, the Poplarville Rotary Club, Pearl River County Hospital and Nursing Home, the Women’s Club of Poplarville and the PRCC Wellness Center all joined forces to hold the event. 

In 2019, Paint the Town Pink raised close to $10,000 to help locals battling breast cancer. Although COVID-19 means there will be no in-person “Paint the Town Pink” event this year, organizers are still fundraising through an online auction that will close at 4 p.m. on Oct. 31.

Brown encourages the women in her life to get their mammograms and be proactive about their own health.

“You know your body more than anybody else and if you know something’s not right or something seems a little off, go get it checked.”

As for Brown, she is cancer free. She still gets annual screenings, but her last surgery was in 2015. She’s been letting her hair grow out and it’s almost reached the length it was before she began cancer treatment.