Raritan Man Beats Pancreatic Cancer, Finds New Purpose
A Raritan resident finds new sense of purpose in cancer diagnosis.
In 2008, Raritan resident Bob Brown received a devastating diagnosis—doctors told him he had inoperable pancreatic cancer.
"That is a very bad diagnosis, and virtually terminal," he said. "There is no effective treatment for it."
But now, almost five years later, Brown is almost officially cancer-free.
"It's really a very unusual survival story," he said. "Mine was out of the ordinary."
"It means everything, when you get pushed to the edge of a cliff, and somehow get selected to be pulled back," he added. "You come back changed, and, quite honestly, changed for the better."
When Brown was first diagnosed, he was not eligible for surgery he said, and the death rate for those not eligible is 100 percent.
But Brown found his own miracle.
"I went to six months of treatment, with different chemotherapy and radiation trying to shrink the tumor before it spread to other organs," he said. "And after six months, I became eligible for surgery."
Brown endured the surgery at New York Columbia Presbyterian, and the tumor was removed in October 2008. With some cancer left in his body, Brown went through months of chemotherapy following the surgery.
"In June 2009, 18 months after my diagnosis, I was declared cancer-free," he said. "Since then, I get tested every three months, but I remain cancer-free."
With his new-found health, Brown was featured in television commercials for the hospital, and has found his own new lease on life, leaving a former job as a corporate CEO for a different calling.
Part of that calling was being part of Sunday's Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day at TD Bank Ballpark with the Somerset Patriots, where Brown threw out the first pitch.
"It's an awareness day, and the NJ affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network does quite a lot of events to raise awareness, and raises funds for research and support programs," he said. "Last year, more than 500 people attended [with the Somerset Patriots]."
Despite the number of people who attend the ballpark's awareness day, Brown said, there are usually only about half a dozen survivors.
"It's very sad and unfortunate," he said. "But being one of the survivors, it's really a big boost in morale to all of the people when they come across survivors. Being part of the group there and shaking hands and saying hello to all the people is what I do."
And moving from what one would consider the brink of death to a whole new lease on life has been a moving experience for Brown.
"I'm a better father, a better husband and a better person for it," he said. "There have been a million silver linings that I have gotten along the way that I would never expect, from reconnecting with old friends who came to my aid when I was sick, to just a better appreciation of what's really important in life."
For example, Brown said, he went from being a corporate CEO before his diagnosis to consulting for a consumer goods company and managing a business that provides seasonal entertainment.
That business, which he owns with his wife Linda, is called Santa Speaking.
"I had gotten through treatment and was in remission, and I was looking for a business to work at from home," he said. "This seemed so enjoyable, and the idea of trying to be in the corporate grind was so unappealing."
The business, Brown said, has been around since the early 2000s, and he has brought it to this area. Basically, he said, they employ professional voice actors, then parents place an order and fill out a detailed information form about their children.
"When 'Santa' calls, he incorporates all of the personal information, and it becomes a completely believable and totally magical experience for the kids," he said. "It is a kind of business that I could apply my business sense to, and at the same time bring joy to families and children."
And in addition to that, Brown said, he has begun writing.
Aside from writing a blog highlighting cancer survivor stories and discoveries in research, Brown is also the author of "The Ride of My Life, a Fight to Survive Pancreatic Cancer."
The book, Brown said, was originally written as a private piece for his children, who were ages 3 and 5 when he was diagnosed. It outlined his diagnosis and treatment.
"I wanted them to have something I wrote because I didn't think I would be around," he said. "I wasn't certain I would be fortunate to be here."
"I wrote it to tell the story to them in my own voice so they would know what our family had been through together," he added.
But soon, Brown said, the book took on a life of its own.
As he met with other people throughout his treatment, Brown said, they would hear his story and recommend he write a book.
"I would say that I am," he said with a laugh. "They would take the unfinished form, and one thing led to another and more people started contacting me and saying they had been affected by pancreatic cancer."
"They would say they had gotten my document and it meant the world to them because it taught them what to expect and gave them hope that someone could survive very bad odds," he added.
The book, Brown said, was published in November.
"There are virtually no books by pancreatic cancer survivors," he said. "If this can be one little way to help those people who are newly diagnosed and facing a tough diagnosis, perhaps that's my new path in life."
At this point, Brown said, his children have not read the entire book, although his older daughter, Taylor, remembers his diagnosis more vividly than his son, Colton, who was only 3 years old at the time.
"They both knew I had cancer and was working to have surgery to get the tumor out, but they didn't understand what the repercussions of that diagnosis were," he said. "I spend a tremendous amount of more time with them than I did before when I was traveling. It's a better life."
But the book, Brown said, is only a brief moment, an 18-month window, in his life. Now, he said, the entire diagnosis has become a five-year process.
"This year is very important because when a cancer patient survives five years, they are called cured," he said, adding that March 2013 will mark five years since his diagnosis. "We don't use that loosely for pancreatic cancer, but this year is drive for five."
Brown said he is considering a follow-up book, possibly to mark that occasion.
But at this point, Brown has also been involved with the Pancreatic Cancer Network, participating in many functions around the state and country.
One of the most important things he did, Brown said, was to travel to Washington D.C. recently to meet with legislators concerning new legislation for pancreatic cancer research.
If the legislation passes, Brown said, it will compel the National Cancer Institute to create a formal long-term strategic plan to promote research concerning pancreatic cancer. Similar laws have already been passed concerning alzheimers and autism.
"The federal government funds research through the institute, and they dole out money," he said. "Unfortunately, with pancreatic cancer being the fourth leading cause of deaths, it doesn't get as much money."
"We are asking for a law requiring there to be dedicated efforts to a strategy to increase research and bring more doctors into the field," he added.
Brown said he is happy to be part of these efforts, and he also does speaking engagements about his struggle and treatment.
"Cancer touches so many people, and it's hard to find someone who hasn't been affected in some way," he said. "I think the most important thing I'm learning is that no matter what type of cancer you have and what stage, there are people out there who have survived, and you need to believe you can survive too."
"A positive attitude is critical," he added. "I think the battle is as much mental and emotional as it is physical. You need to be prepared to fight it."