Bob Brown is an inspirational speaker and the author of “The Ride Of My Life”, the widely acclaimed memoir of his journey with pancreatic cancer.
Being diagnosed with cancer is a devastating and lonely moment. No matter how sizable your support team, or who is in the room with you at the time, when the Doctor says “You have stage 3 inoperable pancreatic cancer,” you alone are forced to absorb that most difficult news. My wife Linda was with me that fateful day in March 2008, and considering the immediate and overwhelming fog that overtook my brain, I was lucky to have her to physically compose and escort me back to our home. During that ride in the car, my mind searched for the beginnings of a plan. I knew that we would need to do a lot of research, reach out to a bucket load of doctors, and look for support wherever we could find it. As I sat in the car watching the road go by, I had no idea who Tony Martell was….but he knew me.
The doctors explained that my treatment options were few, the success rate even less and that the short term prognosis was very grim. They wouldn’t even discuss the long term anything. They created a plan to try and shrink the tumor before it spread. They hoped to get me to an operable status so that the toxic villain could be cut from my body. The treatments called for chemotherapy, to be followed up with radiation supplemented with additional chemo. I was determined and my spirits were high. Those of my doctors were anything but. Clearly this was going to be a long shot, against the cancer with the lowest survival rate. Looking forward even a little bit meant I was moving into miracle territory. I didn’t know a whole lot about miracles….but Tony Martell had seen quite a few of them.
I began the treatments with a fierce positive attitude, determined that I would beat the odds. I prepared for the side effects which I was told would be bad. That wasn’t entirely true, as they were actually much worse. As the treatments extended into weeks and then months, I was rendered pretty much useless. I made it to the treatments, but spent the remainder of time in bed totally exhausted. Tony Martell spent those months just as he had most of the past 30+ years, tirelessly leading an organization dedicated to raising funds and supporting research to rid the world of leukemia, AIDS, and all types of cancer.
Well the treatments didn’t work. The tumor shrunk only a little bit, and my oncologist and surgeon delivered the bleak news: “There’s nothing more we can do for you.” My wife and I could not accept that, and we searched far and wide for other opinions. We found a surgeon at Columbia/New York Presbyterian Hospital who saw my case differently and was willing to expand the boundaries of what was normally attempted. If I was willing to accept the elevated risks of this surgery, then yes, he was willing to try. I agreed, and he performed a fourteen hour “whipple” surgery that saved my life. Today, five years after diagnosis, I am one of the few…a long term survivor of pancreatic cancer.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Columbia/NYP is one of the hospitals receiving funding from the T.J. Martell Foundation to advance innovative research and treatments. Nor should it come as a surprise that I was helped by a foundation with which I had had no previous contact. For as a cancer patient in need of the best innovative care, The T.J. Martell Foundation knew me.
When I was asked to speak at the Annual Gala in New York last year, it was my opportunity to give back to Mr. Martell and show my gratitude for everything he does. I approached him, stuck out my hand and introduced myself. He looked at me with a big smile and said “Hi Bob Brown, I know all about your story; you’re one of the luckiest guys in the world. You beat pancreatic cancer.”
Like I said, I didn’t know Tony Martell, but he sure knew me.