Riff Raff: The lucky ones

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 669 views 

Sadness about the loss of such positive energy in this troubled world is natural but please do not be sad for the close friends and family of Patricia Brown, for we are the fortunate who had moments within her orbit.

We lost Patricia this past week. She fought like hell against this second battle with breast cancer.

It was around June 2012 that the cancer returned. She was standing near my desk, tears in her eyes. The tumor markers. They were high. Cancer was back. Before I could get to my feet, she wiped her eyes, issued several sentences about devising a game plan for the upcoming cancer battle, turned on her heels, and was out the door. She was on the phone as she was backing her little red car out of the parking lot. I stood there, wiping my eyes.

A game plan she did devise. It included being an inspiration to others with cancer. She challenged the system at MD Anderson. Top-notch cancer researchers, physicians and cancer treatment techs found themselves being interrogated by a blue-eyed, blonde, Southern talking beauty – often wearing her pink camouflage cancer battle uniform – who knew more about what her body needed than they did. That’s no shit. At least twice, her knowledge of available options and her body chemistry resulted in a changed treatment profile.

The public relations folks at MD Anderson damn near fell all over themselves to develop a blog for Patricia. Novartis, one of the world’s largest drug companies, solicited her as a public speaker. A prominent cancer doctor who typically didn’t get involved in the lives of patients, had Patricia and her friends to private dinners in his Houston home. The same doctor attended the marriage of Patricia’s daughter, Amanda Brown.

Her “Tick Tock” blog on The City Wire attracted readers from around the world. Thousands of people struggling with cancer found inspiration in her story, her response to cancer, and in her passionate words of encouragement. Her primary message was that if you have cancer, you’d better bone up on the issue, because a best and most successful advocate for a cancer patient is the cancer patient armed with as much knowledge as possible. Cancer patients, she would repeatedly note, need to know they are in charge, not the doctors, the lab folks, the nurses, or the medical system.

She, more than any of us, knew time wasn’t on her side; that her type of cancer would likely move faster than ongoing drug trials. But she knew how to work the system. There were several setbacks in the first year. But she would pull through them, and even show signs of improvement. I began to call her the “MacGyver” of cancer, repeatedly besting what were seemingly insurmountable odds.

After three years of beating the odds, we became spoiled by her ability to Hail Mary a win over cancer at the end of each fourth quarter. It was a football game that broke my spoilage. Patricia had a party at her house for the recent Arkansas-Ole Miss game. Her daughter is an Ole Miss graduate. Her daughter’s husband is a UA grad. The Hogs would hold on by four points. But it was clear Patricia was holding on by just a few weeks – less than five weeks, we would eventually learn.

That was one of many things I learned from Patricia. To be sure, she was the fuel for my simpleton vision of a new media company. The City Wire, founded in 2008, struggled to gain ground. It exploded after Patricia arrived, and is now a statewide news operation with more than 20 employees and freelancers.

Emotions have been many and unpleasant following her death; the most difficult being anger; anger in knowing that millions of people who contribute nothing to society live in good health. But solace would emerge in realizing the odds of being in her world.

It’s been many years since studying the words of evolutionary biologist and famed author Richard Dawkins. Patricia’s passing reminded me of a popular quote from Dawkins about the incredible odds of us even being here to love and live and mourn. Dawkins wrote: “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”

Let’s wipe our eyes. Let’s turn on our heels. Let’s go live large.

We who had front row seats to the life of Patricia Brown should celebrate the show, and be grateful about the “stupefying odds” that provided us the ticket.