Graduation feature: Cancer battle helps shape UCCS graduate

December 15, 2011
Tom Hutton, (719) 255-3439, (719) 351-6519, thutton@uccs.edu

COLORADO SPRINGS,Colo.– Fourteen years ago, Emily Brown was not thinking about graduating from college or what she wanted to do with her life.

Emily Brown, left, with her mother, Jeanette

Diagnosed with cancer at age 11, Brown spent much of her childhood dealing with grown up challenges such as radiation treatments, chemotherapy, surgeries, and even an experimental treatment first used on dogs.

Now 25, Brown will take her place Friday among about 400 other December graduates of the University of Colorado Colorado Springs at the Colorado Springs World Arena. She will receive a bachelor’s degree cum laude (with honors) in English with a concentration on professional and technical writing along with a minor in American Sign Language.

Following graduation, Brown will work for a small publishing firm, utilizing the skills in writing, editing and literature she learned at UCCS. She will also continue to share her perspective as a cancer survivor.

Brown’s fight with cancer began when she could not get out of her bathtub. The cause was diagnosed later as a tumor around her ribs and spine. On Jan. 9, 1997, her diagnosis was official — osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that is most common in children and young adults. Her CU Cancer Center doctors exhausted traditional treatments before recommending an experimental process being used at the Colorado State University Animal Cancer Center. Steve Withrow served as associate director of the center and as an investigator at the CU Cancer Center.

“He (Withrow) knew of a study for dogs that involved implanting seeds near the tumor and the cancer drug MTPPE at the same time,” Brown said. “With the MTPPE, it was the only drug that would have remained in my system during the three months I was off treatment. They, along with myself, believe that is the treatment that worked.”

Two years after successfully undergoing the treatment, Brown reconnected with Withrow at a summer camp for children fighting cancer. There, Brown finally began to understand the story behind her own story. Last year, Brown completed an internship for the CSU Animal Cancer Center, using her writing skills to edit website content and to complete articles about the center’s work.

“The greatest part of collaboration, in terms of treatment, is that the possibilities and impact are going to be so much greater than those made by an isolated group of people working in one place,” Brown said. “Without collaboration between doctors and researchers, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Brown is excited about receiving her diploma and beginning a new job. She dreams of writing a book about her experiences, including her interaction with UCCS faculty.

“Without the inspiration and commitment of the faculty and staff, I would not be receiving my undergraduate degree,” Brown said “Many people only think of how hard I have worked the past five years, and I have,” Brown said. “What many don’t understand, though, is how the commitment and personal interest of the professors and instructors helped me. From the time they took to help explain something from a lecture, to understanding that my health is not that of a typical 20-something, the UCCS professors and instructors one by one supported me in my goals. In my mind, it’s only appropriate that they take part in the graduation ceremony along with the many people who have supported me behind the scenes like my parents, friends, nurses, and doctors.”

Brown will receive her diploma Friday from Joan Ray, professor, English. Brown and Ray developed a friendship built on a mutual understanding of the effects of cancer and pulmonary disease as well as a love of author Jane Austen. In addition, more than 30 family members, friends, nurses and doctors will attend the ceremony and applaud Brown’s achievement.

“My cancer shaped everything about the person I am today,” she said. “I can’t separate my having cancer and my life today – they are one and the same. I came out of cancer being grateful for everything I have, and that makes events like graduating from college and moving forward with life that much sweeter.”

UCCS, located on Austin Bluffs Parkway in Colorado Springs, is one of the fastest growing universities in the nation. The University offers 36 bachelor’s degrees, 19 master’s, and five doctoral degrees. The campus enrolls about 9,300 students annually.