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Widow, cancer survivor turns tragedy to hope

Emma Brown knows something about loss.

And pain.

And loneliness.

She also knows a little about taking the bad in life and redirecting it, finding purpose, searching for a way to use what she’s experienced to help others.

That is what her new book, “When The Widow Prays,” is about — chronicling the struggles and loss she has traversed over the past three years, and how she has come out on the other side, strong and ready to help others.

Brown said her trials began in 2019, when during a routine check-up, her doctor found that her white blood count was elevated.

“She asked if I was feeling okay, I said ‘Yeah, I feel fine.’ She told me there was something off on my blood test.” After some additional testing, nothing turned up, and Brown said her doctor chalked it up to a faulty blood test reading.

While the doctor continued monitoring her, and finding her white cell count elevated again on later tests, Brown said little changed in her life until February 2020.

That was just weeks after a strange new virus had begun spreading around the world, and just weeks before the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, with sweeping social changes about to alter life in America with pandemic rules aimed at slowing the spread of the disease.

Brown said she began experiencing extreme fatigue, soon followed by sharp, deep abdomen pains and nausea. On a Sunday in February she and her husband, Clyde, were preparing to attend their church’s 46th anniversary service when the nausea and pain became too intense. They stopped by a drug store to pick up a prescription, then soldiered on to the service, but her condition worsened, and she ended up in the hospital that afternoon. Not long afterward, she was transferred to a Forsyth hospital where doctors revealed she was suffering an intestinal blockage requiring immediate surgery to save her life.

She made it through the surgery only to wake to find an entire oncology team awaiting her. They told Brown she had Stage 4 non-Hodgins Lymphoma Type B, which had spread to most of her vital organs. She knew from watching her dad die of colon cancer, and her sister succumb to lung cancer, that Stage 4 was serious.

By the time she recovered from her surgery, which took about a month, her oncologist laid out the treatment path which lay before her — six rounds of outpatient chemo, three rounds of inpatient treatment, followed by radiation.

Those treatments were lonely. By this time, COVID restrictions prohibited anyone from being with her during those treatments. Because drugs being used were particularly strong — she says in her book medical professionals there called it the “red devil” — that the drug was administered slowly, over seven hours.

“I was the first one in the chemo room, last one to leave,” she said of those treatments. “They (family) drop you off, they can’t come in with you, you’re doing through this all by yourself.”

By her second treatment, Brown had severe complications, which landed her another week-long hospital stay, and almost constant urinary tract infections between successive treatments. Later, after another treatment, that deep, sharp abdomen pain returned, causing another emergency hospital visit and a battery of tests.

“I was to the point, I told my husband, just take me to hospice, I can’t deal with this pain anymore,” she said recently. “They couldn’t find out what was going on with me.”

Eventually, a scan revealed another blockage, which meant another operation, followed by a dangerous break in cancer treatments while her body healed again.

Soon enough, she was back to chemo, followed by 28 days of radiation.

After a long, arduous year, December rolled around and after concluding all of her treatments, surviving the surgeries and the side-effects of chemo and radiation, doctors gave her good new — the cancer was almost entirely gone, confined to two small places, and they had hopes of eventually eradicating the disease.

On Dec. 14, her husband, Clyde, came home from work early, saying he felt sick. Brown said that was highly unusual for him — and he spent most of the next two days in bed, learning on that second day he had COVID.

While Brown and her husband attempted to stay isolated from one another, she contracted the virus as well, and over the next week-and-a-half battled the virus while trying to carry on and have a nice Christmas, celebrating that she was nearly at the finish line in defeating her cancer.

Instead, the two of them grew worse with the virus, and she woke up on Dec. 26 to paramedics in her house, taking her by ambulance to the hospital, while another ambulance transported her husband there.

At the hospital, she learned Clyde Brown had not made it, becoming one of what would eventually be more than 400 Surry County residents who succumbed to the virus.

She said after making funeral arrangements, returning home was the start of one of the most difficult periods of her life.

“I had to go home alone, because I had COVID, no one could be with me. It was a really dark period, a hard time,” she said.

Even after the cancer was in remission, when she was able to return to the workforce and normal social life, Brown said she struggled.

“It was a time of depression, I suffered from depression, I was on medication. Even my family didn’t know until I wrote this book — times I didn’t want to go home, times when I went home, I just sat in the driveway, because I didn’t want to go in that house alone. There were days where I just couldn’t get up, I just lay in the bed.”

Slowly, over this period, Brown said she felt God changing her, changing her prayer life.

“God was focusing my prayers no longer on myself but on different situations, different things. There’s more to pray for, there are people who need prayer, there are places that need prayer, there are people hurting over situations.”

God changed more than her prayer life, though. Over the past year she has been writing her book, “When The Widow Prayed.” The publication is a more in-depth look at her illness, the loss of her husband, a little bit about Brown’s history and her present ministry, along with a chronological account of her diagnosis, treatment, and subsequent return to health. It also includes a number of inspirational quotes, Bible verses, and details of her hope to use her travails as a way to help others.

Brown has started a food ministry for those in need, and is looking to be a confidant and resource for others going through similar troubles.

“This book…what I’m trying to do, is to help others. Reaching out to help others, especially widows and cancer patients. That’s my platform, that’s what I’ve been through. I can help people who have gone through cancer, I can help widows who have lost their husbands, because I’ve been there. No one can tell you want you feel, how to move forward, unless they’ve walked in your shoes.”

Brown, who serves as assistant pastor at The House of God-Keith Dominion, will be holding a book signing on Sunday, March 26 at Holiday Inn Express on Route 601, from 2 to 4:30 p.m.



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