Victory Bird: A Cancer Recovery Story (Part 1 – The Beginning)

Beauty in the form of Brooke

Beauty in the form of Brooke

I met Brooke my Junior year in college. We were both students working at the same bar in between our studies. To be honest, I was skeptical about her at first. I mean, who is that happy all the time?! Surely there was something wrong with her… but no. Brooke wasn’t faking her carefree demeanor. She just made the choice to be happy, regardless of circumstance. Just because everything isn’t perfect, doesn’t mean you have to let it bring you down. She is the one who taught me how to make that daily choice – the choice to be happy.

On one of our road trips - this one was in Tennessee. Not much has changed!

On one of our road trips – this one was in Tennessee. Not much has changed!

Brooke and I at the Waco zoo. We never could resist a good cheesy picture

Brooke and I at the Waco zoo. We never could resist a good cheesy picture

We aren’t so different now that we are older, but maybe we were a little more “wild”, and just a little more silly back then. We went out and met interesting new people, we stayed in and watched goofy movies, we took awesome road trips and did fun art projects. We were never bored, and we were never boring.

We graduated college and moved on to other things and to different places, but continued to stay in touch and visit each other at every opportunity.

Visiting Brooke when she lived in Boston

Visiting Brooke when she lived in Boston

The best thing about Brooke is that she doesn’t have to rely on small talk. If you know her at all you know that she skips the weather talk and goes right to the heart of it all. We could go a year without seeing each other, finally get together, and within minutes jump to discussions about our connection to humanity, our purpose in life and the existence of God. If you don’t want to dig deep, don’t talk to Brooke.

One drawback of Brooke’s beauty and altruistic nature is that occasionally people discount the beauty of her Self and attempt to take advantage. I found myself pulling her out of situations more than once (she did the same for me many times as well, but that’s a whole different blog post). In a way I feel like the lesson of loving with authority has been her purpose in this world, because she has been tested on this one thing again and again. I saw her go through some challenging situations but she came out on top time after time. She never stopped believing that something better was around the corner, always keeping faith. Through the years I have watched her learn how to stand up for herself – bully after bully – and refuse to be a doormat, all while maintaining a smile.
Then, when it seemed she had finally perfected the craft of gentle strength, came the biggest bully we never expected. Cancer, in the form of a brain tumor.

Brooke has spent a lot of time in this room, healing.

Brooke has spent a lot of time in this room, healing.

It still seems surreal to even say it. When I found out I remember being completely in denial, thinking that this was temporary. This was no big deal – She’d take some medicine and be fine. I spoke with her on the phone and her candid honesty hit me hard as she told me that she was supported, but afraid. My heart sank when her mom described the seizure, the concussion and the MRI that identified the mass in her brain. The plan was to take a biopsy the next day. I gathered my things quickly, left the kids with my husband, picked up a few of our mutual friends and headed up to the hospital to meet her in the hospital chapel.

When I got there I was amazed at the community that surrounded her. Her mom had come immediately and was there by her side. A good number of friends from her church were there. The addition of myself and those with me made the crowd seem complete. We sang, we prayed, and we took communion together. The tiny St. David’s Chapel shimmered with orange and purple light as the sun set. Everyone’s faces were smeared with tears. Tears of sadness, love and hope. Seeing Brooke so vulnerable in that moment, taking in every bit of positivity that she could, I wanted to take her in my arms. I wanted to hold her like I hold my babies. I wanted to kiss her head so she would leap from my lap with the power of kisses that heal children. Kisses might not work for brain tumors, but it didn’t stop me from trying. When there was a call to lay hands on her I was there immediately. I could see her comfort in that moment, with so many people pouring every ounce of their energy onto her. I knew doubts might haunt her mind on this journey of recovery, but we were doing good work that evening. The positive power of prayer gave her the light to get through the darkness.

Photo credit to Tim Waters

Photo credit to Tim Waters

That day Brooke’s Face”Brooke” Victory Page blew up with pictures, prayers, bible verses and encouraging images. The outpouring of love was abundant and the group quickly grew to over six hundred members. Six hundred people sharing, loving, praying. Hundreds of strangers sharing the one thing they had in common – they wanted Brooke to heal and feel loved.

The next day she underwent brain surgery as her doctors biopsied the tumor that, if removed, could have rendered her immobile on the left side. As Brooke learned to walk all over again in physical therapy, the outcome started to seem hopeful. The results came back as a low-grade Glioma. Malignant, but slow growing with a good chance of responding well to treatment. Her doctors decided that radiation would be the best approach.

Brooke and her many supporters at the Brain Power 5K

Brooke and her many supporters at the Brain Power 5K

Brooke "runs" the Brain Power 5K Photo Credit: Lisa Hackbarth

Brooke “runs” the Brain Power 5K Photo Credit: Lisa Hackbarth

I went to visit Brooke about a week after the biopsy. She was moving slow, but in good spirits. I arrived just after she had finally been able to bathe and I offered to comb her now clean hair for her. It was therapeutic and calming running that comb through her long, thick hair. I gingerly made my way around the incision, careful not to snag the glue that held the outer layer of her tender skin together. I remember thinking that if love were medicine she would surely be cured. It did not occur to me that it might be a long time until I would be able touch her lustrous locks of hair again.

I don’t really subscribe to the belief that “everything happens for a reason” but I can’t help but think that all of the trials in her life seemed to be training her for this. Brooke is fighting back, and she isn’t giving up. Any inkling of a “doormat” is gone. She has grown into a fully fledged warrior; a Victory Bird.

And we all know: Love wins.

Brooke's signature smile

Brooke’s signature smile

Check in for “Part 2: Making Hair Irrelevant” next week.
To learn more about the Brain Power 5K:


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