Being in the presence of Ruth Brown is like seeing a soft drink that has just been opened and poured over ice. Ruth is lively and sweet with a refreshing quality of unedited honesty. She has an energy about her that makes you think that, very much like a soft drink, she is a real treat.
I first met Ruth in Fall 2009 while we were both involved in a divorce recovery group. Admittedly, this is not the cheeriest of circumstances in which to meet someone; however, I liked Ruth right away. When Ruth had the floor, she had everyone’s attention. At 6’2”, she’s tall, beautiful (see the cover shot), and so well spoken (see her contribution in Family & Friends). During our meetings, she always showed great compassion to everyone. Ruth is so genuine. Whether sharing her own circumstances or advice she believes beneficial to others, Ruth definitely has a unique gift for communication. Ruth’s ability to be a compassionate, gifted communicator would eventually land her an invitation and ultimately a position as a facilitator to that same divorce group.
Ruth is someone you want to know. Being around her positive energy is infectious. During the time she participated in the divorce recovery group, Ruth also served as the director of a large social group. Professionally, she worked a contract assignment in internal auditing. She also worked out often, including bike rides in her busy schedule. Ruth barely made it to the group on time and often arrived without make-up and in workout clothes. She was always glowing and out of breath but very present. Ruth always seemed eager to fit one more thing into her busy day.
Ruth has the ability to take on a lot, something that would be put to the test more than once. Prior to her divorce, Ruth had a serious bike accident in which she broke her femur, fractured her knee, dislocated her shoulder and tore her rotator cuff. These injuries would require two surgeries, several months on crutches and nearly a year of rehabilitation. When the economy collapsed, Ruth found herself unemployed. The physical, financial and emotional hardships seemed more than any one person could handle. However, Ruth’s amazingly positive spirit continued to shine.
Ruth would need her spirit and hope; we all would. On May 5, 2010, Ruth was diagnosed with invasive lobular breast cancer. From the very beginning, Ruth handled the diagnosis with the same amazing spirit she handles all life circumstances. Ruth kept us family and friends informed by sharing every detail of her journey. Everything she shared was unedited and presented in her usual inclusive manner. Regardless of what we thought we knew about cancer, Ruth’s accounts of her diagnosis and treatment far exceeded anything we knew, or thought we knew, about cancer. Despite her diagnosis, Ruth took time to educate us and include us on her journey from diagnosis through survivorship.
Ruth continued to direct and plan events for her social group for as long as she could. She maintained her workout schedule, socialized with friends and dated potential suitors. Due in large part to the divorce and the cancer diagnosis, Ruth found herself living at home with her mother. She was now uninsured and unemployed. The one thing Ruth did have was plenty of people who cared about her. Throughout the entire ordeal, Ruth nurtured new friendships and worked to maintain existing ones. Ruth did all this with an unbelievable amount of honesty and courage that illustrate her very essence.
One of the many heart-warming and humorous updates Ruth sent us concerns her determination to save her nipple, as the general census didn’t believe it possible. There was no guarantee the nipple would survive the mastectomy, and if it did, her surgeon didn’t know where to place it or if it would receive a viable blood supply to survive. Additionally, the possibility of chemotherapy and radiation existed, further lessening the nipple’s chance of survival. However, Ruth was single, dating and very determined to find love again. The loss of the breast, chemotherapy and radiation was a lot to handle.
Ruth had ability to take on big challenges, and she certainly was not going to relent — at least not without a fight. This challenge involved a lot of uncertainties. If the nipple survived one stage of treatment, would it survive the next? In a clear and direct manner, Ruth took things one step at a time. If she was going to lose her nipple, she would be okay. What she could not do was give up without a fight. She did all she could to convince her surgeon that regardless of the final outcome, she wanted him to make the effort to save her nipple during the initial mastectomy.
The following is an excerpt from one of Ruth’s updates that demonstrates her humor and her heart:
“Finally, from a reconstructive perspective, if at all possible, I would like to keep my nipple. That may or may not be possible & he says they may have difficulty getting it in the right shape/location. It’s hard to imagine we can put a man on the Moon, a rover on Mars, use a computer software program to figure out how much wind velocity a bridge can withstand, but they can’t use similar software to figure out where a nipple goes? It’s beyond me!”
In another update, Ruth continues:
“I want to survive, but I also want quality of life. For me, that includes not only a life without lymphodema, but it also includes building the best breast I can for myself. I’m still a young woman with hopes of one day remarrying & I’d like to feel as normal & healthy & vibrant & sexy as I can in that regard. I don’t want to take any undue risk with my health, but I also don’t want to unnecessarily over treat it as everything they do to your body to rid it of cancer creates or exposes you to new risk.”
On June 29, 2010, Ruth’s surgeon performed a nipple-sparing mastectomy. A mutual friend and I went to visit Ruth in the hospital after surgery. We had to wade through visitors to get in to see her. Ruth graciously greeted us and was wearing beautiful and sexy lingerie. Ruth appeared in good spirits and was happy to receive visitors. In her typical inclusive and informative fashion, Ruth asked us if we wanted to see her breast. The male friend that came with me bashfully declined, but I didn’t. Ruth had fought hard to save her nipple, and I wanted to see how it fared. It was such a triumph. Ruth and her nipple looked beautiful.
In the weeks and months that followed, Ruth had chemotherapy and radiation and continues to undergo hormone therapy. She lost her hair, eyebrows and eyelashes but not her nipple. She also never lost her amazing spirit. Ruth continues to include us on her journey, educating and informing us about all aspects of treatment and recovery. She shares her experiences with financial hardships, the pros and cons of further treatment options, thoughts on survivorship, and even her own mortality. The journey has not been an easy one, and I am sure it is very lonely at times. However, Ruth gives such a genuine, unedited honesty to us that she makes it easier on her family and friends. Ruth exemplifies true beauty, courage and grace in everything she does.
As of the surgery date, Ruth is cancer free. She has returned to work as an internal auditing contractor. She is happy, has found lasting love, and is getting back to regular workouts, meeting new people, and writing inspiring messages for other cancer patients. She also serves as a contributor for Suite HOPE. While Ruth still awaits reconstruction on her breast, I am happy to report the reconstruction of her life is going nicely.