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Life and Religion

Cancer survivors encourage by sharing their healing stories
Book of essays chronicle battle against disease
Published Thursday, August 6, 2020 4:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Cancer survivor Dr. Ophelia Garmon Brown shares her story among 21 essays in “The Unexpected Gift: Profiles in Courage from Cancer Survivorship.”

It can be hard to find encouragement when faced with your own mortality.

Navigating a pandemic alone is enough to stir up frustration. Add navigating cancer on top of that, and it can feel like too much to handle. Novant Health published “The Unexpected Gift: Profiles in Courage from Cancer Survivorship” as a means of encouragement for cancer patients and their loved ones. Proceeds from the book edited by Stuart Horwitz benefit the Novant Health Foundation.

In addition to featuring 21 first-person essays, the book includes a forward by Carl S. Armato, president and CEO of Novant Health. It also features an introduction by Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown, The Charlotte Post Foundation’s 2019 Luminary of the Year. In addition to her work as a physician and community advocate, Garmon-Brown knows the battle with cancer intimately. She was first treated for the disease in 2012 and continues the fight to this day.  Cancer often leaves you with more questions than answers. For Garmon-Brown, it left her feeling like she was dying in plain sight.

“There was a point in time where I was dying out loud, and it was just so devastating for me and for my family,” Garmon-Brown said. “For me I was dying out loud, because I’m such a public figure in Charlotte. One of the things that has helped me so much, even with this book, is refocusing on living out loud, no matter what the outcome will be.”

Garmon-Brown reads Father Brad Smith’s chapter in “The Unexpected Gift” often to remind herself about the difference between healing and curing.

“His title is, ‘Let happen what happens and see God in it,’” she said. “Father Brad has multiple myeloma. One of the things he talks about is the distinction between being healed and being cured. That is a distinction that I have made over the years when I was in private practice. What I would talk to people about is we can all be healed, but we won’t all be cured. That’s what Father Brad talks about as well. I go back to his chapter often, especially if I’m having a low time and I’ve had many of them, because it reminds me that I can continue to do my best, to live my life on purpose and know that the grace of God is on my life, and that’s a part of the healing, but I might not be cured.

“This cancer may indeed take my life. Something is going to take all of our lives. One of the things that is very clear is that we are all are going to die, but how are we going to do that? As I live, having the opportunity to know that I am healed, and for me there’s a God who says, ‘I’ve got you,’ and Father Brad’s chapter helps me, and it reminds me of that every time I read it.”

Another essay that stood out to Garmon-Brown was that of Dwight Williams, who lost his battle with leukemia but continues to make an impact even after his death.

“One of the things that really got me in this book in terms of even in our death we are still making a difference in life was Dwight, ‘D.J.’ Williams’ story that is actually being told by his mother,” Garmon-Brown said. “D.J. was a young man who had leukemia and he had it as a little boy. He was diagnosed at a very young age. He went through remissions and relapses. As he lived until his early 20s, he went to visit Historically Black Colleges and Universities to really be able to share with the young people on the campuses how important it is to be on the bone marrow registry, in particular as an African American. We tend to need organs, especially kidneys, more than most.

“Clearly, African Americans have had their reasons to not trust the medical establishment because often times they fear ‘if they need my kidney, they may turn off that respirator too quick because they want to give it to someone they love more than me.’ But Williams doing that made a difference and will make a difference even though he’s gone.”


Storytelling is the best way to share inspiration! It's what our organization is all about - A2ndAct.org. Congrats to Dr. Garmon-Brown for her survivorship and her work!
Posted on August 7, 2020

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