On December 24th 2013, my beautiful friend Brandy Fransen posted the most amazing Facebook status I had ever seen. It was bold, fearless and inspiring; a concise look into her life for the past year simultaneously revealing all her trials and her triumphs; causing a big stir on her Facebook page.
Here it is:
Year in Review Checklist:
Survive a head-on collision = check
Beat Cancer = CHECK
Find out I have the best friends in the world = check
Tell my family I love them = check
Tell my friends I love them = check
Have my heart grow bigger = check
Have my faith grow stronger = check
Help lead a group of 35 uni reps through Latin America without succumbing to "the decay" = check
Participate in a service project = check
Swim in the ocean under the stars = check
Go to the top of a lighthouse = check
Laugh more = check
Dance more = check
Be grateful for everyday= check
Forgive more = check
Fall in love = check
Mourn a broken heart = check
Take a leap = check
Change jobs = check
Sell my condo = check
Get out of debt = check
Move to another state = check
Realize I am braver than I ever thought possible and that I am loved = check
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Everyone! Much love to you! Don't forget to LIVE!!!
Brandy Fransen is a true warrior, survivor and champion. Many of us would be afraid to share what we had been through, but as you can see Brandy's list was courageous, ambitious, open and a very encouraging read on Christmas Eve.
I met Brandy over ten years ago when I was 17 years old. She was representing the Savannah College of Art and Design at an International College Fair in Kingston, Jamaica. This was the first time I heard about my now Alma Mater. She helped me through the application process and guided me towards receiving two scholarships from the institution.
Brandy's story of her battle with cancer is somewhat bizarre but as with any story of survival it is also admirable and heroic. In the spring of 2011, Brandy had a calcification removed from her right breast. The following year, during her annual exam in October 2012 she complained to her OBGYN of some pain and a "bump" on her upper left breast tissue. Her doctor recommended supplements as she thought it was nothing more than a fibrous tissue, nothing to be concerned about.
It was a freak accident in Atlanta, Ga on Jan. 7th 2013 that would reveal the cancer. An elderly gentleman was driving the wrong way on the highway, Brandy pulled over to avoid him but he was unable to avoid hitting her as he dodged oncoming traffic.
The car was totaled, but the gentleman and Brandy managed to walk away seemingly unharmed, she with nothing but a sore chest caused by the seatbelt and airbags. She thought nothing of it until a friend called and told her she needed to go see a doctor and threatened to call her every hour until she did. The threat worked and this visit to a general practitioner would mark the beginning of Brandy's battle with cancer.
Like Angelina Jolie; Brandy possesses the BRCA1 Genetic Mutation, which she inherited from her Grandmother who died some time before of ovarian cancer. She was sent to do a biopsy, which revealed three tumors in her left breast. Upon diagnosis she reflected on her initial anger with the old man who hit her car as he repeatedly asked her if she was religious and told her "everything happens for a reason." She blew him off with a "Jesus and I are good friends" in hopes he would stop pestering her; this was clearly not the time for a conversion talk. She had no idea she would be looking back at the situation as somewhat of a 'divine intervention.'
FIGHT LIKE A GIRL
Brandy was diagnosed with breast cancer on Jan. 18th and 12 days later she underwent a lumpectomy to remove the tumor. She then underwent four rounds of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation treatment.
Fighting for your life is both a mental and physical battle; the experience attacks your sense of self and after losing all her hair and eyebrows in the process; Brandy began to question her beauty. But she was determined not to let this get the best of her, she had to stay strong for her friends and family and they did the same for her. She didn't want to feel like a victim, she wanted to be empowered and bravely shared her experience with cancer as the treatment process went along. Soon after posting a profile pic with the words 'Fight Like A Girl', friends and family from around the world started sending Brandy fan mail -- the 'Fight Like A Girl Brandy' banner made it's way across the globe with supporters sending her pictures with groups of people posing with the banner in various locations.
When you are dealing with circumstances as severe as a battle with cancer, you need all the support you can get. Falling in love with herself became an important part of restoring her confidence and Brandy worked with a life coach who helped her develop and work through that nice list of accomplishments you read earlier.
I was finally able to catch up with Brandy recently as she's been very busy living her awesome new life. This just so happened to be the day before she was leaving for French Polynesia for what she dubbed 'A Celebration of Life Trip.' It's something she has been planning since she was a little girl and watched the movie South Pacific with her Grandmother, the same Grandmother who died of ovarian cancer. This trip was to be a fulfillment of her newly found determination to live life to the fullest and stop procrastinating on her dreams. A 'guilty pleasure' shared by most.
What I got from my conversation with Brandy is that staring death in the face changes your entire perspective on life, "When you finally realize that everyday is truly a gift you start to live life differently." Before cancer, Brandy led a healthy lifestyle, she ate right and exercised regularly and tried to do right by others. But if she had to justify why she was put in this position she would tell you, "I never asked "Why me?" It's just part of the journey and maybe it's a call to lean more on God and on others for support." Now, everyday Brandy wakes up and finds something to be thankful for, she's intent on living a wholesome and positive life as she rightly said, "It's a shame that more people aren't awake -- there is so much to be thankful for."
BRCA 1 is not something you can really remove from your body and as such she faces the possibility that the cancer will return at anytime. This is why Angelina opted to have her breasts removed before any evidence of cancer, but Brandy didn't go that route. Most of us will never understand what Brandy has been through and continues to go through, the best way to learn is through experience, but none of us wish to live through what Brandy has lived through.
Just before we hung up Brandy shared a positive quote from Ugandan hip-hop artiste Eddy Kenzo; "I think that we are like stars. Something happens to burst us open; but when we burst open and think we are dying; we're actually turning into a supernova. And then when we look at ourselves again, we see that we're suddenly more beautiful than we ever were before."
Talking to Brandy is a breath of fresh air, motivation and encouragement. She is so genuine, positive and excited about life, to an extent that I think is only achieved when one faces some extreme challenge, which causes them to really wake up and see the bigger picture. I think we are often given tests into life just so we can see how strong we are. Brandy now knows she's a powerful being, she is sure about herself, she knows herself. We should all try to learn from people like Brandy, the supernovas of our world. Brandy asked me to leave you all with one message she had posted on Facebook the day we spoke, "Get out there people, I want to see you be BRAVE!" Now go be brave!
Meet Brandy, watch this brief documentary by Omar Richardson Designs.