When Andree Brown agreed to appear on a new reality show about life inside one of New York City’s top hospitals, she’d just learned she had breast cancer.
Brown, a summer resident of Islesboro, was being examined at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital when a filmmaker with “NY Med,” an eight-part series by ABC News that debuted on July 10, asked to film her. At first, Brown, 57, told the woman with the camera to go away.
Then she reconsidered.
“I thought, is this about me or is this about women, and can I make a contribution by doing this?” Brown said.
The show, airing on Tuesdays throughout the summer, chronicles Brown’s fight against breast cancer following a routine mammogram and ultrasound that led to a mastectomy, chemotherapy and drug therapy. She will be featured in an episode airing at 10 p.m. Aug. 7.
Today, Brown’s feeling “dynamite” after finishing treatment, enjoying her eighteenth summer on Isleboro, cooking and getting her tennis game back.
“I’m hoping that a woman who has just discovered that she has breast cancer can look at it and say, ‘I’m going to have the same strength and I’m going to take care of myself’ … I feel like I made it into a really positive experience,” Brown said.
She credits top-notch care and catching the cancer early for her survival. Key to buoying her spirits throughout the ordeal was preserving most of her hair, made possible through a little-known therapy that cools the scalp during chemotherapy treatments, Brown said.
Three of her friends took turns sitting with Brown through her “cold cap” sessions, changing the cap every half hour to keep it chilled. Chemotherapy is hard enough for women without the added stress of hair loss, she said, recalling the stories of mothers she met who told of scaring their young children when they took off their hot, itchy wigs.
“I think that’s the one point that could change somebody’s experience,” Brown said. “If they had their hair, they’d have their dignity and their pride and also they wouldn’t be a red light to other people that they had cancer.”
Brown hopes to raise awareness about cold cap therapy, which some hospitals and oncologists don’t offer because of doubts about its efficacy or the inconvenience. Chemotherapy treatments take twice as long for patients using cold caps, and treatment centers also must install freezers.
“None of that to me is big enough to say no,” Brown said.
The reality show, which features celebrity heart surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz among the hospital’s top doctors, ultimately helped Brown to cope with her diagnosis. She’s become a much more open person, she said.
Brown plans to host a party to watch the Aug. 7 episode. Her son, James, will fly to Maine from San Francisco, where he attends college, to view it with her, and both will see his interview about his mother’s cancer battle for the first time.
Beating the disease came down to her outlook, Brown said. She walked four miles every day throughout her chemotherapy treatment even though all she wanted to do was sleep, she said.
“A lot of it is your attitude,” Brown said. “It’s about how you are going to look at it.”