BY ASHLEY DICKSON, utahvalley360.com
One local student uses education as his cancer relief
Steve Brown isn’t your average 21-year-old college student. He doesn’t waste time watching television or playing video games. And he actually enjoys going to classes, studying and working toward a degree in physics.
He’s had a mature outlook since his youth. He started SteveSystems, a computer consulting firm, before the age of 10. In high school his perfect GPA and impressive SAT and ACT scores earned scholarships to MIT, Stanford and BYU. And he’s well-rounded — swimming, skiing, running and backpacking are just a few on a long list of hobbies.
Though the accomplishments have come naturally, they haven’t come easily — especially after Steve was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a type of bone cancer, as a high school junior in Vermont.
“If I can teach people one thing about this, it’s that cancer does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere,” he says. “I was a very healthy teenager, and it still hit me.”
After a standardized regimen of chemotherapy, Steve finished up high school, went on to college at BYU and was ready to put the cancer behind him. His first semester was just what he’d hoped for — he made great friends and loved the learning environment. But it wasn’t long before old symptoms returned, and his roommate was driving him to the emergency room.
“I was trying to ignore it,” Steve says. “Most kids my age go out and party on the weekends. I was trying to induce some semblance of a normal college freshman experience.”
A Wish Come True
Last year, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Utah made wishes come true for 140 Utah children. Nationally, the foundation grants wishes every 41 minutes.
No one realizes the power of the foundation better than Steve Brown, who had his wish granted last August.
“Children with serious illnesses must forsake their childhood to some extent,” he says. “Even simple outings to the zoo or a concert are impossible if the child is consigned to weeks of treatment in a hospital bed. The Make-A-Wish Foundation nobly seeks to displace these awful memories of hospital beds and the horrors that sick children must undergo. Their cause is most altruistic — they restore the childhood that was so quickly ripped away. They put life and youthful exuberance back into children. They make the children forget these awful memories for an instant, and that makes all the difference. A simple smile restores hope, which is a powerful weapon in their fight. At the same time, the foundation gives children fantastic memories that will remain with them forever.”
At Primary Children’s Medical Center and the Huntsman Cancer Institute — which Steve refers to as a focal point of experts — doctors prescribed a specialized treatment plan with targeted therapy and a drug found specifically to affect the Ewing tumor.
Steve’s family moved to Provo to lend support during what would be 18 months of chemotherapy and radiation.
“I dropped out of school, moved into my parents’ basement and impersonated a college student while I was on treatment,” he says. “The definition of a college student is someone who pays tuition and takes tests and is enrolled in classes. I did none of those things.”
Instead, Steve would show up on campus when he felt well enough, sit in the back of the classroom, and soak in whatever lecture he found interesting.
“I felt like I was doing something meaningful with the time off. It was quite therapeutic,” he says. “Sitting in front of the TV is just going to melt your brain cells.”
Last July, Steve was released from his treatments, and he celebrated by enrolling in classes.
“I was living the ‘high life’ again,” he says. “I moved back into an apartment with some friends, I was going to parties, I had hair growing. My family and I were breathing a collective sigh of relief.”
And a long-time wish came true for Steve, courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Utah.
“I had always dreamed of going to France,” he says. “We went to Paris and I cannot remember when I have breathed deeper or smiled broader. The trip was exhilarating.”
But another relapse hit Steve in November. He says doctors have gone through the list of every possible drug and it seems they’re all resistant.
“The prognosis for me right now is in the toilet,” he says. “But I don’t pay attention to statistics anymore. Statistically I’m dead already. I focus on getting through it and thinking positively. There is enormous power in the support and prayers and positive thinking I’ve done and other people have done. At this point, that is what will get me through this.”