“I think about her all the time,” Brown reminisced. “We had big plans. We bought a condo in Hilton Head, [South Carolina]. We were going to retire and lease it out when we were not there, and make it like a vacation home. I think about that, and the fact that she’s not around to see her daughters mature. Having that companionship and support, it motivates you. It encourages you. And it’s something to look forward to when you leave work. [But now], I come home to an empty house.”
In 2003, Joann began to notice that she couldn't do normal chores such as sweep the floor or wash clothes without becoming fatigued. She also discovered a lump in her left breast. She decided to get examined by a doctor, which revealed she had Stage 3 breast cancer. Joann subsequently received a mastectomy to her left breast.
“After the surgery, they did radiation for several weeks. That led to chemotherapy,” Brown recalled. “From there, it was an ongoing battle with different doctor’s appointments. They were treating it with the best advanced medical technology that was available. We [also] traveled to Illinois to a Cancer Treatment Center to see what they had to offer.”
After a battling with breast cancer—the most commonly diagnosed cancer among African-American women—for a couple years, the disease intensified and spread from Joann's breast to her lungs. She began to have trouble breathing; oxygen tanks became a necessity for her to live.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death among African-American women (breast cancer is the second most common).
Despite her battling with the life-threatening sickness, Joann managed to keep her condition confidential between her and her husband. Brown said his wife was determined to keep their three daughters unaware that she had cancer.
"She didn’t want them to be told that she had cancer," Brown said. "All they knew was that she was sick. They saw her on the oxygen tank [and] the tubes she put in her nose."
In the final weeks leading up to her death, Joann was hospitalized and connected to a ventilator. After the ventilator could no longer sustain her, she passed away. Shortly after she died, Brown gathered his daughters in one of the bedrooms in their home and informed them of the unfortunate news.
“Before she took her last breath, she said ‘Take care of my girls,'” Brown recalled. “I guess she sensed that she wasn’t going to be living much longer."
Losing a loved one is something no one can truly prepare for. And the emotional impact that it can bring forth varies considering on the person's strength. According to ACS, some of the effects that come with losing a loved one includes anxiety disorder, stress, suicidal thoughts, and loss of sleep, appetite, and weight.
Brown said his wife's death affected him significantly, but he had to stay as strong as possible for the sake of his daughters.
“It’s like, we’ve been together 25 years and now there is something missing in my life,” Brown said. “It’s not the same. It seems like a part of yourself is gone. It's a grieving process that immediately takes place. We had to plan her funeral and do her obituary. It wasn’t easy. It was a big adjustment in my life, but I persevered and went through some periods of depression and had to accept it. I had to accept that the Holy Spirit was doing [His work], and He’s not going to put more on you than you can bear.”
Nearly a decade after his wife succumbed to cancer, Brown said he still thinks about her on a regular basis. He encourages all women to pay close attention to their health, so they can enjoy a long life.
“The only message that I would give to females of age is if they’ve had close relatives [who] have been diagnosed with breast cancer, don’t take it light,” Brown said. “Get your mammograms on schedule; regular checkups on schedule; your physicals on schedule. Just your normal wellness check up, make sure you do it on schedule and pay attention to your health. If you experience anything unusual going on with your breast, take it seriously. That way, if there is a problem, you can diagnose it in the early stages. The chances of survival are a lot greater.”