The story of Bahamian amputee and cancer survivor ERIN BROWN is a shining example of overcoming life’s challenges even with the label of being ‘disabled’. Erin has taken her own life experience and channeled it in a positive direction, creating a foundation as she continues to participate in several activities, serving as a great source of inspiration to many, and, always having a winning attitude. “I realized in our society being considered or labeled ‘disabled’ limits you in every way. You become the poster child for things you can’t do rather than things that you can do. This whole thing has helped me to understand more importantly that everyone has a challenge, which would become a benefit with service to guide, assist and increase awareness of,” said Erin reflecting on her situation.
Erin started the Erin Brown Foundation in 2006, it is a not for profit organization whose mission is to assist and provide financial assistance, education and vocational resources, along with adaptive equipment for persons with disabilities, so they can remain active contributors to society. Under the umbrella of The Erin Brown Foundation is Erin Brown Connects Disability Sporting Program, which enables persons with physical challenges to return to sports, by connecting the athletes with coaches, equipment, facilities and events. Erin revealed: “My mission is really to give persons with disabilities respect, dignity and a fair chance to be considered as a member of society.”
As Deputy Head Girl Class of 1998 and Key Club President, Erin graduated at the top of her class at St John’s College high school. Always an athlete, Erin competed in sports events in Nassau and her home in Grand Bahama. Erin lost her mother to Lupus at the age of 17. After high school, she completed training in makeup and hair styling and went on to study at West Virginia State University in the US, where she obtained her Associates degree in Computer Information Systems and continued on studying for her Bachelors in Business Management. “In my senior year, I was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer in 2004 at the tender age of 23, therefore I was forced to withdraw and is currently working towards finishing my degree.” Erin had her left leg amputated above the knee, in order to complete treatment, she moved to Florida to receive aggressive treatment for stage 4-bone cancer in her left femur. She’s been in remission for the past eight years.
Erin recalled the amputation of her leg was a defining moment in her life: “My moment in life that captures who I really am was when I decided to have my leg removed. After having my rounds with chemotherapy, it was time for the surgery to replace the bone with some form of metal. Unbenounced to me the surgery was going to be exploratory with possible amputation. When it was confirmed that this was going to be the case, I called a meeting with my physicians to inquire and once confirmed that there was a possibility that the bone cancer may return in the bottom half of my leg, I decided to have the leg removed above the afflicted area. My exact words were `Remove the leg, it is just a leg. I am willing to live my life less a limb rather than have no life at all.’ That was my defining moment when I realized what stuff I was made of.”
The challenges of life did not stop Erin from continuing on, and making a difference. She became a motivational speaker and a member of the popular D-Factor hair and make-up team working around the Bahamas and abroad. Erin was afforded a C-Leg, which enabled her to stop using her crutches and wheelchair on a daily basis and competed in the G-Fit Boot Camp team. She competed in UWC Triathlons on Clifton Pier where she was awarded the `Physically Challenges Champion’ – The first of its kind to be awarded and participated by an amputee. In April 2010, she participated in the Ride For Hope in Eleuthera, Bahamas, cycling 10 miles for cancer research and Ride For Autism in Abaco, where she walked 10k for R.E.A.C.H. Bahamas For Autism Awareness. In January 2011, Erin was a member of an amputee relay team that participated in the Sunshine Insurance Marathon Bahamas, becoming the first Bahamian female amputee to participate in a marathon. In July 2011, Erin became a member of G-Fit Academy Boot Camp being the first amputee to do so, weathering the terrains of hills, sand, stones and steep inclines. She remains an active member of this academy. In October 2011, Erin was named as Honorary Co-Chair for The Stride For Life Walk with the Cancer Society of the Bahamas. She traveled to The Susan G. Komen Race For A Cure in Miami, Florida, to participate as a cancer survivor along with The Sister-Sister Breast Cancer Group and The Cancer Society of the Bahamas Survivors.
STILL MOVING FORWARD
With so many accomplishments and achievements for a person labeled as disabled, Erin continues forward movements that seem endless. When asked what is her life’s ambition, she laughs, “My ambition varies, it depends on my mood! From participating in the 2016 Rio De Janerio Paralympics, to being the best mother and role model for my son (she has a nine year old son who continues to inspire her) or my fellow Bahamians.”
Erin talks about what makes her smile, noting: other smiles, the rain, the sunshine, the sunrise, people, places and everything that encompasses life. “The limitless possibilities that are waiting every day to be tapped into. It is very easy to make me smile. I have learnt the smallest things give me joy; I never overlook a thing…. I am passionate about the right to be equal! Whether it is gender, race, class, sexual orientation or stereotypes. I am 100% different and have that right to be.” Erin admits that not being able to jump up, get dressed and just go, can be frustrated at times but said: “My life is unconventional, each day takes guts and I accomplish what I need to do daily. I love new accomplishments and I do it my way.”
The Erin Brown Foundation & Erin Brown Connects Disability Sporting Program is housed at Ivory Global Management office in the Pantheon Building # 17 West Street, Nassau, Bahamas. For more information visit: www.erinbrownconnects.org.
Published in Profiles98 Summer Issue 11 2012