GERMANTOWN HILLS — Angie Brown long had prepared for the death of her husband, Michael Brown.
And to be sure, when the 35-year-old died in their home Jan. 10 after battling cancer for more than eight years — and surviving longer than any doctor had predicted — she felt a sense of relief that his suffering had ended.
Still, she had not expected the sudden silence to almost scream for the lack of Michael’s upbeat, energetic voice.
Angie, 40, says, “Crazy how much you can miss a person's voice after not hearing it for just a few days.”
Yet even in death, Michael will carry a loud voice. With Angie’s continued push, his namesake Michael P. Brown Colon Cancer Foundation will continue. Moreover, his legacy will live on — among loved ones as well as strangers — who continue to marvel at his unwillingness to give up the fight against cancer and at his drive to make memories with his family, even as cancer raged inside him through his last days.
As one post expressed with his online obituary, “I did not know Michael personally, but ... Michael remains such an inspiration to anyone fighting cancer or any disease. He lived and brought joy to himself and anyone around him. What a blessing!”
We last visited with the Browns on Nov. 10. At the time, Michael was faced with a prognosis of perhaps three weeks left after years of battling signet ring cell adenocarcinoma, a rare form of colon cancer. Yet in this space, he pushed through growing weakness and other health woes to make sure people understand that his foundation would continue without him. The organization, which has generated $230,000 toward cancer research, already has planned the annual Michael’s Run for Life Festival for next summer.
“I’m hoping we can continue to get support,” Michael said at the time.
Meanwhile, he, Angie and their two sons — Jaxson, 8, and Karter, 6 — planned for what Michael called “the last family vacation.” Just before Thanksgiving, they flew with friends to a resort in the Dominican Republic, even with the risk that Michael might not come back alive. And though his oxygen level plummeted to a near-death levels on the flight there, he revived and had a wonderful vacation, spending much of the time in a beach cabana while watching the boys play in the sand.
“It was great,” says Angie, a nurse practitioner. “It was everything we had hoped for.”
But not everything worked out as well.
After outlasting the three-week prognosis, Michael was asked by his boys in early December what he wanted for Christmas.
“Dec. 27,” he said, the date significant of nothing except a desire to spend one more Christmas with his family.
“There’s no way,” Angie told herself.
But she and the kids shared his wish with well-wishers, who took the request as seriously as they could.
“We’re praying for you,” they told Angie.
Michael’s health continued to swoon, but he continued to press for quality time with the family. For example, with friends, he and the boys trekked to Indiana in mid-December so the kids could attend their first NFL game, with Indianapolis Colts hosting the Dallas Cowboys. Outings like that forced Michael to mask grimaces with grins.
“Even though there was a lot of fun, there was a lot of pain,” Angie says.
As the month wore on, Michael’s medical problems increased. He and his wife had often discussed heaven with the boys — “They knew where he was going,” she says — but Michael still hoped to last past Dec. 25.
“He didn’t want to ruin the holiday for the kids,” Angie says. “They knew that if he died, his suffering would end. And it’s not like we would hate Christmas all of a sudden. But he wanted to make it to Christmas.”
Indeed, they celebrated Christmas at home, along with New Year’s Day. But not long afterward, Michael’s health nosedived hard.
“Sometimes, when you pray for things, it isn’t what you’d thought it’d be,” Angie says.
Weakening, Michael reiterated that he was ready to go. He softly told Angie, “I don’t know why I’m still here.”
He slipped into unconsciousness about two weeks ago. At home on Jan. 10, with Angie nearby, Michael quietly died.
“For me, it was a sense of relief that he died,” Angie says. “He knew where he was going.
“The boys are doing really well. They had a lot of time to see Michael wind down.”
At his memorial service at the family’s home church, Willow Creek United Methodist, many of the big throng of mourners stopped to ask Angie if the race would go on this year.
“Oh, sure,” she assured them. “Make sure you come.”
More information about the Michael P. Brown Colon Cancer Foundation, including opportunities to donate, can be found at www.run4michael.com/
PHIL LUCIANO can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/philluciano and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Twitter.com/LucianoPhil.