Conquer Cancer Foundation: Life doesn't stop when devastating things happen. Six-time cancer survivor Brittany Sullivan and her husband John know this all too well. Brittany's first diagnosis came at age 3, and her most recent when she was 15 weeks pregnant. How do a husband and wife keep going when cancer lies in the shadows of their most joyous moments? The Sullivans rest in their faith, the miracles uncovered by modern medicine, and the divine direction of a pink Post-it note to conquer the fears of cancer without losing the hope that sustains their family.
Brittany Sullivan: My first diagnosis was right before I turned 3 years old. I had a tumor on my tongue. I had it removed, then had several other recurrences when I was 6, and 17, 21.
John Sullivan: Yeah, and the one when you were 21 is special to me.
Brittany Sullivan: John and I had just started dating, and I had a very small tumor removed from my lung, and so he got to be a part of that recovery. And I saw in him his ability to be a caregiver, his compassion, and his tenderness, and man, that really meant a lot to me after the experiences that I had had in my life and it spoke love to me in a way that I could understand it.
John Sullivan: So let's go back to November of 2012.
Brittany Sullivan: We found this tumor in my heart while I was 15 weeks pregnant.
John Sullivan: Do you remember what we did the night after we came home from Dr. Davis's office? I say came home. We left there–
Brittany Sullivan: We didn't want to go home. We weren't ready to because we knew we would just go home and cry, and so we–
John Sullivan: Which we would get to eventually.
Brittany Sullivan: Yeah, yeah, we did eventually do that. But we went to a Japanese steakhouse because I was pregnant and I was craving fried rice, and we walked in and I was crying. And I went to the bathroom and there was a Post-it note on the back of the stall that I chose. It was bright neon pink, and it said, "The words, 'Do not be afraid' appear in the Bible 365 times." And so I started crying some more because what a little gift and treasure. So we made it far enough past when the baby would be viable. Our sweet girl had had time to grow and develop. So at 34 weeks, we delivered Carly Jean and she was completely healthy. She was teeny, teeny, tiny but she was great. And she's just been this beam of joy and goodness, and so in a way, that pregnancy saved my life. Otherwise, we wouldn't have known about the tumor in my heart.
John Sullivan: But the story really takes another weird twist.
Brittany Sullivan: Yes, went in for an appointment and Dr. Kitty walked in kind of shaky and she said, "I do not have good news for you. It has spread. I want you to go to Miami." Like it was 1 sentence.
John Sullivan: Just like that.
Brittany Sullivan: There's a clinical trial in Miami.
John Sullivan: Before we could get on the clinical trial, we needed to have a brain scan done.
Brittany Sullivan: And the scan revealed cancer in my brain, so–
John Sullivan: Devastating.
Brittany Sullivan: Yes. I really did not want to have brain radiation. But when that's the only option, you do it. Life doesn't stop when devastating things happen. I was teaching during that time, every day. So I kept going. I think I was teaching the reproduction system during that time.
John Sullivan: Talk about how it felt to see to see your tumors responding.
Brittany Sullivan: After 9 months, after my chest, abdomen, pelvis scans, there was only 5 millimeters of cancer left, and all of the cancer in my brain is either shrinking or gone. It's humbling. It's exciting. I feel like every time I get good news I do this enormous happy dance in my brain that doesn't always come out of my body because I'm tired [laughter] from cancer treatments, but man, it's so exciting. We never felt alone. We had an amazing community surrounding us. We often felt scared, but we never felt hopeless. And that's how we've made it, is we've always had hope, and I feel like it is my job to share that. [music]
Conquer Cancer Foundation: The Conquer Cancer Foundation's mission is to conquer cancer worldwide by funding breakthrough research and sharing cutting-edge knowledge. To learn more about the participants in this session, and others like it, please visit conquer.org/storycorps. Recorded and produced by StoryCorps, a national non-profit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity's stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. Learn more at storycorps.org.