It’s only a test.
That reassurance is what’s allowed long-time Meridian High School girls track coach Barbara Brown to step into the ring with cancer and trade blows without fear. Brown, who recently retired after serving as the Lady Wildcats’ coach for 16 years, was diagnosed with breast cancer May 6 of last year. A full year later, she is in round three of chemotherapy, which she will undergo until September.
The MHS girls dedicated their season to Brown and her fight, finished as MHSAA Class 6A South State champions and runners up to the 6A overall title. Brown said her message to her athletes this past season was the same message she had for herself when it all started.
“I tell people, it’s God,” Brown said. “That’s all I can say. He’s not putting more on me than He is on anyone else. When I was diagnosed, I had no fear, because I knew it was only a test.”
In fact, it’s her competitive nature as a former track athlete and a coach for a total of 32 years that gives her the mindset she has.
“I’ve always wanted to excel, and I kept saying, this is a race,” she said. “I’m going to compete, and I’m going to win. I’ll win the fight against cancer. We’re both in the boxing ring trading punches, but I’m going to win.”
Brown had already decided 2014 would be her final year coaching at teaching Algebra I at MHS, since it was her son, senior Bryston Brown’s, last year of high school. After her diagnosis, Brown said it confirmed she made the right decision.
“That’s when I knew it was time to take a rest,” Brown said.
Round one of chemotherapy began in August 2013 and lasted until that September. That one was the toughest round of all, according to Brown. She had four blood clots, heart problems and seizures with which to deal.
“I was totally sick and very weak,” Brown explained.
Rising junior Keyana Boyd, who competes in the 3,200-meter, 1,600-meter and 800-meter dashes and the 4X400-meter relays, recalls first hearing about Brown’s diagnosis the summer before.
“We were at my sister’s, I think for a meeting for some scholarship money, and we ran into her, and she told us,” Boyd recalled. “Me, my sister and my mom were all in one circle with her, hugging her, and she told us, ‘Don’t cry.’ She was very jolly and happy, and she said everything would be OK, but it was very shocking. It felt like a bad dream.”
Boyd also said she remembered those first couple of months when Brown would come to practice but barely be able to stay.
“Usually when we’re in the weight room she gets up and walks around and yells at us and tells us not to do this or that,” Boyd said. “I noticed she was still most of the time, and she looked like she was weak. I remember going in and talking to her, and she was eating chips but saying that she couldn’t taste anything, and she asked me if I could (when I ate them).”
But as time went by, Boyd said Brown returned to her former “busy-bodied” self.
“I noticed she started smiling, moving and talking more,” Boyd said.
After losing all her hair in round one, it has slowly started to grow back. Round two of chemo went from Sept. 7 to Nov. 21 of last year, and she said that round was much easier than the first one.
All the while, Brown’s athletes told her they would win a state championship for her in her final year of coaching.
“For them to tell me that they wanted to do that for me, I was happy,” Brown said. “They wanted to work as a team, and it just touched me.”
After falling just short of a state title, Brown said the she reassured the team, which vowed to eventually win one for her anyway.
“We had 12 meets, and we won 11 and finished runner-up in one,” Brown said. “They told me, ‘We were so close,’ but I told them, ‘We made it.’ I may not be coaching them (in the future), but I tell them to go for it, and I know they’ll get a state championship.”
Boyd said she considers Brown a second mother and has been grateful to Brown for coaching her since she was in the sixth grade, even though she couldn’t compete until she was a seventh-grader. Brown said she promised to be there for Boyd and the rest of the team despite not coaching anymore by continuing to attend the meets and cheer on the Lady Wildcats.
“It means a lot,” Boyd said. “It’s nice to have someone who looks out for your best interest. She’ll always be there no matter what. I’m grateful to have a coach like her.”
After so many years of coaching, Brown said it’s been wonderful watching her athletes go on and succeed beyond high school in many different areas of life. While she won’t be coaching, she’ll at least still make her presence known around MHS track.
“(Boys) Coach (Reggie) Walker told me I still have to come back and run concessions, so I’ll be doing that,” Brown joked.
It’s only a test.
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