They’re walking to raise cancer awareness, funds
Story and photos by Laurie Merrill
GCU News Bureau
Brandon Warner was 10 years old the first time his world was first shaken. It was when his mother told him she had cancer.
His mother would survive her first two bouts with the disease, Warner, director of Athletic Training Education in the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions, told a rapt audience Monday at Howerton Hall.
Warner and cancer survivor Darrian Piper, a junior studying Health Care Administration, each shared their experience and hope at CONHCP’s kickoff of this year’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk, an American Cancer Society awareness-raising fundraiser on Oct. 22 in Tempe.
“I can still see the bedroom and my mom sitting on the bed,” Warner said, recalling the moment. “And that is when she told me she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I asked my mom if she was going to die.”
He said he now knows how much courage and strength it took for her to look her 10-year-old boy in the eye and say, “everything is going to be OK.”
His mother did overcome breast cancer that time and beat it a second time 10 years later, when Warner was a sophomore in college. The diagnoses barely slowed her down, and cancer couldn’t stop her from being his No. 1 fan when he was on the college track team. She would park her chair right next to the long jump pit, where he was competing, and wait for him.
“She came to everything,” Warner said. “She was amazing.”
Warner was in his fourth year of college and had just returned from a term abroad in Costa Rica when his mother told him that she had cancer for the third time. She made it to his graduation. Her tumors were shrinking. Though he was a pre-med major, she suggested that he check out a degree in athletic training, a tip that changed his life, he said. He switched majors and found his calling.
When the cancer spread to her brain, Warner drove eight hours each way nearly every weekend to visit his mom. He watched her deteriorate. Most of the time, she didn’t recognize him.
Even so, Warner wanted to share important news with her during one visit. He told her he was planning to propose to his girlfriend.
In what he described as a “surreal moment,” his mother took off her wedding ring and gave it to her son. She told him even if she couldn’t make the wedding, she would be there in spirit.
She died before the wedding, but Warner never doubted she was with him then and is with him today and always.
“She never gave up,” Warner said. “She never let anything get her down.”
Piper was a high school sophomore running track and field the first time her knee swelled up. An urgent care doctor dismissed it as a sports injury.
The next time it ballooned, the diagnosis was grim: She had bone cancer, osteosarcoma. Instead of going to high school her junior year, she had a knee replacement and received chemotherapy daily.
The knee replacement didn’t work. Ten surgeries and a persistent infection later, Piper had a bitter choice. “I told the surgeon to cut it off,” she said, her eyes misting.
Her faith in God had lapsed at that time, she said. She blamed Him, asking, “Why me?”
She is a cancer free today, but the chemo left its grip. She has shortness of breath, an abnormal heart rate, some difficulty with memorization and a prosthetic leg.
But she also has gone from anger to gratitude and from blame to thankfulness. She is grateful to have friends who love her and has found her calling in studying hospital administration.
Her advice to others in the same boat: “Keep fighting. Miracles do happen.”
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Maria Quimba, CONHCP assistant dean for Undergradute and Professional Studies, said in her opening remarks that through participation in the walk, COHNHP hopes to help bring GCU together as a community to raise awareness and funds for a cure and to pray for one another.
CONHCP has formed three teams in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk, Lopes 1, Lopes 2 and Lopes 3. For more information about the walk, click here. To join a team, click here. Team captains include Warner, Quimba and Connie Colbert, director of Student Health Services.
Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or [email protected].