How MTV Reality Star Diem Brown Fought Ovarian Cancer and Found Her Passion
by Jessica Webb Errickson
Diem Brown made her MTV debut on the network’s popular reality competition series The Challenge, just weeks after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Though she intended to keep her diagnosis a secret, Diem came clean with her Challenge teammate during filming and quickly became labeled as “that cancer girl on MTV.” At first, she hated the label. But she now embraces it, as she’s become “that cancer girl” who’s using her reality star status to help others facing the disease.
A Shocking Diagnosis
At age 22, having just snagged a spot as a contestant on MTV’s Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Fresh Meat, Diem began experiencing severe abdominal pain. Being young, athletic, and health-conscious, the word cancer never crossed her mind. Lactose intolerance, maybe, but not cancer.
When she met with her doctor to find out what was causing her symptoms, Diem was in no way prepared for the words she was about to hear: stage III ovarian cancer. “I remember hearing those words and just feeling completely numb,” Diem confesses in an interview with Coping® magazine. “It didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t understand what cancer was, and I didn’t understand what chemo was. I didn’t know if it was a machine, if it was a pill – I just didn’t understand.”
One thing Diem was clear on, however, was that nothing was going to keep her from her much-dreamed-about television debut. After having surgery to remove her left ovary and completing her first chemotherapy session, Diem hopped on a plane to Australia to begin filming Fresh Meat. “I was jumping off buildings, swimming with sharks,” she says of her time on the competition. “I thought I was ticking off my bucket list.”
When Diem returned home, she focused on beating cancer, and after months of chemotherapy, she went into remission. No bucket list needed.
“I didn’t understand what chemo was. I didn’t know if it was a machine, if it was a pill – I just didn’t understand.”
An Unexpected Recurrence
When Diem reached that magic five-year mark of being cancer-free in 2011, she thought she was in the clear. But the following year, after six years of remission, those all too familiar abdominal pains returned. She asked her doctor for an internal ultrasound, which revealed a 10-inch cancerous cyst in her remaining ovary.
“I immediately broke because I knew that this time was final. They remove that last ovary, and I cannot have a biological child,” she says. “I hadn’t frozen eggs or anything, so I went on a hunt for a fertility doctor who would do fertility treatments on a current ovarian cancer patient.”
Diem knew she wanted to have a biological child one day, so preserving her fertility was a high priority this time around. She faced some scrutiny for her decision to delay cancer therapy in order to undergo fertility treatments. But Diem did not make the decision lightly, and she has no regrets about her choice. She was able to bank 10 eggs before having her remaining ovary removed. “Knowing that I had some hope in a freezer,” she says, “I didn’t feel completely at the mercy of cancer. I felt like I had some control in something.”
Finding Her Passion
During her first bout with cancer, Diem sunk into a deep depression. She spent a lot of time online and began taking notice of her friends’ wedding and baby shower registries. That got her thinking. “When someone’s a patient, there’s no celebration. There’s no registry for patients to help them buy a wig,” she explains, “so I created MedGift.”
At MedGift.com, people can create a registry of items they need during treatment and recovery, such as wigs, help with medical bills, and babysitting services. “I created my passion at my absolute most depressed, lowest moment,” Diem says. “It gave me hope while I was going through treatment.”
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This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2013.