I Walk to Remember My Friend

     There is a picture of Howell and me on the lock screen of my phone, and I love it. I see it every morning when I wake up, multiple times throughout the day, and every evening when I plug my phone in to go to sleep. Howell is smiling at the camera, and I am smiling at him. It’s been the lock screen on my phone since I met him several years ago. He was so proud when he first noticed it. If I think about it, we have hundreds of pictures similar to the one on my phone screen. Hundreds of memories, smiles, fun, adventures, excitement and stories to share from our time together.

     Howell was diagnosed in 2012 with stage four Pineoblastoma. From the moment I met him, he was confident that there would be a cure. Howell was an ardent advocate for research. He would tell me often that Duke had saved his life. Howell believed- he believed a cure for himself, for his friends and for others.

     The thought of my future without Howell in my life made me sad. I could not comprehend that he would succumb to brain cancer. Howell was invincible, energetic, outgoing, a fighter; if anyone could beat the odds, my dear friend could. When things took a turn for the worse, in the summer of 2017, it made me physically ill to imagine a day where there would be no FaceTimes, funny texts, crazy calls, visits, trips and rowdy adventures. Our lives had become intertwined; holidays, birthdays, parties, trips, and vacations, you name it and we did it. During the course of our friendship, Howell would introduce me to his friends and I would introduce him to mine. Howell became family to me, and we became family to him. It has been hard for me to think of the people I will meet in life now, and not have the opportunity to introduce them to my little friend. It has been painful to think of the people that will cross my path or would have crossed his path that will not know the profound impact of meeting Howell Brown III and the way he would change your life. It is hard to describe to someone the impact that a 13 year old boy from Clyde, North Carolina has had on my life.

     When I met Howell, he wanted to introduce me to his friend Alan Stephenson, a brain tumor survivor who had also been treated at Duke. Alan, was working on a fundraiser for his Angel’s team and Howell thought we needed to meet. Howell had proudly told me about carrying the banner at Angels, about the event, his video clip and how important funding was. Between Howell and Alan, I was hooked.

     When Howell was receiving experimental treatment in NY and couldn’t attend Angels, we walked carrying signs with his picture. There is a quote Howell uses in a video for Angels from 2014 that we used on one of his signs- There’s hope at Duke.... pray god will help you, have courage and you will get through it.”

     Last year at Angels I kept thinking next year Howell and I will do this or that. We can make this for the walk, we can make signs together.... in my mind there was always a future.

     At the 26th Anniversary of Angels this year, I will be there, Howell will not. He will not get to walk with the other children carrying the banner. He will not get to hear Alan sing. Howell will not get to wear his Batman themed attire for our team. His Batman shirt, socks with the cape and survivor pin sit in drawer for he will not need them. Howell will not be there. However, I will be there, we will be there- his friends, his family. We will be there to cheer for the survivors, we will be there to honor his memory. We will be there together all bound by one common thing- finding a cure for brain cancer. My wish, much like Howell’s, is that someday soon, we will attend Angels and celebrate a cure. Duke has given back to children and adults “more tomorrows.” Duke has made tremendous strides in the fight against brain cancer.

     It’s selfish that I wish for another tomorrow with Howell. My head tells me he no longer suffers, my heart is harder to reason with. In my heart there is a void that neither time nor anyone/anything could fill. It is my hope that one day families and friends of those diagnosed with brain tumors don’t feel the ache, pain or sorrow that myself and others have experienced after dealing with the loss of someone to brain cancer.

     Howell was right, there is hope at Duke...one day there will be a cure. Howell believed it and so do I. Although a cure did not come in time to save my friend, there will be a cure one day to save others and that’s what Howell would want.

     When Howell died, I promised myself that despite the most intense and savage grief I felt (as so many others did too) that I would honor his life, a short life however, exceptionally well lived. I had read that there are far worse emotions to have to live with than sadness, however vast and deep that sadness may be, it can be uplifting, strengthening and above all a powerful reminder of how much Howell mattered and always will.

     My life before Howell Brown III and my life after Howell Brown III has forever been changed. Although, as painful as the journey has been I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

     I will walk on April 27th to remember my little hero and friend who taught me that there is always hope. Together, we can all make a difference in the fight against brain cancer. Every morning Howell Brown III was the first person I prayed for and was always the last person I prayed for every night and still do. Like the lock screen on my phone that I see throughout the day- our picture is a reminder to be thankful, grateful, love and cherish those we hold near to our hearts and to remember there is always hope.

     Your support of Angels Among Us benefits the Preston Robert Tish Brain Tumor at Duke University. It provides hope and gives back tomorrows to those diagnosed with brain tumors. Please consider donating today. 

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