Renee Brennan has had such a positive impact on many people’s lives. She is a wife, a mother, a grandmother and a woman with strong convictions. In 1996 she sold her home and used the proceeds to start her own business, R Promotions, located in Plainview. Now this Glen Cove native can add “successful entrepreneur” to her list of accomplishments. To look at her, Renee shows no telltale signs of having such a full life. She has a gorgeous head of chestnut hair, clear skin, and bright eyes. She is the picture of health.
The amazing thing about Renee isn’t just the full life she’s led, but that she’s still living it.
In March of 2009, she was diagnosed with Stage IV colorectal cancer. Renee had been experiencing back pain, nausea, and weight loss. She had two colonoscopies, and both came back clear. Renee woke up one morning with horrible pain in her left side. “They thought it was a kidney stone, but my kidney had ruptured because there was a blockage,” she says.
Tests showed spots on Renee’s lungs, and that cancer had metastasized in other parts of her body. “They didn’t know where it was coming from,” she says. “When they told me the news, I was in bad shape, physically and emotionally.”
Being diagnosed with cancer is a traumatic event for anyone, but having Stage IV is even harder to accept. According to statistics from the National Cancer Institute, the survival rate for Stage IV colorectal cancer is just 19 percent.
Renee defies the odds against her every day and she continues to move forward both professionally and personally.
For the thousands of people suffering with colorectal cancer, Renee is the embodiment of hope.
“When I talk about it, it’s like I’m talking about somebody else,” she says. “There aren’t a lot of survivors. To this day, I have not found anybody to talk to.”
One of the side effects of her chemotherapy were severe mouth sores that became so painful they were debilitating. “I couldn’t talk, eat or sleep,” she says. She couldn’t leave the house; she couldn’t work. It wasn’t the cancer that was stopping her, it was her chemotherapy. The sores became so severe they had to cut back on her chemotherapy, which Renee felt was a terrible setback.
Navigating through treatment options can be like walking down a dark corridor with only a weak candle to guide you.
“I tried everything,” Renee says. “Every OTC drug, I went to the dentist and an oral surgeon, I got prescriptions, and nothing helped,” she says and adds, “I walked around with a Q-Tip dipped in Lidocaine to swab my mouth.” Then Renee heard about a new drug just approved by the FDA called MuGard. She tried the mouth rinse, and finally got relief. “It was like a miracle for me,” she says. “It was the only product of its kind on the market that worked.”
Jubilant that her mouth pain had abated, Renee says, “I was able to sleep through the night, which is incredibly important when you are fighting cancer.” She could eat and drink and talk, without pain. She went back to living her life. Renee tried to get the word out about her success with this oral wound rinse and reached out to the medical community to share her results. She didn’t receive the response she thought she would.
“They didn’t want to hear about it,” Renee says sadly. “It wasn’t on their formulary list.”
Frustrated by the lackluster reaction to what she thought was a true medical miracle, Renee took matters into her own hands, adding “advocate” to her accomplishments. On the days that she received chemotherapy at the hospital, she would go from cubicle to cubicle as other patients received their treatments, handing out pamphlets about MuGard. She gave out so many pamphlets she had to photocopy them herself. “Other people needed this relief,” she says. And so, telling other cancer patients about the benefits of this treatment became her quest. “This is a labor of love. It changed my life.”
Renee’s treatment now includes chemotherapy every three weeks. She goes into the hospital for one day, and then is home for two days where she receives her medication via a chemo pump.
Not only has MuGard given Renee much needed pain relief, it has given her hope that other new treatments are on the horizon. “I want to be stabilized long enough until something new comes along,” she says. “There are so many different techniques that they’re using now.”
While she keeps abreast of the latest cancer treatments, she offers this advice to others—before it’s too late: “If you don’t feel right, be persistent. I should have been more verbal about my symptoms and insisted something was wrong.”
Renee wants other people to feel the relief that she’s gotten from using this new medication. She vows she’ll continue to lobby the medical community and advocate for MuGard. ‘When you’re treated for cancer and undergo chemotherapy, you’re handed a whole cache of prescriptions for nausea and side effects,” she says. “MuGard should be added to that prescription list.”
Renee believes that sharing her story will inspire other cancer patients to have hope. “Helping other people gives me a reason to get up. I’ve become cause-driven!”
For more information, email Renee at email@example.com.
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e-mail your nominations to Beverly at firstname.lastname@example.org.