Cancer has had a huge effect on the life of Brina Furman.
The Baltimore native who is an associate producer at Feats, an August Jackson Company that is nationally recognized for its event strategy, design and production work specializing in higher education engagement says she could list a plethora of negative components that has resulted from her diagnosis.
“But, right now, I’m focused on the community of support it’s given me,” she said.
“Without cancer, I would never have found the incredible extended family that I’ve found at the Ulman Cancer Fund (UCF). It’s given me something to be passionate about outside of my professional work life,” she said about the Baltimore-based UCF, a nonprofit that helps cancer patients in various ways, including connecting survivors with others.
Furman plans to participate in 24 Baltimore, a cycling and walking cancer awareness event by the 24 Foundation, which hosts over 400 riders and 200 walkers. This year’s 24-hour event takes place from 2 p.m. September 23 to 2 p.m. September 24 where participants will trek through Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus.
Diagnosed with melanoma at 18, Furman, now 26, says UCF is one way she gives back.
She has put together a bike and walk team for the upcoming event and says she is anxious to participate.
“I’ve been a spectator a few times for 24 Baltimore and cheered on fellow UCF friends,” she said. “This is my first time having the opportunity to be a participant and I’m beyond excited.”
Still, Furman will never forget when she received the sobering diagnosis of cancer.
“The immediate reaction? It sounds strange, but I laughed,” she said. “I distinctly remember looking at my mom and just laughing as if someone had just told a joke. It actually wasn’t until I was through treatment that I fully understood what impact cancer had and would have on my life,” Furman said.
A noted jetsetter who travels often for work, advocacy and pleasure, Furman says as soon as she processed what her cancer diagnosis meant, she sought out peers to help her emotionally.
“That’s how I stumbled upon UCF. I was just looking for a few people who truly understood when I said I was upset to miss class for an oncology appointment or understood how frustrating it was to not [be able to] attend a frat party because I was in too much pain to stand that long,” Furman said.
“I didn’t want pity or sympathy. I just wanted someone to get it,” she said. “When I found UCF, I found those people. And, I decided I didn’t want anyone to feel like they had to go at a diagnosis, treatment or survivorship alone. That’s why I’m so involved in the community and that’s what keeps me coming back.”
Young adults diagnosed with cancer are in a unique situation, according to Furman.
“Many of us are just starting our lives and our true independence. Cancer can be a huge set back to that. I’d love young adults faced with the big “C” to know that there is a community out there where you can come [to] talk as much or as little about what’s going on right now,” she said. “You can cry about cancer to someone that understands what it’s like to be in your place or you can come bowling with us and pretend for an hour that the oncology appointment that morning doesn’t exist. Support groups don’t have to be in the form of talk therapy; we’re up to hang at a bar, drink beer and watch football if it helps you to be normal for a few minutes. Support comes in many ways and you just have to find what works for you.”
At UCF, there is a tradition called Dedication Circle that sums up the organization’s passion and focus, Furman added.
“Before any meeting, race or organized program, we hold Dedication Circle,” she said.
“We stand together holding hands— right hand up to receive support and left hand down to give support. Each person is invited to dedicate his or her day to someone. It can be a dedication to someone diagnosed, in recovery or just having a really rough day. It reminds us all why we’re there, doing what we’re doing. Once everyone has shared, one person says, ‘Cancer changes lives…’ and the group replies, ‘So do we.’ That sums up why I fight.”
For more information or to register for 24 Baltimore, visit: www.24foundation.org/events/baltimore/