From my early thirties until my diagnosis (I was 58), my professional life had excited me, making me feel real and relevant. I was a corporate staffing leader, working with company founders and executives of two major industry sectors that initially were new to me: advertising/public relations (CPG) and telecommunications (technical). I had always been very proud that I was amongst the first of the so-called “corporate staffing managers” at Leo Burnett Company in Chicago in the 1970’s. Then, after some years of hiatus, I was invited back into the corporate life by Qwest Telecommunications in Denver during its startup phase of the ‘90’s.
Life was exciting and good but, in retrospect, shallow, meaningless, pointless. I often wondered to myself that “why” question: why was I doing this? What good was this really doing for anyone? Why did I feel so lonely and lost?
By the time of my diagnosis, I had used up my retirement savings that I had accumulated during the corporate years. Many of you know that I was misdiagnosed (and was increasingly ill) for almost two years. While I had nominally been “running” my own consulting practice, the truth was that I had not been able to do the business development necessary.
My turning point/diagnosis date is August 26, 2002 – also (not lost on me) known as Women’s Equality Day.
Fast forwarding to October of 2010, I had by now zero interest in resuming my consulting practice. I had basically no income, AND – at the very same time – I knew that it was finally time to “do” something for us patients, something I had been talking about increasingly for those seven-ish years.
I had also exhausted the research phase – an idea for connecting up with an organization that would focus (as I wished to do) more on the patient experience. No one at any of the existing organizations seemed to “get” what I felt should be done. I gave up in desperation and decided that it just didn’t matter that they were not interested. I knew that I needed a community, and I felt that YOU would want a “place for just us” as well!
Today I understand that my calling really began when I was finally diagnosed and given a reason for having felt so lost, alone, and dying for almost two years. While it took a few years to take “hold” over me, by the time that the name COLONTOWN became THE THING that I would do, I just KNEW in my heart that I had finally met that most important reason that one can find: my purpose in life.
And I sincerely hope that the thousands of you – patients, survivors, and caregivers – who populate COLONTOWN, too, are starting to feel the same desire to find your own purpose……
Erika Hanson Brown, Founding Mayor of COLONTOWN
Are you a colorectal cancer patient or caregiver? Join COLONTOWN, and find your people!
CEO & President, PALTOWN Development Foundation
Ms. Brown, a Montana native, had a long and healthy career as a corporate executive search professional in the consumer packaged goods and telecommunications industries until – at age 58 – she was diagnosed with late-stage colorectal cancer. Once her treatment was completed, she refocused her professional energies on the undeveloped niche of disease-specific patient empowerment, founding COLONTOWN, the patient community. COLONTOWN features deeply engaged, experience-specific, secret support groups that are exclusively dedicated to colorectal cancer patients and family members.
In 2016, Brown co-founded the PALTOWN Development Foundation to create additional disease-focused communities for even more patients and families. COLONTOWN is the model for patient community building, providing the template and proof -of- concept for disease communities that will be developed.
Erika holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts (French) from the University of Montana.
Ms. Brown is grateful, empowered, and disease-free – 14 years later.