Show set to air on Outdoor Channel in January
Matt Brown, 17, and his family have plenty of things that they are glad to be looking back on, but they also have one thing to presently celebrate, and one event to look forward to. The Brown family is thankful Matt's chemo therapy treatments have come to an end and are anxiously awaiting his cable television debut. Matt is set to appear on the Outdoor Channel in January with Lee and Tiffany Lakosky of "The Crush."
"Matt has now completed his chemo therapy," his mother, Susan, said. "It's been over a year. It's been quite a ride, but it's a ride I want to get off."
Matt was given a final positron emission tomography (PET) scan Wednesday to be certain he is completely clear of B-cell lymphoma cancer.
Matt began experiencing pain in his shoulder sometime in March, 2013, during the beginning of his high school baseball season. The doctors at Columbia Orthopedic found a fracture in one of his shoulder blades, which was later found to be caused by a tumor forming in his back, but the doctors didn't initially make a correct diagnosis as they studied Matt's x-rays.
"From my previous experience with my husband who died of brain cancer, I knew that white on a film was cancer. The physician said it was just inflammation. We were to wait three weeks before he could redo the x-ray. In that time Matt's neck and lower back started hurting. We didn't know what was going on, but he started having a lot more complaints about his bones hurting. That's what lymphoma cancer does. It's a B-Cell in a white-cell that's cancerous and it starts sticking to bones, which forms a tumor and it starts eating the bone away. He had one on the C-3 of his neck that wore the bone paper-thin. He was losing weight and was sleeping all the time, which is what teenagers do anyway, so we had no idea what was going on. Finally we went to see a rheumatologist."
A rheumatologist took another x-ray and by the time Matt and Susan returned home the radiology department had already called Matt's doctor to inform him that Matt required immediate medical attention. But, Matt had already gone fishing. Susan called him in the boat to say, "Matt you've got to get to the doctor's office, because you've got a broken neck."
Matt admitted he took the time to cast again, before following his mother's instructions. "I was still fishing," Matt said.
Later PET scans would find not only a tumor on the C-3 of Matt's neck, but also on his neck's L-4, his shoulders, both sides of his pelvis and both knees. The tumor that caused the crack in his shoulder blade was the size of a lemon.
Lumbar infusions of chemo immediately commenced in an attempt to prevent the cancer from reaching Matt's brain. It was at this point that memories of Ben Brown, who died of brain cancer in 2007, began to resurface in the family's minds. Matt's doctor told him that his cancer was in no way related to that of his father's and assured Shane, 20, Matt's brother, that he was not next to contract the disease.
Matt remained composed as he received the bad news, which surprised the doctors. He told them, "I'm strong. I can beat this. I'm a fighter."
Susan believes the experience of losing his father strengthened Matt through his own battle with cancer.
Matt would go on to experience approximately 21 treatments, including a lumbar puncture procedure and chemo infusions in his spine.
"It was hell every time, because he's had bone pain and not only do you get your infusions, but you come home for five days of oral chemo and very high doses of prednisone, which makes the bones ache, because it depresses bone growth," Susan said.
Matt's school attendance suffered, but he passed all of his classes. Susan at Matt are grateful for the teachers and students who helped him achieve throughout the school year.
Shortly after beginning treatments, the staff at the St. Louis Children's Hospital asked Matt to fill out an application for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The application asked for three potential dreams that the foundation would attempt to make a reality. Matt had only one, to go hunting with Lee and Tiffany of "The Crush."
At first, the foundation refused to support Matt's dream, because of the dangers of hunting. "They were concerned with him carrying arms, but he's done the hunter's safety course and he has hunted since he was seven, so I think they just needed to get to know him. With his medical condition, he didn't have any disabilities that would harm him in any way on a hunt."
The Browns were advised to try the Audrain County Dream Factory instead, who accepted Matt's application and approved his wish as number 202.
Once cleared to hunt, the next issue was reaching Lee and Tiffany, but Matt was in luck. A committee member of the Dream Factory is related to a cameraman for "The Crush" and he asked Lee and Tiffany if they would be interested in making Matt's dream come true, to which they agreed.
"The Crush" is a cable television program on the Outdoor Channel that follows the hunting adventures of married couple Lee and Tiffany as they travel in pursuit of live game from big to small.
The hunt they planned for Matt took place March 31 in South Dakota for three days of snow geese hunting. Susan had to reschedule one of Matt's treatments, but his dream was soon to be real. Unfortunately his brother couldn't come along, because of his college classes, but Susan was excited to attend.
Lee and Tiffany met Matt and his mother at the airport in their customized bus. "They are just such kind people that they came out of their bus and helped us load our luggage," she said. "They've got a really neat bus with "The Crush" written on the side. It's all decked out and it's all hunting on the inside. They had TVs in there and three black labs. That was part of their hunt, to take the dogs to train in retrieving geese." Tiffany's dog, named Matty, was the unruly pup of the group who required the most training. Susan thought it was ironic to have Matt and Matty learning on the same trip.
Lee and Tiffany also invited dog trainer Tom Dokken along to help with the training, which Susan and Matt considered a double bonus. Tiffany's mom, Linda, was also along, helping to feed the crew and help manage "The Crush" social media accounts.
"Linda is the glue that keeps them all together," Susan said. "She was cutting up cheese and sausage for us when we got on the bus. It just makes you feel very family welcome, but we were nervous anyway. They are just kind of every day people though. Lee told me, 'We are just real. This show just kind of fell into our laps.'"
The family-oriented group waited for their missing cameraman with the delayed flight before joining in a crew meal at a hotel in Yankton. Matt and Susan were interested in visiting with the cameramen and watching them set up their equipment, getting a behind the scenes look at the show's production.
The first day of the hunt began early the next morning. It was a cold and snowy day as they entered the cornfield selected for their hunt, but Lee and Tiffany supplied the Browns with top of the line winter clothing. After helping to prepare the decoys, the hunt began.
As film rolled the hunters set to work, bagging approximately 35 geese on the first day. Due to the amount of hunters, Matt isn't sure how many he shot, but the cameramen gave him some solo shots and his mother said he impressed the entire crew.
"They filmed the entire hunt. They would have a single bird coming in and tell Matt, 'This is all you,'" Susan said. "He'd have to pop up and shoot it himself. He did very well. They kept asking, 'Are you sure you never went goose hunting before?'
"You can tell they've got a passion, just like Matt, of hunting. They were talking about turkey season coming up and Matt said he was all over that. They communicated with us continually. They are just nice people. The hunting days were so much fun. It was really impressive what they would do with the labs. They put a camera on the bottom of them and they could get a shot of the dogs retrieving. We learned so much in three days."
On the second day of hunting approximately 15 geese were bagged and approximately 13 on the third. On the third day, the group hunted until Matt and Susan had to leave for the airport. As they drove down a country road, changing clothes, Susan feared they would miss their flight.
One of the geese Matt shot was set aside and will be sent to the family to stuff. The rest were donated to charity.
Above all, Matt is glad to have spent time with "The Crush" crew and learn some hunting tips from Lee, who taught him clover is the best plant for deer food plots. Lee also offered to study satellite images of the Brown's property to recommend potential plot placement.
The episode is set to air sometime in January. Susan said it takes 10-12 months to prepare the show for broadcast. Matt plans to have his friends over the watch it.
The Brown family is very thankful to the Audrain County Dream Factory for making Matt's dream come true, the Mexico community for supporting him through his illness and supplying lots of food, and for Matt's passion of hunting and fishing. He can no longer play football, baseball is a high risk and if he experiences whiplash in the future he could potentially suffer a fatal injury, but hunting and fishing will remain Matt's joy. As he told the doctor during his first visit after being pulled from the lake that fateful day and was informed his neck was broken, "I'm still going fishing."