Robin Browne had just celebrated her 28th birthday when she began experiencing pain on her right side. A self-professed hypochondriac, she underwent several tests, including an ultrasound of her gallbladder – all of which came back clear. It wasn’t until she felt a small lump on her left breast that she learned her medical mystery was breast cancer.
“I remember screaming, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die,’” Robin says about the moment she learned of her diagnosis in 2015. “It was only the next day when I could start processing what was going on.”
Later, Robin learned her cancer was stage IV, also known as metastatic breast cancer, as it had already spread to her spine, liver and lymph nodes.
“From then on it was a whirlwind,” Robin says.
Throughout her treatment, Robin’s high school best friend, Catherine Kaelin, remained by her side. Weeks before Robin’s diagnosis, Catherine’s aunt, Carolyn, had died from the disease.
“Catherine had just experienced this tragedy. After hearing about my diagnosis, she instinctively went into this calm, protective mode,” Robin says. “She became a soothing force.”
From attending doctor’s appointments to planning day trips to keep Robin distracted, Catherine did everything in her power to help Robin during this difficult time.
“People tend to be freaked out when someone is going through a serious illness. Cathy wasn’t,” Robin says. “She put in the face time. She made me feel like my old self.”
Catherine’s family is steeped in science, particularly cancer research. Her late aunt Carolyn investigated tumor biology and her uncle, William, has been a BCRF researcher since 2006.
“Cathy always expressed the importance of science and research,” Robin says. “Rather than showering me with platitudes, she would give me digestible data.”
Robin learned the power of research firsthand when she began treatment. After learning her cancer was HER2-positive, she enrolled in a clinical trial where she received the targeted therapy Herceptin which put her disease in remission. To this day, Robin continues to receive the medication once every three weeks to keep her cancer at bay.
“It has been the difference between life and death,” Robin says.
Last summer, Robin was able to be a bridesmaid at Catherine’s wedding. She tried to share her gratitude for her friend’s ongoing support in a toast at the event, but both of their tears got in the way.
“That was the first time we released emotion around my diagnosis,” Robin said. “It was so intense we decided to save my speech for later.”
A new opportunity to honor Catherine presented itself when Robin learned about BCRF’s Roslyn and Leslie Goldstein Unsung Hero Award and nominated her best friend. The recognition acknowledges a person who provided strength, guidance and support for a loved one during their breast cancer diagnosis. Catherine will receive the award at BCRF’s Boston Hot Pink Party on May 10.
For Robin, the award is a fitting way to show Catherine what her support meant during such a trying time in her life.
“It was such a comfort to have someone there for me. Cathy never treated me differently. She hunkered down and helped me get through it in the most normalizing way possible,” Robin says.