Praise for Hundred Percent Chance

Brown’s writing is lively and lyrical, with moments of intense description offset by humorous ones … For those interested in seeing the toll leukemia can take on a young, healthy person, Brown’s account offers the details in searing prose. An intense, deftly composed cancer narrative.

Kirkus Reviews

Brown’s straightforward, unpretentious writing style is compelling and brutally honest. The use of present tense, first person, amplifies the effect. His wry sense of humor is both endearing and heartbreaking. After learning he was in remission, Brown quips, “It’s great to be in remission. Great with a capital ‘G’ and a Tony the Tiger drawl.” Neither victim nor hero, the author survived with humor, grit, and the support of medical care-givers, family and friends.

Regardless of one’s personal experience with cancer or critical illness, these pages relate an essential human experience: the struggle to survive against the odds. This universal theme will resonate with almost any reader.

BlueInk Review

My Story

A short video that was created in 2016 in support of my local fundraising campaign for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Man of the Year.

Video created by acowsay cinema.

Here Is How It All Begins

  • Prologue
  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3
  • Chapter 4

I had leukemia. I had it and now I don’t and that should be that. Only it’s not. It’s a memory that won’t go away. Not a haunting memory, not a slow-motion replay of a rear-end collision where you find yourself clenching your arms against the seat, looking back over your shoulder for the too-fast car that isn’t there. No. Leukemia is vague with occasional flashes of coherence. It is a constant hum.

During the summer of 1992, not even two full years after my last stay in the hospital, I would be sitting on the back porch with Dad and Jane – all of us sharing sections from the thick Sunday paper, arguing over who would get the comics first – when a palpable memory would surprise me. I would not be expecting it, and the memories were still so fresh.

Perhaps one of my legs had fallen asleep, or the coffee had cooled slightly, a tight bitter taste. Something: a glint of sunlight reflecting off Green Lake down the hill. Anything. There would be a sudden flash in my brain, telling me that the tingling sensation was exactly the way my legs felt after those first seven weeks at the University of Washington Medical Center: emaciated, weak, thin, practically useless. They wobbled when I tried walking up the stairs after I’d finally made it back home. That feeling would come crashing down around me. I would be sitting in a comfortable chair on the back porch with my parents, warm morning sun pouring through the windows, good coffee, all of that, but suddenly my legs are once again beyond weak and tired, a memory of such aching, exhausted pain.

I’d stare through the newspaper. And then I’d be tasting the chemo again, tasting it bad like it was during those earliest weeks. Maybe I’d feel a quick rush, a hot spurt in my veins of something, I don’t know what or why, and I’m flat on my back again, in this claustrophobic subterranean hospital room, one of many faceless nurses standing at my side. She is pushing iodine into my bloodstream so the CAT scan images will be clearer, all because of mystery fevers out of nowhere, again and again, this time well into my final round of chemotherapy. Only now my doctors and nurses and family and everyone else are all but certain — shh, don’t tell anyone — that the solution to the mystery is that my fevers are starting from somewhere inside my skull.

These were real. Tangible. It doesn’t do them justice to simply call them “memories.” The colors would be so clear, the smells, the sounds, the heat in my veins, that nasty metallic taste, and then quiet fucking tears that would need to be blinked away before Dad or Jane might notice.

The constant hum of leukemia would transform into a brief shout.

Pay attention, it says. Do not forget me. I can make your body remember, even if your mind wants to forget.

As if I could.

I’m talking with Mom, in that same hazy summer after graduating from Carleton, a couple of years after everything. We’d be talking in the kitchen at the new house her and Paul had recently moved into up the hill near Fairwood. She’s working on a grocery list, standing in front of the refrigerator with a small note pad, opening and closing cupboards almost at random, adding more items to her list. I’m leaning up against the corner by the double sinks, swishing a glass of water around, listening to the ice clank against the sides, asking her what she thinks about insurance. We would talk about this fairly often after graduation. It concerns me, my inability to find medical insurance with such an ominous pre-existing condition. COBRA won’t last forever. I’m an adult, now. Didn’t get into grad school. Don’t have a full-time job. What am I supposed to do if I can’t find a “real” job? I sure as hell can’t afford insurance premiums if I keep waiting tables or working shitty office temp jobs in downtown Seattle. The clock is ticking.

I’m not even paying much attention to what I’m saying, just random questions for her to field. She’s The Mom, the solid, strong business woman. She knows about these things. But suddenly she’s crying. Real tears, running fast, and they make me uncomfortable. “I’m sorry,” she says. “It still surprises me how quickly they come. Just when I think I have it under control…”

“I’m sorry…”

“Don’t be sorry, Robert. It’s me.”

Her memories, I think, are sometimes even stronger than mine. Or perhaps they are simply that much more painful. More painful to be on the outside looking in, unable to do anything but worry, unable to dab peroxide on a skinned knee. Leukemia is one thing that a mother cannot kiss and make better.

When I was in the hospital, both sets of parents encouraged me to take notes, keep a journal, anything to help me to remember what we were going through. There were so many free hours, so many days where I couldn’t do anything but move from my bed to my bathroom and back again.

Just jot down some details, they’d suggested. Take your time. Write things down.

My sister’s best friend had given me a new Sony Walkman during my first month in the hospital, one of many thoughtful gifts from many early visitors. It was an upgraded model, with an additional button to press that would allow me to speak into a small microphone at the bottom and record anything onto a blank cassette tape.

“I know you’ve been tired,” Sharon had said. “But you can still speak into this if you want, you know. You don’t even have to write. Just preserve the memories.”

Another acquaintance — a long-time friend and former secretary of my mother’s — had also been shopping. Everybody, it seemed, was on the same page. Working together to get me thinking about the words I should be putting to paper. She’d picked out a hard cover notebook with a marbled blue cover and clean blank pages to go along with a gorgeous Waterman pen, blue, medium point.

I appreciated all of it. Really. But I was always so fucking tired.

“Besides,” I’d told them, individually, collectively, “How could I possibly forget? This isn’t the sort of experience that’s likely to fade from memory anytime soon.”

“No, no,” they would respond. “That’s not what we meant. Of course you’ll never forget that you had leukemia. But you might forget the name of one particular doctor. Not all of them, but maybe one or two. Or the man who worked in Food Services, the one with the vast personal library of movies on VHS tape, black-and-white classics, mostly, bringing a new one for you to enjoy every day with your lunch. You might forget what he looks like, his name, the different movies he’d brought. Even the way your chest felt, remember, when it was swollen with blood? When you couldn’t stop bleeding after your Hickman catheter was put in? These things. These specific moments are the kinds of details that might vanish forever.”

“Oh. That’s it? Nothing to worry about,” I’d told them

I was twenty, twenty-one years old, as confident as one can be after enduring weeks of chemotherapy and complications.

“Don’t worry,” I’d said. “I’ll remember everything.”

Wrong.

I remember that I survived. I remember only a few of the most lucid dreams. Names have slowly disappeared behind a dark wall of fog. Specifics, for the most part, elude me. Or maybe it’s just that I haven’t made sufficient attempts to dredge my memory yet.

One of my first doctors at the University of Washington Medical Center — young, tall, square-jawed and ruggedly handsome, like he’d stepped straight out of central casting for some popular weeknight drama — had told my parents that one of the likely side-effects of my steady diet of drugs could very well be memory loss.

“We’ll be prescribing them primarily to fight infection,” he’d said. “That’s our immediate, short term goal. In addition to providing his body with some much-needed protection against infection, they might well do a number on his memory. He may forget. Might not be such a bad trade-off, no? Some things are better left unremembered.”

This, then, will be my belated attempt to remember, so many years later. I will write. I will chase my memories, tackling them from behind if necessary, capturing them on paper. Hopefully they’ll progress in a linear, chronological fashion, but no guarantees. Memories like Jackson Pollack. A burst of color there, a dribble of paint, more splashes in the corner because that red reminds me of this shade of crimson, and before long there’s a complete picture: the story of my leukemia.

About the Author

Robert K. Brown grew up just outside of Seattle, Washington and has lived in Minneapolis for nearly twenty-five years. He has been actively involved with the Minnesota Chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for most of that time, raising money while participating in five marathons with Team in Training since 1998, as the 2016 Man of the Year, and as a member of the Board of Trustees beginning in 2018.

Robert received several prizes for short fiction and poetry while attending Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota including the Sigrid and Erling Larsen Award for the "student who has done the most memorable or distinguished work in literature, drama, music, art, dance, photography, or film." This is his first published memoir.

Robert has two daughters who are both pursuing their dreams on opposite coasts.