When a Las Vegas woman’s doctors told her that she had been diagnosed with tongue cancer, she wasn’t exactly sure how she could continue her career as a singer, actor and model.
Now just one year after her life-saving surgery, she has not only learned how to talk again, but she has also learned how to sing again — and now she’s using her voice to praise God.
Elly Brown first began to sing when she was only 6 years old. Her sister was in a high school production of the musical “The King and I” and they asked young Elly to participate. She loved singing so much that she continued to seek out more opportunities to sing and perform as she got older.
After moving to Las Vegas, she took her music and theater experience and began to expand her skill set by pursuing on-camera hosting and modeling jobs.
She first noticed spots on her tongue when she was in high school, but her dentist at the time told her to just watch them and see if they grew.
In 2004, another dentist took a biopsy of the area that had continued to get worse and told Elly that she had an auto-immune disease called lichen planus, but that it wasn’t worth much concern.
As the years passed, however, the area only got worse. In 2017, an oral surgeon told her that he felt a lump where the spots were, and after running tests, he determined that it was in fact cancer.
The lump was removed by surgery in March of 2017, causing minimal disruption to her career.
But as she was healing from that surgery, the pain never really went away. In fact, she told Liftable, a section of The Western Journal, that she was experiencing such intense pain in her ear that she couldn’t sleep at night.
She went back to her doctors and asked them to just run a biopsy on the back of her mouth. And it was a good thing they did, because the tests showed that she had in fact developed a much more serious form of cancer and that she had a 3-centimeter tumor on the back of her tongue.
The tumor meant Elly needed to go back into surgery to have it removed, but the impact it had on her life would be far greater than that of the first operation.
Doctors not only removed the tumor, but also took tissue and muscle from her leg to replace part of her tongue.
“At the end of that surgical procedure, I couldn’t really breathe on my own, I couldn’t walk on my own and I couldn’t eat on my own,” she said.
“It was a lot,” she said, describing her recovery. “But there was never a question in my mind that I would recover. I just knew I would. I had the Holy Spirit in my ear every single day saying, ‘Look, I know today is tough but just wait. Wait and see.’”
In fact, her faith had helped her throughout the entire process, from uncertainty to diagnosis to recovery. She said she was even thankful for the uncertain season, despite the anxiety that came with it, because of how her faith grew during that season.
“I’m grateful for that period of time too because that’s when you put yourself firmly in the palm of the Lord,” she said.
Elly had to wait for the swelling to go down before she could get back to singing. And though the surgery itself impacted her ability to move her mouth like she once had, the radiation treatment affected her tone even more.
“I will never operate at the level that I did before,” she said. “But what I’ve been left with I’m so grateful for and I will try to make the most of it because some people get nothing.”
After she felt like her voice could be understood and she had enough energy, Elly began recording videos to share her story with others.
“Without even realizing it, I had been given this niche of a very small community of people who also are very lonely and have had trouble finding others like themselves.”
But the videos she posts are only a small portion of how she has been connected to a community of people who are going through similar situations — she is also constantly interacting with others in her inbox and building community in that way as well.
“In a very weird way, I’m so thankful because I never could’ve predicted it at the time, but it was really a blessing to be given this particular cancer and this particular problem because of the way that we’ve been able to find each other and reach each other.”
Elly hopes that her story encourages people to get tested if they have concerns about cancer, because it only deprives loved ones of future time.
She also hopes her story can show people that dreams don’t die just because something bad happens.
“I have been able to reach more people with my singing the way I am now than I ever did as a ‘normal’ person,” she told Liftable. “If we view these things as a gift from God and we take it upon ourselves to investigate: ‘Why would God give me this gift?’”
“It’s not to ruin your life! It’s given so lovingly and so tenderly. When we sit with these problems … and we really consider how many other people might be feeling this same way and how we can extend our hands to another person,” she said. “It’s a miracle that happens.”