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A Warrior's Determination: Honoring Our 5-Year-Old Son and Supporting Childhood Cancer Research

Read time: 6 minutes
Author: Brady Brown, father of childhood cancer patient Marshall Brown

Brown family at a Bees game
The Brown Family

In June of 2021, Marshall—our active, happy, healthy sports crazy little 5-year-old—came home from a basketball camp. He was so excited to tell his family of all the “buckets” he made and how awesome the coaches thought he did, even though he was one of the smaller kids at camp. Marshall recounted making jump shots and driving to the basket for easy layups. He described making the last shot and winning a shooting contest. Marshall also mentioned his foot hurt a little bit. We looked at Marshall’s foot and noticed the arch of his left foot seemed swollen. Marshall thought he probably hurt his foot like one of his favorite basketball players, Donovon Mitchell. As a dad, I assumed Marsh had bruised or twisted something and he would be fine. Marshall’s mom, Ashley, was more concerned.  

Ashley and Marshall visited his pediatrician. The results of an x-ray were inconclusive. Ashley was still concerned. Next, Marshall saw an orthopedic doctor. The orthopedist wanted Marshall to have an MRI. The day of the MRI was hard, as Marshall had to be sedated and was not sure what to make of everything. With the help of his mom, Marshall underwent an MRI. 

From the time he noticed the lump in his foot until the MRI, Marsh kept being Marsh. He played baseball for the Angels and soccer for the Yellow Ninjas. Marsh loved shooting hoops on his mini hoop in the backyard. He loved to play his own “real games” between his two favorite NBA teams, the Utah Jazz and the Golden State Warriors. Marshall most often played the role of his favorite player, Steph Curry, because Steph was small and a good shooter, just like Marshall. Marshall was full of energy, always moving, always dreaming of what he would do when he was BIG. 

Dr. Matthew Poppe and Radiation Oncology staff with Marshall and his mom, Ashley
Dr. Matthew Poppe and Radiation Oncology staff with Marshall and his mom, Ashley

On Tuesday, August 3, at 9:30 p.m., our world was completely and forever altered. The results of Marshall’s MRI came back. The lump on Marshall’s foot appeared to be a sarcoma. The orthopedic office sent the results to Huntsman Cancer Institute and Primary Children’s Hospital teams. The doctor told Ashley and me that a biopsy needed to be performed on the mass to determine precisely what Marshall had. We were told the procedure would not be able to be done for another 10 to 14 days. Through what we describe as our first miracle and the dedicated efforts of wonderful people, Marshall was scheduled for a biopsy just two days later. 

The biopsy didn’t bring good news. Marshall had alveolar (fusion-positive) rhabdomyosarcoma, a very aggressive cancer of the soft tissue. The feeling of helplessness for Ashley and me at that moment are indescribable. Our perfect little boy, who dreamed so many dreams for the future, was suddenly in a fight for his life.

We told Marshall he was sick and he had cancer. We told Marshall the plan was to pray and do everything the doctors, physician assistants, nurses, and technicians asked us to do. We told him they are all super bright people who spend their time learning how to beat up and get rid of cancer cells. With the sweet innocence of a 5-year-old and a warrior's determination, Marshall said, “Okay, let’s do it!” 

Dr. Matthew Deitz with Marshall and Ashley
Dr. Matthew Deitz with Marshall and Ashley

From the moment Marshall’s treatment began, he loved his incredible medical team, and they loved him. Dr. Matthew Dietz and Stephanie Neerings, Dr. Lemons, Dr. Fair, Dr. Moore, Poppy Ruben, and the countless nurses at Primary Children’s Hospital were amazing. They explained every aspect of the treatment process. They detailed the complexities of the disease, helping us as parents know what might be coming and how we could best navigate the process. Maybe most importantly, they cried with us, doing everything in their power to comfort us. They did everything they could to treat Marshall and help us as a family in an impossible situation. 

The Huntsman Cancer Institute Radiation Oncology team did such a fantastic job that Marshall cried and said he would miss all of his friends when his six weeks of radiation therapy ended. Dr. Poppe, Marshall’s best buddy child-life specialist Abbie Owens, Justin, and the many other radiation technicians organized two separate Nerf gun battles inside the clinic on Marshall’s last day of two different radiation treatments. The team purchased unique flavors and types of popsicles specifically for Marshall and his distinct culinary requests. Seeing all these amazing professionals treat our little boy as though he was their own was another miracle in this process.  

Marshall and Abbie Owens, HCI Child Life Specialist
Marshall and Abbie Owens, HCI Child Life Specialist

Our little boy Marshall fought with unspeakable courage. He took on every challenge rhabdomyosarcoma could throw at him. He did everything he was asked to do—even when he didn’t want to. After being told he needed to undergo a new treatment, a new poke, more scans, and take more bad-tasting medicine, Marshall would bravely shrug his little shoulders and respond, “Well, we got to do it, right?” 

After 201 days of fighting this awful demon, Marshall took his last breath while holding Ashley’s and my hands. Cancer had defeated his body, but could never touch his spirit.

Marshall left us in September 2022. As parents, we have a hole in our lives that cannot be filled or repaired. We miss him so much.

We cannot thank the countless doctors, nurses, technicians, office staff, and others who provided so much love and care to our family when Marshall was fighting cancer

Marshall holding radiation oncology completion certificate

Since Marshall’s passing, our family has chosen to do our part to raise funds for childhood cancer research. We have worked with the Salt Lake Bees (Triple-A Affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels) baseball team and created a program in honor of Marshall. The program is called "Go Gold to Strikeout Childhood Cancer." The color gold represents pediatric cancer, and September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness month. The Bees have been raising money all season long, which will be donated to Huntsman Cancer Institute and used to fund research for pediatric cancer. On September 22, 2023, the Bees will host Go Gold Night. Bees fans will raise money to support research by purchasing Go Gold t-shirts and auction items. The Bees will also donate autographed game-worn gold uniforms that will then be given to families and patients who are fighting cancer. Marshall’s life and his exceptional medical team from Huntsman Cancer Institute and Primary Children’s Hospital will also be honored and remembered in a special ceremony after the game. The ceremony will conclude with Marshall’s favorite part of going to the ballpark— a fireworks show!

We hope the money raised can help support research that can help families like ours have more time with their loved ones, more hope, and eventually a cure for all cancers.

Marshall wearing a catcher's mitt in front of an ad for Go Gold to Strikeout Childhood Cancer

Cancer touches all of us.