Smiling Through The Fight: Lovely Browne's Testimony
While in Charleston spending time with family during the Christmas holiday, it was vital for me to carve out some time to have a conversation with stage play actress, podcast host, and storyteller, Tiffany Lovely Browne Summers. Tiffany brings life to every room she enters. She is entertaining, vibrant, and very witty. As she likes to say, "her head bad!" Whenever she is around, it is sure to be a good time. But, as we know, in life, we all face obstacles that try to decrease our faith and question our ability to live. In 2017, Lovely Browne, as she prefers to be recognized, was hit with a significant blow when she received devastating news about an illness that threatened her life and tried to breakdown her body; she had stage three cancer.
I spoke with Lovely about her love for theater, her challenges battling cancer, and her unwavering will to fight and push through pain, anger, confusion, and fear. Lovely Browne is like many other brave women and men who fight and win the battle against the terrible disease. She is a survivor and a community hero. Please be inspired through this one on one conversation with Dacia The Roving Journalist and Lovely Browne.
RJ: Tell me your name and where you grew up.
LB: My name is Tiffany Summers, and I go by my stage name Lovely Browne. I grew up right here in North Charleston, Bonds Avenue off Dorchester Road. My mom and my dad tried to make sure that we had the best of everything, so there was never a dull moment. My dad used to sing in a band, and my mom could not sing. My sister sang as well - music or some arts happened in our home.
RJ: tell me something that you may have inherited from your parents? You stated that your sister sang because your dad sang. Tell me what you believe you inherited from any of your parents.
LB: Well, I get both sides. I, you know, can sing a little, and I can cut a fool and crack jokes like my mom. So, I got a bit of both of my parent's ways.
RJ: You mentioned your stage name, Lovely Browne. Let's talk about your acting. Tell me about some of your projects.
LB: Usually, when I announce myself or introduce myself, I say my government name is Tiffany Summers. However, you will know me by Lovely Browne. And that would be BROWNE with an E at the end of Browne. It is not BROWN-E, it's BROWNE. You grab that E, you hold on tight, you pull it on close, and then you get your life!
I do a plethora of things in the acting field. I've worked on TV shows and movies. I've done short films, and I've done what feels like a million on stage plays. I work on and behind the stage.
RJ: What made you pursue acting?
LB: Well, my mother passed away in 2003, and she kept pushing, pushing, pushing, and pushing for me to meet this named Art Gilliard. She used to tell me, "Art Gilliard got this acting thing, and I think you need to go, do it!" And now, you know, I just procrastinated for a while, and I will tell her, yeah, yeah, yeah. I'll do it, but I will never get to it. And so, when she passed away, it was about two years after her passing, I got a phone call about auditions for Art, and went and did an audition. I used a couple of different voices. And he was like, "man, you're awesome!" And that was in 2004-2005.
RJ: Tell me about one of the most memorable moments in your acting career.
LB: I was asked by a friend to go to be an extra on a movie filmed in downtown Charleston. And I was like, girl, I don't want to be an extra. And she convinced me to go. She said, "oh, come on and go do it; let's do it!" So when I went to do it, you know, we were out there, and it was cold. In the movie, it is Summer, so we had to dress in Summer clothes, but it was frigid outside. In one of the shots, I made a couple of faces with my eyes, and the associate director came running over to our section. I was like, hold up, did I do something wrong? But he came to me, he says, can you do the same things again with your eyes? And I said, yeah, there my eyes so I can do the look. I made the same face, and I had to keep doing it repeatedly until they got the final shot. Afterward, the associate director came back to me, and he said, the camera loves you. You've got to get an agent; you got to get on this because the camera loves you. And from that point on, I was looking for agents.
RJ: Did you find an agent?
LB: So, I decided to go to North Carolina and started looking for agents in North Carolina, I looked in Atlanta and, you know, going upstate even as far as New York to find me an agent. I made a promise to myself before 2018, I was going to find me an agent. May is my birthday month, so I and a few family and friends went to North Carolina to spend the weekend for my birthday, which was good because it was also Cinco de Mayo. We had a good ole time. Also, while there, I went for my audition for an agency. After my audition, they said, we'll let you know something on Monday. First thing Monday morning, I got an email from them asking me if I would accept them as representation.
RJ: I know that was exciting news. How did you feel after receiving that email?
LB: I was at work, so I could not scream out in excitement as I wanted, but I was so excited and happy!
I had to be professional and walk outside to my car and scream! From that point on, they had me working. I traveled back and forth to North Carolina every weekend for the month of May, except for the last weekend in May of 2018. twenty eighteen I, I've four art forms.
RJ: Tell me some of the projects your agent had you working
LB: For Arts Theater and Concept, I did the stage play God's Trombone, Ain Nothin But the Blues, and I've worked with an independent Stage Play Writer, No-Limit Creations, where I did several plays with them. With No-Limit Creations, I did Temptation's 1 and 2. I played a character named Sandra Lawson, who is an alcoholic, turned holiness.
RJ: How do you prepare for a role?
LB: I usually embody my roles. I take on my character. So like I said, Sandra Lawson is a no-nonsense older woman. She does not play. So, there was this older lady in my church, and her name was Mother Manley. She had a unique voice. I would imitate her voice and use it to play my character, Sandra Lawson. Each character I embody and take it from somebody that I know that acts that way or a certain way or whatever the case may be.
RJ: I love talking about your acting career. It is so inspiring. Let's move on to the next topic. Take me back to the day when you received your cancer diagnosis.
LB: I was returning to Charleston from a play my agent set up for me. The next day, I had to be to work, and I remember it was a Wednesday. Also, I had a mammogram appointment, which I had been putting off since October of last year. And I said I might as well go ahead and take a half-day from work and get this mammogram. My appointment was 9 a.m. Now, mind you, I was supposed to get the mammogram since the previous year, and I felt a knot in my breast, but I just passed it by because I have fibrocystic breasts, which is in a lot of African-American women when your breasts are slightly lumpy. If you drink coffee, eat chocolate, or indulge in anything with caffeine in it can make your breasts lumpy. So since, you know, I have fibrocystic breasts, I said, this is nothing. During the summertime, I love cold Baha Blasts by Mountain Due, and I drink many of them. I buy a case and have them at my desk at work. So I thought the knot came from drinking sodas, and I stopped drinking them two weeks before my appointment thinking it will make it go away.
At the doctor's office, I was waiting for my mammogram, and the technician came in to talk to me. She asked me if I felt anything different. I said, Well, I got a little knot right here, pointing to my left breast, but I do not know what that is. I mean, I drink a lot of soda, and I got fibrocystic breasts. She felt it for herself, and said, "I'm going to have to call your doctor. You will need an ultrasound." I questioned, an ultrasound? So, she told me to go back into the room and wait until she talks to my doctor.
A few minutes later, the technician comes back and says, Ms. Summers, we called the doctor's office, and no one is there to write the prescription. So, I gave her an alternate number and told her to tell them she was calling for me. It was the number to my doctor's nurse. Within three and a half minutes, they had fax saying to reorder the ultrasound. So, they did they the mammogram and then, the ultrasound
There's always an oncologist on staff at the Breast Cancer Center. First, I did the mammogram, then the ultrasound. And the lump showed up in the ultrasound. After the Oncologist came in and said, "you know, usually when it's a hard mass, we do a biopsy." So now, I need a biopsy.
She asked me if I wanted to come back or do it the same day. Since I was already there, I agreed to go ahead and get it over with right then.
Early on, I think it was like in my early 20s to mid-20s, I had two titanium clips placed in my left breast because they found lumps and did not know what it was, so I had a biopsy, and it was just tissue basically from having lumpy breasts, for lack of a better term.
The Oncologist came in with her equipment to perform the biopsy, and after she finished, she said I would know the results within 24 to 48 hours. I went home and reported back to work on Thursday, like usual. So, Friday morning, I'm coming in to work with my breakfast swinging my bag and singing to myself. I greeted everyone, as I always do. As I'm telling everyone good morning, I get a phone call on my cell, and I see it is my doctor's office. I answer the phone chipper like I always do when they call. I knew something was wrong when she was not upbeat, and she called me by formally by my first name.
She said, "Tiffany, where are you?" I said I'm my work. She said, "do you have someplace you can go talk?" And I said, sure, my boss is not here, so let me go to her office. So, I went into her office and closed the door. The nurse continued to tell me that my results were severe. Then she said, "I'm sorry, baby, but it's cancer." I still can't tell you what she said after I heard the word cancer. I heard nothing else. All her words sound like mutter or the teacher from Charlie Brown. All I kept saying was "OK."
I heard nothing- I heard absolutely nothing. I just couldn't comprehend anything my nurse told me. I just calmly went to my desk and pulled out my car keys and walked out of the office, and got in my car, and I called my sister. She answered the phone with, "Hey, what's going on?" Once I heard her voice, I broke down crying uncontrollably. She was trying to calm me down over the phone, but I could not contain myself. I kept repeating, "It's cancer! I'm going to die!"
While trying to calm me down, my sister then asked, What type of cancer? I said I don't know. After I heard the news, I hung up on her. I don't know. So, she advised me to call back so we can find out all the details.
When I got the nurse back on the phone, I explained that I really did not hear what she was telling me about the details of my cancer and if she can say to me again. She said that I had Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, which means that it was a tumor in my milk duct, and she couldn't tell me any stages or until I see the surgeon.
After talking to the nurse and my sister, I went back into the office. I had already told them I went for a mammogram and found something, and we must wait and see. Well, I'm walking back to my desk, and one of my co-workers ask what the doctors say. Did you hear from the doctor yet? I collapsed on the floor. I started crying and screaming, and the next thing I knew, my colleagues were helping me off the floor. They put me in the chair and formed a circle around me and started praying, including the owner of the company. Everyone told me it's going to be alright; you're going to fight! After, the owner of the company insisted that I go home, but he wanted to be sure I could drive. I did not live far, so I was OK to drive. After that day, I contacted my close family and friends to break the news to start building my support team, and I started undergoing my tests and treatments.
RJ: When did the smoke clear, and you realized that it was time to fight?
LB: I don't think I had accepted it. I did not believe it was real. I feel when I came to grips with everything is when the surgeon told me I had stage three cancer, and I started losing my hair.
The surgeon told me; I was in stage three breast cancer. She couldn't tell me if I was negative or positive for hormones, so I had to do a test and wait for that test to come back. And when the test came back, I was triple negative, which means that there was no hereditary, and that means there were no hormonal causes to where the breast cancer can form. So basically, it just showed up.
I went to the hospital to get my port put in on a Thursday, and I still was in disbelief. My Oncologist told me, "we're going to have to do hardcore chemo on you because the tumor is at stage three, but we don't know where it came from, So since we don't know where it came from, we don't know where else cancer could be. So they had to do hardcore chemo, which means that instead of me going once a week or twice a week, I went for four days a week for chemo.
I had seven to eight treatments on one chemo, and he switched me to another chemo. And as I'm switching between getting the transitions, I had to get an injection because the first chemo can cause leukemia, and they give you an injection in your arm to build the bones. If you have arthritis and get the injection, it causes pain. After the injection, I could barely move. I was in so much pain. I mean, all I could do was cry. I couldn't move. I could not go to the bathroom by myself. My son had to get me off the floor because I had to crawl into the bathroom. After all, I couldn't move my legs; they hurt so bad. And this is all through the first stages of the chemo. I have not gone through the second stage yet. I'm saying to myself; this is crazy. My significant other had to help me get off the toilet and clean up vomit - I couldn't, I couldn't stop it. It felt like my body was tearing down. I could do nothing. All I could do was cry. And I say I'm sorry- I was embarrassed. But they were so supportive, and they will tell me it's OK. They knew I was dealing with my illness.
RJ: Tell me about your hair loss journey.
LB: I had braids in my hair, and one day, I was walking down the hallway in my home, and I had a trail of braids behind me. So at that time, I said, I got to cut it. That night I went to sleep when I woke up, I had braids all over my pillow. I called my girlfriend, who is a beautician, my best friend. She's been my friend for twenty years. And I asked her, are you going to cut my hair? She replied, yes, I'll cut it. But she never called me back. I knew she was not going to cut it because she was scared! [laughs].
I told her, all I want you to do is just cut my hair and keep kind of low. She was so scared that she would not even return my call.
So the guys at the barbershop, which my kids have been going to since they were one, two years old, I consider them my brothers at Carolina Barbershop. I called one of the barbers one night at his house, and it was about almost nine o'clock, and I said I said, tell your wife it's me and it's about something important. I told him I am going to give you the privilege to cut my hair. So he scheduled me for 10 a.m. the next morning.
My sister and I went to the shop the next morning, and I'm sitting in his chair. He put the cape on me, and he started cutting my braids with his scissors. When he would cut, all he had to do was just touch the braid, and I could just feel it detach right from the root. When he turned the clippers on, that is when I lost it. I couldn't stop crying. I cried from the time he started cutting with the clippers until he finished. That is when I realized this cancer is real, and this is happening to me, and I'm saying to myself, I have to get my stuff in order. I started thinking about my living will, power of attorney paperwork, and my insurance policies. I had to prepare myself because I just didn't know what was going to happen. And it was all real.
My sister was sitting across from me, making funny faces trying to make me laugh. I was beyond laughter. My barber gave me a wipe to clean my face off. I still could not stop crying. That is when everyone in the shop, even the customers, held hands. They started praying for my strength and healing. I decided to fight tooth and nail to beat this cancer, because that is what I do, and everyone around me knows that I am a fighter.
RJ: Did you have your breasts removed?
LB: Oh, no, I did not have my breasts removed. I had a partial right Mastectomy. That means that they went in and took the tumor out. She had to take a little bit more tissue than she had anticipated. So I have an indention in my breast, and she had to take one lymph node from underneath my arm. We Just recently tested to make sure that it wasn't spreading because, you know, once cancer gets into your lymph nodes, it spreads because your lymph nodes are like it's like your good and bad blood cells and they fight against each other, you know, they fight against the germs together. If cancer gets in your lymph nodes, it just goes over your entire body.
RJ: So, right now, you're cancer-free.
LB: Yes, I am cancer-free. As I said, it's been three months since I have been off chemo, and I have had every scan and test there is for them to check. For me being as young as I am, they said just to be on the safe side, they want to make sure because this cancer came out of nowhere. I got that diagnosis toward the end of November. So almost three months ago is when I got the results, and he said it was all clear.
My Oncologist and his nurse called me, screaming with excitement on the phone to share this news with me. They said, "We've got to test results, and it says you're cancer-free!!" They both expressed how scared they were for me because I was one of their favorite patients. He said I'm telling you; I don't know what I would have done to know you were on another chemo and cancer came back. I said, But, sir, I said, but, sir, didn't I tell you when I first met you that anything you learned in your medical books to throw away? [laughs]
Because I am not a medical book person, I'm a medical anomaly. I said the devil's been trying to get me since birth, but he didn't know he got the wrong one because I was born early. I was in the incubator little, tiny baby. Then I went from a small baby to be sick because I had a hernia. They had an emergency hernia surgery where they cut open the stomach, take the hernia out, and they had a packed wound. So, he was coming, and he is still coming, but I am a fighter.
RJ: What does it mean to be cancer-free? Are you fully healed?
LB: I want people to know just because the doctor has said that you're cancer-free, and you don't have to do any more chemo, you still have a long road to recovery. I'm still in the healing process. I still have so many aftereffects. I can't do too much day after day. If I'm up for two days straight doing something, you know, mixing up or whatever, I'm down for at least a day and a half, two days. I may want to get up and do things, but my body will not allow me to overdo it. I try to continue to do activities with my friends and stuff, but I can't. Also, you must understand that cancer makes you change your life. And you can become depressed and have anxiety. I've been depressed because a lot of the time, you know, during my illness, I was by myself some of the time until, like, the next person came in for their shift to help care for me see if I ate anything throughout the day.
Cancer survivors are continually healing. My breast is still healing-sometimes, my breast hurt so bad.
Sometimes it wakes me from my sleep.
RJ: Do you believe it is vital for cancer patients and cancer survivors to seek therapy?
LB: Yes, I will tell any medical professional to consider making their patients enroll in individual counseling. Group counseling is cool, but group counseling is not for everybody because everybody could be having a different story happening at the same time. And then what if I'm new to cancer and I don't know what's going on it, and they tell me, oh, I lost my breast, I lost my job, I lost all my morale, you know? I mean, for somebody who's never done it or been through it before, this can be very traumatic for a person. But I've been in your plan, that's what they call it. Your action plan. In your action plan.
RJ: What projects do you have now? Are you working on anything new?
Lb: I have a podcast show called Lovely's World that comes on every Tuesday and Thursday from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m Eastern Standard Time on Exquisite Internet Radio. I am excited about this year because, in 2020, I plan on doing some big things. Even if I got to take baby steps, I do what I got to do to make it happen
RJ: What do you want your legacy to be?
LB: I want to make sure that everybody knows that I will do anything to make you laugh, and I want everybody to, you know, to remember me for being loving and kind and, you know, and I will take care of anyone. I want people to say, "do you remember lovely or you remember Tiffany? She was so funny, loving, and she was a fighter."
RJ: How can people reach out to you on social media
LB: You can reach me at Lovelysworldshow@gmail.com. You can send me music. You can, you know, send encouraging words. Also, you can hit me at every social media outlet as Lovely Browne with an "E."