Diem Brown is in the fight of her life – and she’s sharing it with raw candor.
“It’s important to me to share the realness of my journey to help show that ‘healthy’ isn’t a quick before-and-after picture,” she tells PEOPLE exclusively. “But instead it’s okay to admit that at times it’s hard, that it can be tough.”
In intimate photos, Brown, 34, offers an emotional look at the toll taken by the toughest battle yet in her long war with cancer.
When she woke up after emergency surgery in mid-August following complications from an operation to remove several tumors, she had no idea how close she’d come to not making it through.
But this time was different.
“It wasn’t until later that they told me that all my organs had started shutting down one by one. My heart rate had gone. I was in full septic shock,” she says. “They said, ‘We were all terrified.’ I was like, ‘What?‘ ”
“They pump you with all this fluid. That’s why I was all swollen. My feet looked like Flintstones feet. The doctors said, ‘Your body is reacting to everything you just went through.’ ”
Her recovery since then has stunned even her own medical team.
“Just yesterday, my doctor said, ‘You don’t understand. You’re not supposed to look this way. You’re so lucky, and someone’s watching over you up there,'” says Brown, who rallied her “Dancing for Diem” team at Saturday’s Run For Her 5K event in support of ovarian cancer research and awareness.
She adds: “My mom passed away, so maybe Mom was like, ‘Not yet!’ ”
Now facing the prospect of chemotherapy and further treatment as she works to regain her strength, “I can’t think about how long this journey is,” she says. “I have to think about the fact that I’m here. The fact that I flatlined still boggles my mind. I wasn’t here. I’m very grateful that I am.”
“The journey is so worth it,” she says, “because living and being alive is more than a cliché. It’s the truth that life is a gift, and your support system is such a huge component of recovery when you feel your spirit wane.”
Friends have set up a support page for Brown on MedGift, a gift registry she founded to help those suffering from any illness