“We’re just regular people,” says Joan Brennan of Gretna. She and her husband Vaughn, a retired lawyer and Air Force Veteran, have been married since 1985. Collectively, they have eight children from previous marriages and nine grandchildren. They attend church regularly and enjoy the city of New Orleans with its food, festivals and joie de vivre. When Vaughn Brennan talks to his wife, he often calls her Babe. “I was going to say the same thing, Babe,” he says. “Don’t forget about that, Babe.” They say they enjoy each other’s company and their ease together is obvious. It’s a strong relationship, that was tested, more than once, when both Joan and Vaughn had to deal with cancer.
In March of 1995 tests revealed elevated prostate-specific antigens (PSA) in Vaughn’s bloodstream, a protein that, in excess, often indicates cancerous cells. Vaughn had a radical prostatectomy in May, removing his prostate. Because the cancer was in its early stages, chemo and radiation weren’t required. Later that year, in October, Joan was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent treatment. “The first time was scary,” Joan says. She entered a support group and relied on her faith in God in order to facilitate recovery. “I did a lot of creative visualization techniques,” she says. “I would imagine the good cells knocking out the bad cells.” By 1997, both Joan and Vaughn’s cancers had gone into remission.
But cancer returned. Vaughn experienced a re-occurrence of prostate cancer in 2001 that was treated homeopathically, and then discovered a golf-ball-sized polyp in his lower colon in 2004. He had surgical removal of eight and a half inches of his lower colon. He cites early detection as a reason for his treatment’s success. Joan developed a second occurance of breast cancer in 2003 in her other breast. She had a mastectomy and another round of chemotherapy and radiation. For some people, dealing with cancer repeatedly would be too much, but Joan and Vaughn continued on. They both cite their faith in God as one of the reasons they are able to remain positive and secure. Additionally, both Joan and Vaughn were born during the height of the Great Depression, and Joan says she feels this experience also helped her in handling the disease. “When you’ve been deprived and gone through something like that … it makes you stronger. You can handle it better.”
The Brennans handle it well. Despite their illnesses, they have fought back and stay active in their community. Vaughn works as a Programs Manager at Bergeron Motors in Metairie and Joan is the Church Secretary at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Algiers. The Brennans participate in many of American Cancer Society’s programs, including Relay for Life, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, the Bosom Buddies Support Group and the Hope Gala. Vaughn, a longtime Rotarian, gives talks about his experience at the Metairie Sunrise Rotary Club.
They say that they work to keep their cancers from coming back, but that they don’t obsess over a relapse. Recently, tests have revealed another increase in Vaughn’s PSA, which could indicate another re-occurrence, but Vaughn says he isn’t overly worried. He says he’ll deal with the next steps as they come. Joan agrees. “You just go on living and working and enjoying each other,” she says.