Hollis man tackling battle with leukemia head-on

MILFORD – "I’ve got this."

That was almost Chris Brown’s first reaction to finding out he has acute myeloid leukemia.

Almost because, naturally, when anyone gets such a diagnosis, the initial reaction is something akin to shock.

"When anyone tells you you’ve got cancer, you’re floored," Brown said from his room at One West, the ward at the Dartmouth-Hitch­cock Norris Cotton Cancer Center where he has been for more than a month.

"It’s not what I was expecting to hear. You go through a couple of minutes of realizing it’s going to be a tough fight, but I knew my family would support me, my wife and two daughters. So there was no way I wasn’t going to fight this as hard as I could."

Naturally the diagnosis, made in June, was bad news. But recently, there has been good news, too, and it’s possible that soon he’ll be able to go home to Hollis for a few weeks and then, shortly after that, back to Dartmouth-Hitchcock for a bone marrow transplant.

Perhaps the best news is that doctors have already found a match: his brother. Nevertheless, the search for a donor continues through national and international blood marrow registries just in case there is a better match.

All of that, plus the support of his family and of his professional family at Hampshire Hills Sports Athletic Club in Milford, has helped him to maintain a positive attitude that comes through clearly on the telephone and that reinforc­es his determination:

"I’ve got this."

That’s what he said when friends and co-workers first expressed their concern.

And that will be the slogan on Sunday, Aug. 9, when Hampshire Hills, as part of its annual mem­bers barbecue, will raise funds for Brown, who expects to be out of work for anywhere from a year to two years. It’s something his co-workers and associates want to do because they admire his ability as a personal trainer, but also his in­credibly positive outlook.

"The event will be filled with fun activities for adults and kids and is open to members and guests," said McKinley Curro, of Hampshire Hills, who is organizing the event. "This is an opportunity to celebrate Chris and his incredible attitude through his journey and to come together as a community to help raise money for his road ahead."

Brown hopes to be there. That is his short-term goal: to get out of the hospital, albeit temporarily, so he can be among his friends and supporters on Aug. 9.

"My goal is to attend the fun­draiser," he said, "but I’m not sure when I’ll be able to go home. My goal is to be out of here by the end of the month. I’m trying as hard as I can to be there."

No one doubts that.

"He has a beautiful family, and I am certain that is what motivates him," said Tom Sapienza, Hamp­shire Hills’ director of operations.

And Hampshire Hills is part of that, he said.

Brown "has a great support net­work," Sapienza said. "As awful as this is, it has brought a lot of peo­ple together with a common goal of doing whatever we can to help him get through this."

That sentiment was echoed by Laurie and Rick Holder, the club’s owners, who said in an email: "We are fortunate to have people like Chris supporting our team at Hampshire Hills, and now is the time for our team to support Chris in his battle."

The fundraiser will come one day after Amherst Country Club holds a similar event for Brown – a golf scramble, with the majority of the proceeds going to Brown and his family, Curro said.

The Hampshire Hills barbecue will take center stage from noon-4 p.m. Aug 9.

"We want all of our members to participate" in the barbecue, Curro said, who said there will be no pres­sure to donate funds for Brown.

There will be donation locations around the barbecue site, however, so members and their guests can put in some money, if they wish, she said.

There will even be a dunk tank.

"You can pay to dunk some­body," Curro said, "and those dona­tions will go to Chris. If you don’t want to be dunked, you can match that donation to stay dry."

Wendy Mace and her band, 13 Steps, will perform, and Dave Al­cox will be the disc jockey.

"It will really be fun and low-pressure," Curro said.

Fun, yes, but serious, too, be­cause the Hampshire Hills staff members are concerned for the welfare of their friend.

In their email, the Holders said, "We find it it immensely unfair when people who selflessly give their time and caring to help oth­ers be well come down with life-threatening illnesses themselves. Chris Brown is one of those peo­ple."

That was echoed by Sapienza.

"Chris is a wonderful trainer," he said in an email." He is very low key, but professional and techni­cally outstanding. He loves helping people, and now he is receiving the love right back."

Brown quickly acknowledges that.

"The amount of support I’ve gotten has been absolutely amaz­ing," he said.

Brown said he’s pleased that Hampshire Hills is using "I’ve got this" as the fundraiser’s slogan.

"I think it’s pretty cool," he said. "Coming into this, I knew I had to have a positive attitude. Yeah, it’s pretty cool."

Those who don’t attend the Hampshire Hills event can still donate to Brown’s fund. He said there is a Go Fund Me site that a family friend set up, and it includes a blog that updates people on his progress.

The address is gofundme.com/wx7f74s.