Brendan Price wasn’t just any healthy 31-year-old in the fall of 1995. No, he was different.
A decorated college gymnast and a Guinness Book of World Record holder for Mile Handstand Relay, Price was then coaching at the world-renowned GymMasters in Texas, producing U.S. Olympic and World Champion-caliber athletes.
While his mother had passed in late winter from breast cancer, his life was otherwise moving along without pause. That is, until he noticed a swollen lymph node in his groin. Without other symptoms, he shrugged it off until he could no longer ignore it. The eventual diagnosis was shocking: Stage 4 Non-Hodgkins Large Cell B Lymphoma.
“The doctors told me bluntly that this was slow growing but incurable; that I would go through remission many times until eventually, I didn’t,” said Price. “I was still grieving my mother’s passing, and now this diagnosis. It was such an intense blow.”
After a frustrating road battling insurance and hospitals who would work with his situation, he was accepted at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Treated with a cocktail of three drugs, including Fludarabine – developed by Birmingham, Alabama’s Southern Research – Price eventually went into remission.
He then met Jana, the woman he would eventually marry, and the two moved to Orlando, Florida, in 1998 when he received a part in Disney World’s gymnastics and trampoline-heavy production called Festival of the Lion King.
It was 2002 when he began to notice severe exhaustion. Tests soon conﬁrmed that the cancer had returned, and this time, the diagnosis was more grim.
“I had a third of my liver removed. The chemo wasn’t working. I tried every sort of alternative medicine imaginable. It was agony,” said Price. “Doctors in Orlando were teleconferencing to doctors at M.D. Anderson regarding my case.”
Ultimately, he qualiﬁed for a stem cell bone marrow transplant and moved to Houston for several months for treatment.
Six months into his recovery back in Orlando, another shock: Jana had breast cancer.
“Suddenly, the primary caregiver in our family became a patient, so some days, I was better than she, so I took care of her. Others, she took care of me,” said Price.
Ultimately, Price again went into remission, however his beloved wife and partner succumbed to cancer in 2010. She was 53 years old, the same age as his mother at the time of her death.
After Jana’s passing, Price relocated his life to Asheville, North Carolina, a place he and his wife had loved throughout their relationship. After taking time to heal, a “friend-of-afriend” love connection pulled him toward the Magic City, and he moved to Alabama in late 2015.
It was fall 2018 when Price, now a real estate professional, was invited to a friend’s home to learn more about a Southern Research fundraising initiative called The Change Campaign, for which a number of individuals were working to onboard monetary supporters through, among a robust social campaign, get togethers and other person-to-person outreach activities to fund cancer, neuroscience and green chemistry research.
“It was at this dinner that I mentioned I had been treated many years ago with Fludarabine, and the Southern Research representative onsite nearly dropped her plate and told me that drug was developed at their facility,” said Price. “She introduced me onsite to Dr. Rebecca Boohaker, and we talked extensively about my experience and how Fludarabine had affected my life.”
“It gave me a ﬁghting chance when I was in a seemingly hopeless place – and it contributed to an initial cancer-free ﬁve years,” he added.
Fifteen years after his last bout with the disease, Price currently has no evidence of cancer in his body. He credits researchers like those at Southern Research for helping to save his life and create treatments that are less aggressive for patients who battle cancer in the future.
“When I was diagnosed, treatment for cancer was truly slash and burn – it was harsh and took a huge toll on my body. The future of treatment is immunotherapy, less cellular damage,” said Price. “What people don’t realize is this type of research is being done here in our backyard at Southern Research, and Birmingham is lucky to have them.” So what now for someone who has been to the end and back? He’s taking a year off to write about his experience and to use what has happened to him to leave a mark and fulﬁll a greater purpose.
“This all has to be for something – and I intend to use what I’ve been through for good and for purpose,” he said.