A Vegas showgirl, who had part of her tongue removed after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of mouth cancer, has vowed to keep on singing.
Elly Brown, 41, dreamt of Broadway from the moment she starred in her high school's production of ' The King and I '.
Inspired by her sister Larissa who was in theatre school, Elly set about casting a wide net, not just being an actress but a talented model, presenter, and vocal performer.
After putting in a number years on the cruise ship circuit as a production show singer and company manager, she moved to Las Vegas, Nevada.
It was here Elly would discover that a tiny white patch on her tongue, one she'd had since high school, was in fact Lichen Planus.
At the time her dentist wasn't too worried as it was fairly common but he decided to monitor things.
She joined the spectacular stage show 'Jubilee!', donning the quintessential rhinestones and feather headdress, and she lit up the stage as a glamorous Vegas showgirl.
She also loved the red carpet hustle, working freelance jobs as a model, actress, and on-camera host in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, saving up for the future.
Her passion for music saw her join the successful acappella group The Sound Collage which she called her 'dream job', and she had a movie coming out 'Alien Domicile'.
"I was at the absolute height of my career as a freelance performer, and I saw no end in sight."
Elly continued to have her Lichen Planus checked roughly every two years, and in February of 2017 her dentist spotted something, a lump on her tounge.
Elly told Mirror Online: "My oral surgeon said “Ooooh. I don’t like the look of that”. Not something you want to hear. He tested it, and sure enough, it was oral cancer on the back of my tongue."
"They did a surgery to remove the lump, without any further treatment. It gave me a very, very slight speech impediment, but I was able to go back to work about two months later.
That year, Elly worked as normally as she could, but by autumn of 2017, her pain was becoming unbearable.
She was discharged by her ENT specialist, and told her scan was clear and that she should simply take pain medication.
But three more months went by and Elly said she was taking "Tylenol and Advil like candy every 2 hours" holding a water bottle to her head at night just in order to fall asleep.
"I went back to him and demanded a biopsy, and sure enough, the cancer had returned aggressively-stage three squamous cell carcinoma."
She opted to go for surgery at UCLA medical, but she was forced to make a difficult decision; her life or the voice she relied on for her career.
"He performed a hemi-glossectomy (removal of half of the tongue), and replaced the bit of jaw bone that was in the margins of the tumour with bone from my right leg." said Elly.
In place of her missing tongue, doctors built a flap from muscle and skin taken from her her leg, which gave her 'new tongue' it's own blood supply.
"In order to do all of this work, they left scars on my neck (for the trache I had for a week), my belly (the feeding tube), my leg (donor site and skin graft) and a big, long guillotine scar from the center of my lower lip running down around my jaw to my ear."
Doctors also removed all of the lymph nodes on Elly's left side (even though they tested negative for cancer) just as a precaution.
In addition to having to wear a feeding tube for 5 months, the surgery left Elly's face seriously swollen, making it difficult for her to drink and talk easily.
Elly underwent thirty rounds of radiation and two rounds of chemotherapy (Cisplatin), to attack the aggressive cancer, at first she required a wheelchair but she was able to eventually walk.
"The scars I will have for life. They pulled four of my back-left teeth in order to reach the tumor, so I can only chew on my right side–which further inhibits my ability to eat and gain weight.
"The doctors rarely tell people every aspect of what is going to happen to them on one singular day, because they can’t—if they told people everything at once, many would be so upset they’d simply avoid the surgery."
"But that surgery saved my life. I would have been dead by Christmas of 2018 without it.
"I’m so grateful for my doctors and the way that they helped me through it at a pace I could handle."
"The physical changes have changed the nature of my work exponentially. My voice lowered a bit and lost a lot of stamina after radiation, something that is unlikely to get better, even over time.
"Also, I have a very noticeable speech impediment – my diction simply isn’t mainstream enough to continue in voiceover work and corporate on -camera hosting. That work requires perfect diction, because those microphones pick up everything."
"I like to say “I’m too special for those jobs now”, haha. And though I’m joking in a way, it’s absolutely true."
After the surgery, she stopped performing for about nine months to aid her recovery, leading many of her followers to ask where she had gone.
"Recovery has been very slow, but every day I got a little bit better.
"Most of the work got done in the first year – speech and swallowing therapy, physical therapy to get my leg back in shape, and allowing the swelling to recede naturally, which takes time when they remove all of the lymph nodes (our natural drainage system).
"I exercise as a regular part of my routine to keep my leg strong and get plenty of cancer-killing oxygen into my body."
"Over the course of those months, the swelling subsided enough that I could be understood in person and on the phone, and when it got well enough to be understood without subtitles, I began playing around with shooting videos."
She decided to make a triumphant return to social media as a blonde bombshell in 2019, telling her fans she now had 'a leg tongue'.
But it was here Elly would find a different kind of voice and stage presence, one that could truly help inspire survivors like her, and spread awareness.
Elly talks about a range of topics, but she also talks about the importance of getting regular check ups at the dentist, and how to cope with cancer.
"Now, so much of my personality and my offering as a host is directly related to what happened to me. YouTube and Facebook are perfect platforms for me to create specific content for the audience that knows me for what I’ve been though, and wants to connect on a very personal, very authentic level."
"Before, I was a faceless, random, pretty host. Now, my work speaks to those who understand, and can relate to physical challenges, trauma, cancer, and life after loss."
One of Elly's videos that has received over 2.2 million views on Facebook is simply called 'Girl with half a tounge auditions for a Broadway show'.
The video shows Elly dancing and singing to the classic hit show Chicago, nailing every song and dance move, effortlessly, but she initially doesn't tell fans she'll be singing.
When asked about the physical changes since treatment Elly said: "My body was put to the test in every way—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. When something like that happens, time stops.
There is nothing else to do that is more important than getting better, and I became immediately aware of all of the help I was getting from God and the Universe – never once did I feel lost, forsaken, or alone."
"On the contrary! It was as if God said, “Ok, we have to do this thing…but we are going to do it together, and you’ll come out even better on the other side”.
"I said ‘yes’ right away, and I haven’t looked back. Getting to know my body and watching it rise to the challenge gave me gratitude deeper than anything I’d ever felt in my life."
Elly's belief was further tested, when in a shock to her and her family, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"My doctor told me I had breast cancer over the phone, on the day that I said goodbye to my dad. He died in April 2019 of pancreatic cancer, and I had just come from viewing his body when she called to give me the news."
"Hearing I had cancer for the third time, after having my oral cancer come back so aggressively, was just awful.
"But by then, I’d already experienced the feeling that perhaps everything being thrown at me was designed for my benefit. I was willing to go along for the ride, so I just gave thanks, trusted God, and got the heck out of His way!"
"After a lot of back and forth regarding treatment centers and different options, I had a lumpectomy this past August of 2019. When the pathology came back after my procedure, I was shocked to hear that they found no cancer left in that lump.
"It appeared that the biopsy had cleared out all of the calcifications they’d originally found. So many people had been praying with me, and it was an indescribable feeling of relief."
Elly often silences the voice inside her making her doubt: "We all have dual personalities living in our subconscious mind, and there was certainly a voice telling me I might never sing, dance, act, use my voice, be heard, be understood, be beautiful, etc…."
"But every single time, I felt this other, bigger voice, this presence – so much stronger than me, saying, “Hey, don’t worry about that now—the next thing will be even better. In fact, you’ll be healthy, you’ll be strong, you’ll be beautiful, and your life will be even more meaningful than before”. I chose to trust that voice – it sounded a lot more fun than trusting the other guy. That other guy was a punk!"
Elly has faced the negative side of social media in her endeavours, saying: "Internet trolls are irrelevant to me. I’ve been called every bad name in the book, been harassed, and even experienced what I consider to be visual assault (when people post and send unsolicited photos of their bodies).
"We all have a responsibility to curate the content we see in our feeds, and to block people who repeatedly post and send inappropriate content. I feel pity for people who don’t have the life skills to contribute productively to the online community."
In terms of further treatments Elly said: "I hope to eventually get some new back teeth, have my lip revised, and my tongue de-tethered a bit (cut away from my cheek so it can move more normally). At first I was afraid of recovering "too well" in case it made people feel bad about themselves. But then a friend reminded me, "Elly, you have to recover as far as you can, so that other people can see that they can recover".
And I know she's right. A huge part of my message is taking conscious steps to recover! So I'm going to do just that. Except for the scar on my chin – I earned that thing, I love it, and I'm keeping it forever."
Looking on the brighter side, Elly added: "My greatest hope is that someone in recovery would see the Roxy video one day and say, “I can do that, too”, and work towards it. I want survivors to be able to move freely around the world without the weight of the past, to throw themselves into recovery with such passion and determination that the quality of their lives actually improves, all with a newfound sense of meaning. I hope that video becomes a metaphor for someone else’s recovery."
"I’d encourage anyone with a physical challenge or a different “look” to get right out there and let their light shine brightly. Now more than ever, there is a special regard for people who work through those challenges to bring authenticity to creative projects. Let’s all help craft an environment where unique performers are encouraged and supported. Join us, I say! Join us!"
To find out more about Elly's journey, you can visit her website here .
For more information about the symptoms of oral cancer visit here .
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