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March 23, 2023

Makana Brown’s road to recovery

Originally published in the March 2023 issue of Lanai Today. Photos courtesy of Nina Garcia and Jayson Medeiros.

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The Lanai Archery Club has raised $12,000 to help with the medical expenses of a local teenager diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer.

The organization held its “Road to Recovery for Makana — Archery Shootout” tournament on February 17 to raise money for 16-year-old Makana Brown, who was diagnosed with optic pathway glioma, a slow-growing brain tumor that forms in or around the optic nerve.

The event was open to people of all ages and featured 3D targets of real animals. Participants received trophies for their achievements, along with chances to win raffle prizes donated by Pineapple Brothers, the Four Seasons Resort Lanai, Pulama Lanai and many more.

For more than a decade, the Lanai Archery Club has hosted events such as this to help families and nonprofit organizations in need of financial help. However, event organizer Jayson Medeiros says Brown’s story hit close to home for him.

“When stuff like that comes to you, your heart melts,” says Medeiros. “It kind of hit deep inside, because I know Makana’s family. I know her parents, so that’s what stuck out to me.”

Brown said it was a “blessing” to see the community come together to support her.

“It really warmed our hearts to see that people actually came up there to support me and my road to recovery,” Brown says. “I’m just literally blessed.”

Brown was diagnosed with an optic pathway glioma in March 2021 after doctors noticed one of her eyes was protruding during a routine examination. Upon further investigation, doctors found a tumor lodged in the nerve in her left eye and told Brown and her mother, Nina Garcia, that they would need to do a biopsy.

But according to Garcia, it wasn’t easy finding a doctor comfortable enough to do the surgery.

“A lot of doctors don’t like going in the nerve because cutting any nerve is very risky and dangerous,” Garcia says. “We had two doctors decline.”

The tumor was also already causing irreversible damage to Brown’s eyesight and Garcia was told that if no doctor in Hawaii would do the surgery, they would need to travel to the mainland for help.

“It was so high stress at this time and it was becoming a reality like, ‘no one wants to help her?,'” says Garcia.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, optic nerve gliomas can cause vision loss and growth problems since tumors are typically located at the base of the brain where hormonal control is located. It mostly affects children under age 10 and the tumors are usually difficult to treat due to the risk of damage in sensitive areas of the brain.

Finally, after weeks of uncertainty, a surgeon agreed to do the biopsy. But the family was dealt another blow when it was revealed that the tumor was cancerous and could not be removed due to the risks.

“It was really hard for me and my mom, but mostly for me because I was only a 14-year-old girl,” says Brown. “I told myself no one should be going through this at a young age, but it happens.”

Despite her diagnosis, Brown remained strong throughout her cancer treatment and learned to cope with her illness. She took up drawing and painting in her free time, attended Camp Anuenue, a free, weeklong camp on Oahu for children who have or have had cancer, and was granted a trip to Disney World by Make-A-Wish Hawaii.

Then, after 15 months of traveling between Lanai and Oahu every week for chemotherapy, Brown’s cancer went into remission.

Now a junior at Lanai High & Elementary School, Brown says she wants to go to college after she graduates and become a nurse practitioner. She’s even enrolled in a six-week internship with the Lanai Community Health Center.

“I’ve been so inspired by all the ladies that I was with,” says Brown. “I’ve noticed what they’ve been doing to help me and I want to do the same for people.”

Though in remission, Brown still needs to travel to Oahu every other month for follow-up tests and monitoring. A GoFundMe page is active for those who want to contribute to her journey.

GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/f/kokua-for-makana-kuuleinani-brown

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