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A Distinguished Display of Humility

When diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in 2015, psychology professor Dr. Holly Brand had one thing on her mind: Her students. After working extra hours to record lectures in assuring her students’ success, Brand fought cancer for over a year, and she won. 

Photo by Ben Randolph

Teaching her Advanced General Psychology class, Dr. Holly Brand explains the dos and don’ts of interviews. Brand underwent radiation every morning of the fall 2016 semester, followed by a full day of teaching at MBU. The incredible effort won her the respect of her students, and also the university’s Distinguished Faculty Member Award.

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When faced with a trial that would lead most to their breaking point, psychology professor Dr. Holly Brand found a way to view her hardship through a lens of hope and thankfulness.

In November 2015, Brand, 43 at the time, went in for her regular physical. Expecting nothing out of ordinary, her life shifted at the doctor’s discovery of an unusual lump.

Just one week before Christmas, she received a phone call of confirmation: she had stage 1 breast cancer.

Despite the news, Brand remained hopeful, and she had the love and support of her husband, Todd Brand.

“The day I was diagnosed, my husband came home, gave me a hug, and said, ‘This is going to be one of the sweetest times of our lives,’” said Brand, who has been at MBU for 18 years.

Brand found a love for psychology in high school, but she took a very meandering route into her career, spending years unsure of what speciality she wanted to eventually claim.

She received her undergraduate degree at Southeast Missouri State and attended St. Louis University for graduate school, where the Lord revealed through a student teaching opportunity that teaching was Brand’s calling.

After being diagnosed, Brand had a handful of ways she could respond, but her students were her primary concern. She immediately turned her focus to the Lord, asking Him to not let her miss a day.

“It was right before the spring semester, and I am so passionate about being students’ professor,” Brand said. “I had a phenomenal student fellow at the time, and we had just a few weeks before surgery. Right after Christmas I started coming up to campus, and we would go into the classroom, I would look at the dates where I knew I was going to be out for surgery, and she would videotape me doing the lectures for those days.”

Although late hours and technical difficulties made it far from an easy project, Brand completed every lecture on the day before her surgery.

Brand underwent surgery in January of 2016 and missed just over a week of school; she began chemotherapy in February, and she finished in June.

The genuine love and dedication Brand has for her job are more than noted by her students, including senior Ben Randolph.

“Dr. Brand is undoubtedly one of the best professors I have ever had. She is not only knowledgeable on everything that she is teaching, but she has a way of connecting to students unlike any other professor I’ve seen,” Randolph said.

Growing up in the church, Brand has been a Christ-follower since she was 13, but it wasn’t until her mid-20s that she truly began to play out her faith in her everyday life.

Before that change, Brand said that she pursued the things of the world as many people do. Her faith shifted after a Saturday morning phone call from a friend she knew from Bible study.

“I was really feeling low the night before, and he called me asked what I was doing the previous night at midnight,” Brand said. “I totally lied because at that time I looked like I had it all together and I wanted people to think I had it all together, so I said, ‘Nothing, I was just hanging out at home.’ And he said, ‘Well that is the strangest thing because the Lord literally stopped me in my tracks last night at midnight and told me to pray for you.’ The height of my struggle that night was at midnight, I remember looking at the clock. And that was my moment.”

Her experience with cancer, Brand said, was a whole new episode of her spiritual journey.

Brand’s recovery from surgery and experience with chemotherapy were phenomenal, she said, and she made sure to thank the Lord for it every day. As of this February, Brand is one year out of treatment; she is cancer-free.

 

“The day I gave my students their final exam and wrapped everything up, I wept like a baby because I hadn’t missed a day, and it was just the Lord,” Brand said. “I take zero credit in that. I mean I was going through chemo and your immune system goes down with that, and I didn’t even get a cold. I was like, ‘Lord you are so cool.’’’

Immediately following that spring semester, Brand received the Distinguished Faculty Member Award, which is the highest faculty member award given at MBU.

When the fall the semester began, Brand’s daily routine consisted of a morning trip to the hospital for radiation and then coming to MBU to teach her classes.

“Honestly, the crazy thing is that without Dr. Brand telling us she had cancer, I don’t think I would’ve known,” Randolph said. “She never missed classes because of it, never seemed extraordinarily sick and she just went on with her days.”

Brand described this season of chaos as the hardest yet best of her life, as God kept revealing Himself to her through each new setback that arose.  

“He reminded me to stop borrowing trouble from tomorrow, so I learned to live in the present and not continue to be anxious about things,” Brand said. “Psalm 112:7 is one of my favorite verses that he led me to during that time and it says, ‘She does not fear bad news or dread the future for she is determined in her heart that God will take care of her.’ What else do I need to know?”

Even when Brand began losing her hair, she found a way to make light of it.

Each day when she came to the university, Brand would have her students guess whether her hair was still real or if she was wearing a wig. She just tried to laugh a lot, she said.

Senior McKenna Fisher, who was in Brand’s Human Growth and Development class in the spring semester of her treatment, said what she admires most about Brand is her carefree and simply happy character.

“I admire her positive outlook on life. No matter how hard things were for her, she always had a smile on her face and looked at everything with a positive attitude and knew our Savior had a reason for this to happen to her,” said Fisher, who is majoring in elementary education.

Brand’s uniquely optimistic perspective is what sets her apart. Each day, she asked God to help her think rightly, and as a psychology professor, Brand believes that if your thoughts are right, your actions will be as well.

Although her students and colleagues credit her for fighting so passionately through her battle with cancer, Brand knows that the Lord was to praise for every accomplishment.

“There’s nothing special about me, I’m not strong. I couldn’t pull that stuff off by myself,” Brand said. “With chemo I never even felt nauseous, and again I take no credit. It was all the power of the Lord and his unbelievably close presence. He was just so there.”

According to her students, Brand has always been dedicated to their success in and outside of the classroom, but fighting cancer and seeing God’s faithfulness all the way through has stretched her into an even more intentional teacher.

Brand said she believes this experience has made her more bold in sharing her faith with her students and has sharpened her focus in assuring that she communicates, through psychology, things that truly matter.

“There’s a lot of stuff in life that we get hung up on that just doesn’t matter,” Brand said. “We get to choose our thoughts. You can choose to control your thinking and your attitude. You can decide each day that you’re going to be worried and anxious or that you’re going to trust. It’s exciting to get to use my story to say that it’s possible, and again, I don’t take any credit for it.”

To wrap up her journey with breast cancer, Brand looks to this quote: “It is not through effort alone that I have what I have, that would be impossible. It is by the grace of God I make no mistake.”

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Stacy Rohan

Stacy Rohan

Stacy Rohan is a staff journalist for MBU Timeline. Majoring in journalism with a psychology minor, Rohan is a member of the MBU lacrosse team and also coaches lacrosse part-time at Westminster Christian Academy. Stacy holds many goals for her future, but publishing a novel and coaching a college lacrosse team are at the top of her list.

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