When a Man Loves a Woman: Dave Brown Walks Across America in Memory of his Wife, Joan Chermack Brown

On Thursday, February 28th, 61-year-old Dave Brown will embark on an incredible, heartfelt journey – a nearly 3,000-mile walk across the United States to a raise awareness and support for research in memory of his beloved wife, Joan, who passed away from ovarian cancer on August 1, 2011 at the age of 58.

He plans to set out from Atlantic City, New Jersey and walk about 14 miles a day, at a pace of about 4 miles an hour, through the Appalachians and the Rockies, through deserts, long stretches of highway, and a total of fourteen states, to finish in San Francisco, California on October 12, 2013. In addition to raising ovarian cancer awareness, by the end of his trip he hopes to have raised $110,000 to benefit Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.

We’ll share his progress, pictures and experiences as he makes his way over the next 8 months, but first we’d like to tell his story.

The Dance

Dave’s sophomore year at the Naval Academy, Navy was playing Notre Dame. Because the football stadium in Annapolis is so small, their home games with Notre Dame were always played in a bigger stadium, usually Philadelphia. A friend said that there were two dances after the game at girls’ colleges near Philly, and would he be interested in going? Dave said sure. Two sheets of paper taped to the wall listed two dances, one for Immaculata College and one for Chestnut Hill. His friend happened to sign them up for Chestnut Hill.

Meanwhile, Joan Chermack had a girlfriend that attended Chestnut Hill who had asked her to come to the dance.

The bus arrived at Chestnut Hill where Dave and his friend were told that they were early and to come back later. So, they went to Gino’s, a local chain of hamburger joints, where they consumed huge quantities of food. The bus went back to Chestnut Hill, and they were told for the second time that they were too early, and to go away. It was Halloween night, so with nothing better to do they went trick-or-treating in their Navy uniforms using their caps to hold the candy.

Finally they were let into the dance. It was in a tiny gym with sawdust on the floor. The first girl Dave asked to dance told him that she couldn’t because her grandmother was sick and she had to go. After this rebuff, he told himself that he would ask one more girl to dance, and if that didn’t work out, he was going out to the bus to eat his Halloween candy alone. He looked over into the center of the gym and there was Joan, under a flood light looking like she had an aura. She said yes, and their dance lasted more than 40 years.

The Journey Together

On September 26, 1999, Dave and Joan did a walk at the Norristown State Farm Park. That walking club was the Valley Forge Troopers, which disbanded at the end of 2001 and got absorbed by the Liberty Bell Wanderers. As members of the Liberty Bell Wanderers chapter of the American Volkssport Association for about 10 years, and with walking as their passion, Dave and Joan walked thousands of miles together. And together, they faced his prostate cancer 10 years ago, and her ovarian cancer in 2011.

Joan had a rare and aggressive form of ovarian cancer, but didn’t have noticeable symptoms until just before her diagnosis in April 2011. After surgery to remove both ovaries and her uterus, the cancer returned and she passed away just 4 months later in August.

Joan was a thoughtful, selfless, and caring woman. When she was sick, she kept everyone else together while they were falling apart. Though devastated by his loss, Dave said, “being her care giver was the most rewarding and hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Dave began hiking the paths they had planned to hike together before Joan became ill, walking to grieve and to remember her. He watched a movie about a man who ran the distance of a marathon every day for 75 days in honor of his wife whom he lost to breast cancer. And at that moment, Dave decided he would take a very long walk.

Route US 40

In the early 80’s, Joan gave Dave the book U.S. 40 Today which fascinated him. It’s about a couple that drove across the country on the Old National Road, U.S. Route 40, which was conceived by George Washington and implemented by Thomas Jefferson to help open the western frontier, and tried to take exactly the same pictures that a college professor did in the early 50′s when the highway went all the way from Atlantic City to San Francisco. Thirty years later, Dave will attempt the same thing on foot.

His route will follow U.S. Route 40 as far as St. Louis, where he will pick up U.S. Route 50 all the way to San Francisco. Dave chose to end his trip in San Francisco in part because he and Joan had been to a walking convention in Sacramento. Joan had injured her foot beforehand but was so determined that she completed all twelve walks in a boot, including a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. The California chapter of their walking club is considering re-creating the two walks that he did with Joan, in San Francisco on the last day of the convention with a crowd of supporters walking with him as he concludes his voyage.

Raising Funds and Awareness

Dave has already received some local press coverage, and throughout his 227-day journey he will continue to blog, post regularly on Facebook, and contact the media, as well as churches and cancer groups, in an effort to raise awareness and funds for the cause. His strategy for his campaign is simple, to tell everybody he knows, to tell everyone they know, to tell everyone they know.

He will distribute his two new “business cards” to anyone he meets along his route: one with his story and contact information; the other with the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer to help educate all women and their loved ones.

When Dave learned about Jenn Sommermann, ovarian cancer survivor and triathlete on a five-year 50x50x100 campaign to compete in 50 triathlons in all 50 states by 50 years old to raise awareness and $100,000 for ovarian cancer research, he was so inspired by her story that he wanted to meet her. They were able to meet in Philadelphia recently where she gave him great tips and invaluable advice based on her own experiences with her campaign to race for women who have lost their battle, women undergoing treatment and women yet to be diagnosed. Dave called her “an amazing woman.”

Angels on His Shoulders

Dave and Joan celebrated their 36th wedding anniversary in hospice. He said that during her stay, “the hospice personnel were all angels.”

US Route 40 travels right through the center of Ohio where all Dave’s relatives live. He will actually walk up to the front door of four aunts, and walk past cemeteries where his ancestors are buried.

A large number of people have generously volunteered to put him up at various points along his route so he will have warm, comfortable, safe places to stay during his journey.

Dave considers Joan the best gift he’s had in his life. Before she passed away, she told him “do not to sit around and mourn, please keep going and don’t look back. If there is anything you can do to use my experience to help other women with this deadly disease, I am for it.” And so, Dave will walk.

Though by himself, he will walk with angels on his shoulders.

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You can follow Dave’s progress through:

His blog: www.ocjoan.blogspot.com

His Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ocjoanx

His OCRF Pinterest board: http://pinterest.com/ocrf/walk-across-america-in-memory-of-joan-chermack-bro/

And, you can support him through:

A donation on his OCRF Team HOPE page: http://ocrf.kintera.org/teamhope/ocmdbreeze

An email with kind words of encouragement, or an offer for free lodging: ocmdbreeze@aol.com