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Interview with Tom Brown, Surfing for Life

Interview with Tom Brown, Surfing for Life

Who I am:

Imagine spending your days with a job you love. And imagine spending your leisure time with family and friends doing the things you love to do – surfing, biking, hiking, traveling, walks along the beach.

Never sick a day in my life, thinking my healthy lifestyle and diet sustained me – I balked at “wasting time and money” getting that annual physical. I’d been putting off going to the doctor for all those age-related tests – colonoscopies, prostate exams, heart and cholesterol tests. I thought that was for old people. With some nagging by my wife I finally did schedule an exam. And from that exam my doctor ordered a routine colonoscopy. With much grumbling and lots of jokes I prepared for the exam. I figured I’d be back on the beach by lunchtime.

No one can ever prepare for what came next. After the exam the doctor told my wife and me that he had found a very large tumor. It had probably been growing for 3 to 5 years – years when I thought I was at “the top of my game”. A further scan showed it had traveled through my lymph nodes to my liver as well. Knowing nothing about cancer or the related terminology – Stage IV colon cancer meant nothing to us. But everyone knows what it means when they tell you to “get your affairs in order”. Stunned, we spent the next couple of weeks researching information, procedures, specialists, prognosis.

I never wasted time asking “why me?” I focused instead on being one of the lucky 6% who survive the diagnosis. That was 3 1/2 years ago. And with each surgery, each grueling chemotherapy regimen that I’ve survived – my goal has always been to reach out to others like me: the complacent ones putting off those “annoying exams”.


When you are faced with a death sentence you really do ask yourself what you have accomplished in your life. I felt a great sense of pride in raising my 3 children. I have a wonderful marriage and a beautiful wife who has supported me over the past 39 years. But each time I survived a recurrence of this terrible disease my gratitude was so huge I wanted to do something that would help others. While undergoing treatments – I had looked for others who had gone through similar experiences. My research gave me hope, courage and inspiration. I was really inspired by Lance Armstrong and what he had accomplished through his own ordeal. He was someone I could relate to – an athlete at the “top of his game” – felled by cancer too. Armstrong was successful in bringing cancer awareness and education to the forefront through his sport. I thought about how I could take his concept and introduce it to the surfing community. As a surfer my entire life and working in the surf industry – I thought I could use my contacts in the sport to create another cancer awareness forum: Surfing For Life Foundation. We are a grassroots, non-profit organization based upon word-of-mouth within the surfing community. Since its inception this past December there are now over 1500 teal colored wristbands in circulation. They are being distributed in 100 stores in six countries. Each wristband purchase is matched dollar for dollar by the surf shop. All proceeds go to cancer charities that lend support to both victims of cancer as well as their families. These organizations all have a similar philosophy: education and awareness. Our dream is to have every surfer wearing a Surfing For Life wristband – a daily reminder to be pro-active about their health as well as their friends and family’s health.


I hit the road with one mission in mind: PREVENTION! – one wristband at a time. My message is always the same: get regular check-ups, kids remind your parents to get checkups. Prevention is key, but early-stage diagnosis almost always has a positive outcome too.

Through my journey and recovery I have relied on 5 basic principles to get me through each day:

  1. Eat right. Eating is a pleasure – but try to incorporate more nutritious foods into your daily meals. You’d be surprised by some of the delicious choices that are proven anti-cancer fighters.
  2. Belief in a spiritual power and/or the power of meditation: Stress is a killer. It does bad things to your body. Daily reflection and serenity are important for your mind and body.
  3. Research and choose the best in the medical profession – that means when you are healthy as well as when you become ill. I would not be alive today if not for my team of doctors, the drugs I received and the outstanding medical facilities available.
  4. Reach out for support from family and friends every day. Don’t isolate yourself. The strength you get from those close to you has a positive effect on your health.
  5. Stay physically active and engaged in the world. It keeps your body fit and improves your attitude.
How We Do It:

I travel up and down the state visiting surf shops. I personally talk with every shop owner, manager, and sales clerk. I don’t preach. Everyone has been touched personally by cancer. I just share the facts of what happened to me. I’ve been heartened by the response from everyone – especially the younger groms. They’re attentive and ask great questions. Their concern is very genuine. I remind them to cover up and wear sunscreen before paddling out. I request they go home and ask Mom and Dad when they had their last check-up. On my next visit to the store – these same groms often tell me their folks promised to make a doctor’s appointment. I’ve reached my goal every time I hear that.

The facts:

90% of cancers are curable if caught early
Just because you don’t feel sick doesn’t mean you don’t need age-related check-ups

Our Hopes and Dreams:

At the Surfing For Life Foundation our mission is to bring education and awareness to surfers – one wristband at a time. We hope the Surfing For Life Foundation will be invited to attend local surfing events and fundraisers to promote PREVENTION. If we prevent just one person from losing their life to cancer – we will consider the Surfing For Life Foundation a huge success. The wristband program is a way to remind us all that we must be pro-active with our health. It is intended to remind us to have that pesky mole checked, get our annual physical, and live a healthier lifestyle. Our dream is to have every surfer wearing a Surfing For Life Foundation wristband. Education + Awareness = Empowerment.

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