Ingrid Brown, a 40-year trucking veteran from Zionville, North Carolina, is a tireless advocate for the trucking industry.
Since being diagnosed with melanoma in 2017, Brown, an independent owner-operator with more than 4 million miles under her belt, has been sharing her skin cancer journey and advocating for others to get regular checkups and screenings.
On June 1, 2017, Brown said she was headed to Houston, Texas, in her beloved 2017 389 Peterbilt named “Miss Faith,” when she received the call from her doctor confirming her cancer diagnosis. He wanted her to come to his office in Chicago the next day.
“I told him that I was on the road and still had eight or nine drops, wouldn’t be back for about eight days and that I would call him back when I returned home,” Brown told FreightWaves.
“My doctor was like, ‘Do you realize you have cancer and need to have surgery as soon as possible,’” she said.
A little over a week later, Brown flew to Chicago for melanoma surgery on her side but was back on the road three weeks later. Nine months later she underwent major throat surgery to remove more cancer but again took little time off to recover.
She said that’s how she’s wired.
Brown said she’s been involved in the trucking industry since she was 18, first working for her dad’s construction company.
“Yes, there have been times that have been hard, but I’m not angry,” she said. “I view this as a journey to educate and help others. If I can save just one person, then this all has been worth it.”
Over the past three years, Brown has undergone eight surgeries to remove cancerous spots. Her latest surgery was on Feb. 12, to remove melanoma from her lip and leg, which she shared on her Facebook page.
“It’s important that people know this could happen to them and to get checked,” she said.
Why truckers should wear sunscreen?
The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that more than 5 million cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.
Brown said truck drivers’ risks of getting skin cancer “skyrocket” because of their prolonged exposure to UV rays as the sun shines on the left side of the cab.
A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine documented a truck driver whose left side of his face was severely damaged by the sun.
Since her diagnosis, she said other truck drivers have come forward with their own melanoma diagnoses or sent messages that they went to get checked because of her story.
“That’s what this is all about, educating others in this industry,” Brown said.
“Watch and wait”
Every three months Brown said she sees her dermatologist for a full checkup and gets a CT scan every six months, but admits she worries daily that another spot or sore will pop up.
“The watch-and-wait game is hard, probably the hardest thing in the world,” Brown said. “Sometimes I go to bed and can’t sleep because I worry that another spot will pop up, but I have to remind myself that I am tough and I’ve got this.”
Brown said she recently went to her eye doctor to have her vision checked when her optometrist noticed she had a “brown spot” on the retina in her left eye. She is being monitored “as a concern” for ocular melanoma and she has to see a specialist every two months.
Unfortunately, Brown said melanoma runs in her family. Her grandfather, who was a truck driver, died of it, as well as her aunt. Her brother also has been diagnosed with melanoma and is undergoing treatment.
Surviving cancer diagnosis as a small-business trucker
As the sole owner of Rollin’ B LLC, which hauls refrigerated freight, Brown said she doesn’t make money unless her truck is moving. Having a rainy day fund set aside in case of an emergency has helped her business survive over the past three years.
However, many small-business owners are forced to shut down after a cancer diagnosis.
“It hasn’t been easy, but I’m not going to quit,” Brown said. “I’ve tried to set myself up with good business practices before this cancer diagnosis ever hit and I’ve made it this far.”
“Truckers in this industry have been generous and bought T-shirts to help pay some of my expenses after my first surgery, which was amazing,” she said.
Brown will speak about her cancer diagnosis and operating her own trucking company at this year’s Mid-America Trucking Show in late March in Louisville, Kentucky.
As a final reminder, Brown said May is Melanoma Awareness Month and some dermatologists will conduct free screenings around the country.
“If I can save one person, this will all be worth it to me,” she said.