Elly Brown sings a capella in a clear, resonant tone that produces instant goose bumps. The song is “How Great Thou Art,” a Christian hymn praising the “awesome wonder” of God. Brown’s rendition—presented under the banner “Cancer Took Out ½ of My Tongue. Can I Still Sing?”—is somber yet uplifting, and it has garnered some 13 million views on Facebook so far.
Before her 2017 diagnosis, the Las Vegas-based singer, on-camera host and model built a career on her vocal talent and flawless beauty. Her pre-cancer highlight reel shows an exquisite brunette with a dazzling smile modeling jewelry and interviewing Vegas celebrities. She is the picture of polished, envy-inducing perfection.
The diagnosis of oral cancer and the prospect of face-altering surgery would be devastating for anybody. But Brown greeted the removal of half her tongue, four teeth and a portion of her jawbone as a chance for rebirth. Sure, recovery was no picnic. It involved a wheelchair and a feeding tube. Reconstructive surgery left a giant scar on her leg, where doctors harvested muscle, skin and bone to rebuild her face. But today, she’s a dazzling blonde with a slight speech impediment and a zigzag scar running from her lower lip to her ear.
Instead of giving up on her career, Brown set out to reinvent it. She would use her performing and public speaking skills to inspire others and help those facing oral cancer and other challenges. Her new tagline: “Your scars are your superpower.”
The 41-year-old Brown has created a social media presence with a blog (realellybrown.com), Instagram account (@RealEllyBrown) and video channels on YouTube and Facebook (The Elly Brown Show). The videos range from the lighthearted (beauty, fashion and music) to the more serious (life after cancer). Sometimes the two sides intersect, as in one video about treating scars and swelling. The titles have quirky and positive themes in the style of today’s Internet speak: “How to Attract Great Things,” “How to Improve Your Self-Esteem Right Now,” “This is Why ‘Statistics’ Are Wrong,” “She Insists That Her Cancer Is a Gift.”
This spring, Brown faced new challenges: the death of her father and a new diagnosis of (treatable) breast cancer. “I can feel the devil resistance trying to bring me down,” Brown said in a tearful video. “They’re not gonna because … I know how this works. This works to make me better. This works to make me able to help more people. It’s all a gift.”
Brown says she fights on with love, joy, gratitude and contentment. And the hard work seems to be paying off. Her social media following has skyrocketed. “My phone has been ringing nonstop,” Brown says in a recent interview. She’s been invited to participate in television talent competitions, a book anthology and podcasts galore. “When I keep my body calm, everything good happens. And I’m able to help others, because my cup is not empty.”