From Our Readers
Updated Dec 10, 2014 @ 9:50 am

It’s hard to put into words the initial shock and sadness that I felt when I learned of Diem Brown’s death in mid-November. She was probably best known for being a competitor on MTV’s The Challenge several times, but in more recent years it seemed like we had gotten to know more about her through Twitter and Instagram. In fact, I think part of the reason that I couldn’t get her death off my mind for a few days afterwards was because she was so active on social media; it almost felt like losing an online friend rather than just a reality star. I also was moved by her life’s work raising awareness for ovarian cancer, as my sister is a survivor of the disease. While reading articles about Brown I saw so many people commenting about how inspiring she was, and this week, her former castmates reflected on her amazing bravery. In her brief life, she really left an incredible legacy and taught us so much. Here are some more of her most memorable moments and what we can learn from them.

When she faced her fears. During her second season on The Challenge: The Duel, Diem was in remission from ovarian cancer, but her hair hadn’t grown back yet and she often wore a wig. At one point there was a challenge that involved swimming, which meant she had to take the wig off. She felt very uncomfortable about everyone seeing how she looked without her wig, yet she took the wig off and competed anyway. Her teammates supported her and told her how great she looked, and later she and CT had their first kiss. What I learned: Your appearance doesn’t define you, and real friends will accept you for just being who you are. Your beautiful when you’re open and honest about who you are and how your conquering your struggles.

When she put her goals first. On another season of The Challenge, she and CT had broken up and during one of their arguments she said that she had a 5-year plan for her career. She dreamed of being a journalist, and wasn’t ready to get married and have children yet; she still wanted to achieve some success in her career first and then she would be ready for a relationship. She did end up working in entertainment journalism after her cancer went into remission the first time, and again after the second time. Sometimes you have to put yourself first and realize that you don’t need a partner to complete you. Having a relationship is great, when you’re ready for it, but you shouldn’t feel pressured by society if it’s not your top priority at that moment.

When she shared her battle with cancer so openly and honestly. She documented her second battle with cancer in blogs that appeared on People magazine’s website, and even recorded herself shaving her head. Sharing hard times in your life can help others. It’s hard to be totally honest with people, or to appear vulnerable in front of them, but by sharing your own struggles and what you’ve learned from them, other people can benefit. They may be going through something similar, which helps them feel less alone. Or maybe they aren’t going through anything like it, but can relate in another way. When my sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer I watched Diem’s episode of MTV’s Made, where she became a salsa dancer, in order to better understand some of the things my sister might be feeling. A few days ago I was reading a message board and I was surprised by how many people reached out to Diem when they or their friends/family members were battling cancer and more surprised that she responded to every one of them despite having her own busy life.

When she made a brave choice about her future. After learning that she had to have her second ovary removed, when her cancer recurred, Diem decided to freeze her eggs. She wanted to make sure she would have the option to carry biological children when she was ready. Don’t give up on your dreams. One of her dreams was to have children, and even though she wouldn’t be able to conceive naturally, she looked into other options in order to still make this dream a possible reality. If an obstacle is presented to you, there may be another way to get around it. If you really want something, don’t just settle for “No.”

When she launched a brilliant charity. During her first battle with cancer, Diem started the charity MedGift, which is a registry for people dealing with various illnesses. They can create a page and people can donate money to help them, or they can list things they need/want, and others can give those things to them. You can learn something from the tough times you go through that can end up helping other people. If she never had cancer, she wouldn’t have come up with the idea for a charity like this, which is now helping so many people. She wanted to raise awareness too; ovarian cancer is often called a “silent killer,” and many times young adults don’t think of it as a possibility when they have certain symptoms.

How she always stood strong in the face of cancer. Diem always had a positive attitude, even through hard times, which often inspired others. Even in her last days, Diem had such a strong will to live. Diem may have been afraid of heights and other things on the challenges (although, I think a lot of people would be afraid of some of those challenges they had to do!), but she never seemed to fear the bigger things in life. Like, when she learned her cancer had returned she basically seemed to say, “Okay, let’s do what we have to do to beat this!” She just conquered it head-on. The lesson here: Don’t let obstacles or fear stop you from doing something.

“Live as hard and as vigorously as you can.” Diem’s quote perfectly sums up the biggest lesson we can all learn from her life. We need to make the most of every day while we have the opportunity.

As I was writing this article, I realized that most of it was somehow related to cancer, and I tried to change that because there was much more to her life than just cancer. Then I re-read an interview Diem gave to HelloGiggles’ own Carrie Murphy, where she said, “When I first got on MTV, I’d go places and people would be like ‘Oh, you’re that cancer girl,’ and I’d reluctantly say ‘Yeah.” But now, honestly, I’m like ‘Yeah, I am!’ I don’t find a stigma to it now, when before I definitely did. If I am that cancer girl, then awesome! I’m proud to represent the face of cancer that isn’t always older people and to show that it affects young people too.”

To celebrate her memory, you can donate to MedGift, Run for Her, (Even though she needed a walker, Diem was still able to attend their NYC run/walk this fall), and NOCC.Lauren Nespoli is a preschool teacher living in New York, still trying to figure out exactly what she wants to do. She also watches too much TV and usually knows up-to-the-minute celebrity gossip. You can follow her on Twitter and Tumblr.

(Image via People)