Stories of Survival: Meet Rhonda
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and as a way to show our support for the fight against cancer, we will be sharing stores of survival from friends and family members of the Ful team. Meet Rhonda. Rhonda is one of our very own team members. She is a mother, a music-lover, wife and cancer survivor!
FUL: Tell us a little about yourself –
RHONDA: My name is Rhonda. I’m 53 years old and have worked at ful for seven years in the accounting dept. I am married, I have three kids ages 34,19, and 14. I have two precious grandsons. I like current events, music, politics and I’m a Tolkien geek. I’ve always considered it lucky to have been born in 1960. The music I’ve witnessed in the last 53 years is incredible! I love to tell my kids as they are singing to the latest re-mix as if it were new, yeah I was there for the original.
FUL: How did you find out you had breast cancer?
RHONDA: During a routine mammogram a suspicious area was identified. I was then referred to a surgeon that performed a biopsy and the pathology confirmed it was cancer. That was February 5, 2003.
FUL: Did you have a family history of breast cancer?
RHONDA: Yes, my mother and my paternal grandmother both had breast cancer. That is why I started mammogram screening when I was 35. Ultimately, I did have genetic testing done to see if I had the mutated gene. Fortunately, I did not!
FUL: How did you and your family react to your diagnosis?
RHONDA: I was so devastated and scared out of my mind at first. I still remember getting that call from my doctor. It was my daughter’s birthday and I was delivering cupcakes to her class. My mom was with me. I hung up the phone and looked at her and said “it’s cancer”. I had a lot of support from my mom. I think she took it harder hearing I had it than when she was going through her own treatment. My friends were my lifeline. I had one dear friend that had gone through treatment before me, so she was a great comfort and still is to this day. Cancer is a club that nobody wants to be a member of but yet we all support and understand each other like no one else can. I was blessed to have several great friends that were there for me to lean on during that time.
FUL: What was your life like during treatment?
RHONDA: It was a swirling, whirlwind of anxiety and fear. It was a constant barrage of information, decisions, doctor’s appointments, tests, surgeries. Maybe that’s how we all get through the process. There is so much happening that you pretty much have to put one foot in front of the other and just make it to the next step.
In my case, it was decided that I should undergo four rounds of chemo before doing the lumpectomy in hopes that would eradicate the tumor. So every 21 days I went to the doctor and was given a three hour intravenous “cocktail”. Of course the first round causes all your hair to fall out, which was the pits! It’s somehow an outward validation that you are sick and I did hate that. I’m not articulate enough to explain how tough chemo is. It is the most draining thing I’ve ever experienced, mentally or physically. After chemo round four, I had two surgeries on the tumor site. My oncologist and surgeon decided that they wanted 4 more rounds of chemo after all. Not the news I wanted to hear but necessary none the less. Finally, in September 2003, I finished chemo, which is a huge milestone! After a bit of a break and a wonderful trip to Disney World, I started 36 rounds of radiation. That involved going five days a week, for seven weeks straight for radiation. I was fortunate to not experience much side effect from that.
Like I said, I was pretty much living from one appointment, test, procedure to the next for those months. It was grueling but I had to focus on the next milestone to reach the goal of being cancer free.
FUL: Have your doctors given you any sort of prognosis for the future?
RHONDA: Even when I was newly diagnosed, my surgeon assured me that this cancer would not be a death sentence. I had been diagnosed very early with a very treatable form of breast cancer and was aggressively treated. I still see my oncologist annually and have had a clear checkup for the last ten years.
FUL: How did you manage to stay positive during the tough times?
RHONDA: Dealing with cancer was the hardest challenge I’ve ever faced. That said, I had so many angels placed on that path of my journey. From my family and friends that loved me, to a team of medical professionals that supported me with such amazing kindness and genuine concern, it carried me through the process. I had great doctors that communicated with me and eased my fears.
It was always clear to me from talking to other patients, that I was so blessed and so fortunate. I had only to look around the chemo treatment room to see there were some that were so much more sick than I was. I had so much to be thankful for that it helped me focus on the future when I’d be “through the tunnel” so to speak.
FUL: What advice would you give to other women about early detection?
RHONDA: I am a huge advocate for early screening. Women absolutely must have regular screenings done at the earliest age recommended by their doctor. If there is a family history of breast cancer, you have to start earlier. If I had not gotten a routine mammogram, my cancer would have gone unnoticed for possibly years. The tumor was so small and on the side of my breast. I doubt I would have noticed it on my own until it became much larger and harder to treat.
FUL: What message of hope would you share with others who have cancer?
RHONDA: The message I would give is to not give up and not give into despair! The treatment road seems long and hard, but there are amazing new techniques and treatments out there. Cancer is treatable and beatable! As horrible as that news was for me to get and deal with, it was not without some pretty amazing, unanticipated joys too. Cancer strengthened my faith and courage, taught me patience, hope, humility, to take more care in being kind to others. To slow down and stop worrying about everything little thing and focus on what is really important. It helped me to stop sweating the small stuff because nobody really has time for all that!
FUL: During treatment, what music was an inspiration or comfort to you?
RHONDA: It’s funny, music has always been a big part of my life. However, during that time of being in such a haze, I don’t have a lot of specific memories of special songs. The one song that made me sit in my car and just cry my eyes out was Travelin’ Soldier, by the Dixie Chicks. There again, I was reminded that my situation was so much easier than the young people that were going off to war during that time. Everything in perspective gave me strength.
P.S. Still miss you Dian Gordon. You lost your fight 19 years ago but you inspired me to deal with my own fight.
Rhonda is wearing PINK supporting the fight against Breast Cancer! She’s carrying the pink Marianela tote by Ful. Show your support for the fight against breast cancer by carrying the Marianela. Get yours from ful.com TODAY! Share Rhonda’s beautiful story of survival with your friends and followers by clicking the “SHARE” buttons below. Use the hashtag, “#FulLovesPink” to join the conversation! Don’t be a stranger, let’s meet.