We don’t just treat cancer. We treat people with cancer.
Through survivor stories, we get to know the determined individuals who are fighting many different forms of cancer. Suriviors are your neighbors, your friends and your loved ones.
For more than 25 years, Ronda has focused on making other women feel their very best. As a hairstylist and manager of a beauty salon, she truly enjoys the creative freedom of her work.
“I am thankful for my clients, who are more like my best friends. Sometimes people share more with their hairstylist than they would with a therapist,” says Ronda.
Frequently on the go with business travels and her 12-year-old son’s activities, she doesn’t have much free time. 2014 was an especially busy year. Ronda recalls a point where she felt the need to slow down.
“I think my body already knew I had cancer," offers Ronda.
A few days before Easter in April 2014, she found an abnormal lump in her breast during a routine self-exam. She contacted her gynecologist, who urged her to stop in immediately. With a full schedule of salon clients that day, it was difficult for Ronda to acknowledge the urgency. However, she went to the appointment. After some testing, her physician referred her to ProMedica Breast Care for a mammogram, biopsy and other necessary screenings.
A few days later, she received a phone call she never expected. The test results proved she indeed had breast cancer – triple-negative breast cancer, a type which is more aggressive and difficult to treat. Genetic testing showed the presence of the BRCA gene mutation in her DNA as well. Her inherited risk makes her more susceptible to having breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Ronda accepted the news and continued on strong. She started the path of treatment that very day with a chest X-ray and blood work.
Her medical oncologist prescribed 16 weeks of chemotherapy. For the first eight weeks, she powered through and even worked on her feet all day at the salon. The nursing staff was impressed by her energy and positive attitude.
“I didn’t think chemo was so bad! I actually felt pretty good for a while,” Ronda explains.
During the last eight weeks of her treatment, the process became harder and harder. Suffering from major fatigue, she finally took a break from work to focus on her health. Following those 16 weeks, her markers came back remarkably clean. She underwent a mastectomy, reconstructive surgery and a hysterectomy over the next few months.
Once Ronda recovered, she expected to feel like herself again. She was ready to move on with life. But, to do this, she needed to pull together some important pieces for her future health. She didn’t know where to turn. Her oncologist referred her to ProMedica Cancer Institute’s Survivor Center – her saving grace.
Following her first visit, Ronda thought, “This is it! This program is exactly what I need. I only wish I would have known about it sooner.”
Together with an oncologist and nurse practitioner, Ronda developed an individual survivorship care plan. It included exercise and nutritional programs and the STAR Program® for physical rehabilitation. With this plan in hand, she felt more confident with moving forward to the next stage of her life.
Ronda is grateful for her caregivers and the support she continues to receive. With a new appreciation for taking time for herself and enjoying life’s gifts, she is back at the salon styling her clients’ hair and her own.
Retired police officer Bennie “Big Ben” Smith is a real outdoorsman. He enjoys hunting, fishing and archery. In fact, he has competed in the World Police and Fire Games for archery, travelling to places like Sydney, Australia, and Austin, Texas.
“I’m not as active as I used to be, but I still enjoy what I can,” says Bennie.
He and his wife, Nancy, have been married for 54 wonderful years. As they hold each other’s hands, they recall building their first home at the young age of 23. Together, they raised a close-knit family of two sons and two daughters. Today, they stay busy by attending all of the activities and ball games of their 10 grandchildren.
“Our grandchildren are the biggest part of our entertainment,” shares Bennie.
As much as she knows Bennie, Nancy couldn’t help but worry about his health in 2005. His routine behaviors had changed and he felt ill most of the time. She finally convinced him to go see his doctor, who quickly ordered an early colonoscopy. Bennie was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in June 2005. He believes his wife’s intuition and insistence saved his life.
Because the cancer had already spread to 15 lymph nodes, he had surgery right away in July. Chemotherapy began on Aug. 17—Nancy’s birthday.
She recalls saying, “This can’t really be us. I’ve always had sympathy for others, but I never knew what it was like until it was us.”
Bennie kept a positive attitude throughout his treatment. Bennie and Nancy firmly believe that their faith and the prayers of their family and community helped bring him through.
Following treatment in March 2006, Bennie was referred to the Survivor Center at Hickman Cancer Center at ProMedica Flower Hospital in Sylvania, Ohio. He was hopeful about the opportunity and glad to see his treating medical oncologist again. The clinicians at the Survivor Center reviewed his existing health concerns, made suggestions for follow-up care, and helped develop a plan for his future care.
Part of his plan referred Bennie to ProMedica’s Bridge to Fitness program. The exercise program, designed specifically for cancer survivors, includes yoga and cardio. Bennie still participates in the program today and appreciates meeting new friends and other survivors there. In addition, his annual check-in appointment at the Survivor Center provides a real sense of security for both Bennie and Nancy.
What is he most thankful for as a survivor? He knows all of his grandchildren and spends quality time with them. This is particularly important to Bennie because two of his grandchildren weren’t born until after his cancer journey had ended and his new life as a survivor began.
One day, in October 2013, Tina Golebiewski, a registered nurse in the emergency room at ProMedica Bixby Hospital, stumbled upon a Facebook article about breast cancer. To her dismay, the symptoms described closely resembled some she was experiencing.
Her doctor validated her concern; she was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, a form of breast cancer. She was shocked at the news. But, soon, she remembered all of the cancer patients she had taken care of during her nursing career.
“The advances in medicine are much better than 30 years ago,” Tina said. “I knew I had a fighting chance to become a cancer survivor.”
Diagnosed at ProMedica Breast Care at Toledo Hospital and treated at ProMedica Hickman Cancer Center at Bixby Hospital, Tina underwent a partial mastectomy and eight weeks of radiation treatment.
During the same days she worked in the ER, she would spend 45 minutes in the morning at her radiation appointment. Somehow she maintained her energy.
“When do I get to say I’m a survivor?” Tina asked her oncology nurse one day. “You are now!” her nurse exclaimed.
Tina’s treatment was finished and her markers were completely clean by March 2013. She knew a small amount of worry would still linger in her mind.
Tina’s advice for making it through: “Find someone that you can talk to who is stable and will listen.” Tina was very quiet about her cancer, but had a very close knit circle of friends who helped her through. They now call each other the “Breast Friends” and reconnect regularly. Tina is also happy to understand and have the ability to deeply empathize with the cancer patients she sees now in the ER.
Tina is proud to state, “I am a survivor. I believe that wholeheartedly.”
In her free time, Tina enjoys traveling, especially to places like Traverse City, Mich. and Chicago, Ill. Her two sons, Tyler and Dustin, and three dogs, Dixie Rose, Frankie and Hank keep her entertained at her home on the water. She loves crafts and enjoys creating artwork out of beads, paint and paper with her niece.
Survivorship is as much a state of mind as it is a state of
physical health – and sometimes that means living with another recurrence of
That’s were Judy Brandeberry finds herself today. But you
would never guess. Her spirit and strength are truly contagious.
She was first diagnosed with stage III HER2 breast cancer in
January 2007. A tumor in her breast and 20 lymph nodes were taken out. Then she
underwent 33 rounds of radiation and started taking the medication Herceptin. In
July 2008, a heart attack caused by the Herceptin further threatened her
health. She spent six days in the hospital recovering.
With great relief, Judy entered remission. Then two years
later, in 2010, a tumor in her lung metastasized to other parts of her body. Today,
she lives with lung cancer, bone cancer and congestive heart failure. Despite all odds, this survivor’s attitude is
Judy explained, “I
have a good outlook on life. I don’t question anything. God has a plan for me.”
What is Judy’s secret to survivorship? She continues moving
forward and keeps a mile-long bucket list. The advice she offered, “Always
think of the positive side. Don’t stop. Stay busy and plan ahead.”
She also takes advantage of support programs for survivors.
For example, she sought physical therapy through ProMedica’s STAR Program®, a
physical rehab program designed especially for cancer patients. The program
helped her regain movement in her hip after a tumor was removed. It also helps
many patients manage the fatigue often caused by chemotherapy treatment.
“STAR worked for me and made me stronger,” she added.
Judy enjoys making people laugh, especially fellow patients.
She has been known to arrive to chemotherapy sessions dressed up in costumes,
funny hats and wigs. “I have helped a lot of people and they have helped me. If
I can help just one person, I am happy,” explained Judy.
Her survivorship journey continues as she looks forward to the
birth of her next grandchild this month, an Amish bus trip in August, and next
year – a Disney Cruise! She wants to see all 14 of her grandchildren graduate
and doesn’t miss a chance to shop or enjoy great conversation with loved ones.
And she just received some great news – she has been approved receive a
brand-new, FDA-approved, “wonder drug” chemotherapy treatment.
“I have so much to live for,” Judy remarked.
Have your own cancer story? Find strength in sharing it with others.
I want to share my own story.