Upon meeting Ronda, Julie and Diane, you never would have guessed that just a year ago they were perfect strangers. It took a life-changing diagnosis and an online chat room for them to meet.
While all three women may not have thought they had much in common, they soon found they had much to share. All three live in Columbus, have at least one daughter (Diane has four) and were all diagnosed with breast cancer in the Spring of 2011. In addition, all three found their breast cancers through self-exams and knowing what was normal and not normal for their bodies, and before any of them had turned 40.
For Diane, it was her second time around.
“I hit my 5-year mark (5 years since the initial diagnosis) and had surgery to remove what was believed to be a benign nodule, which pathology revealed was invasive breast cancer again. Everything pointed to it being benign, which is why everyone was shocked when pathology revealed invasive breast cancer again….and I do mean everyone. No one has perfect wisdom or knowledge, but God alone.”
Since it was her second diagnosis, Diane has been able to help Julie and Ronda through their battles and provide advice on dealing with chemo while raising children and working.
“The best thing that has come out of all of this is our friendship,” one woman said. The bond they share now, having been strangers just a year ago, is evident for anyone to see.
After having met on the online support group chat room, they soon became Facebook friends and then got together in “real life” and it felt like “they had known each other forever.”
“Ronda was about 4-5 weeks ahead of me through all of this, so it’s been great to see what I have coming and how she’s gotten through everything,” Julie said.
Ronda wore a hot pink robe to all her radiation treatments and having completed them in early January, has now passed the robe along to Julie.
Through surgeries, chemo and radiation, all three women have been there for one another, sharing stories and experiences and celebrating milestones, like Ronda completing her radiation. Julie will follow in several weeks as both women near their one-year cancer anniversary.
Julie found a lump in her breast and for several months pushed the thought of cancer out of her mind, because there was pain associated with the lump, a symptom often associated with benign breast disease.
“I also put off having a mammogram because I didn’t have health insurance and was afraid of how I was going to pay for everything,” Julie said. After family encouraged her to make the appointment, Julie found a Komen Columbus-funded grant at OhioHealth that paid for all her screenings, and through which she heard her diagnosis of Stage 3 breast cancer.
The grant was paid for through donations the affiliate received year-round and from the Race. Seventy-five percent of those donations support local programs like the one that helped Julie, with the remaining 25% supporting scientific research to find the cures.
“It all comes down to needing more money for research,” Diane said. “When you see so many young survivors with young children at the Race, the signs on the backs of children reading ‘In celebration,’ or ‘In memory of my mom’…that is eye-opening. That makes you more passionate about finding the cures.”
While the road through Diane’s second diagnosis has been hard, she acknowledges that much good has come from it.
“Most women with cases like me will prove to be a benign nodule. When you’re the 1%, it’s 100%. Everyone does their best. When the unexpected happens, it’s hard. Above all…I know every crisis has within it the possibility of great danger, but also brings with it opportunity for positive change. My goal in all of this has been to seize the opportunities I have been and will be given. To have a positive effect on others. That is the good that has come from all of this.”
That public support came from Facebook after the ladies posted pictures they had taken of the three of them while in the midst of chemotherapy. All three women are bald – but beautiful! – in bright pink tops. The women also coincidentally brought their daughters with them to the shoot, and were able to get a picture with all the girls.
“My daughter was 3 when I was diagnosed, so she’s seen me go through everything,” Julie said. “When she was blowing out the candles on her fourth birthday cake, she wished that ‘Mommy would feel better and her breast cancer would go away.’ Every day she feels my hair coming back and knows I’m getting better.”
Ronda also found her Stage 3 breast cancer through a self-exam, and continued boxing and exercising throughout months of chemo and radiation.
Getting better and stronger in time for the Race for the Cure is something all women have kept in their minds.
Diane’s first Race for the Cure was two days after she finished chemo in 2006. She walked the 1 Mile Walk with her family, and vowed to come back running next year. From 2007-2010 she ran each Race alongside her family, and after her second diagnosis in 2011, had a wheelchair’s assistance for last year’s Race.
Ronda’s first Race was 22 days after her surgery and nothing could slow her down, except when she waited to high-five the supporters with motorcycles coming down High Street. She loved signing her first Survivor Banner in SurvivorPalooza and has already formed a team for the 2012 Race.
Through the ups and downs of breast cancer, the surgeries, complications, chemo, radiation, even the hot flashes, these ladies have each others’ backs. Their spirits never waiver and their strength continues to inspire current breast cancer patients, friends, daughters and just about everyone they meet. Join them on the Race course on May 19 this year.
Photography by Todd McGinnis from Fireside Photography.