PerspectivePosted on by
By Ronda M. Walker
My beautiful long, blonde hair was completely gone just after the new year. I was 42 years old. I will never forget the look on my seven-year old son’s face the first time he saw me bald—his sad eyes broke my heart. He could not wrap his mind around the thought that a doctor would give me medicine that would make my hair fall out.
First, the Diagnosis
It was one week before Christmas 2014 when I was diagnosed with locally invasive breast cancer. I had two tumors in my right breast, two different types of cancer. One tumor was the size of a lime, the second tumor was the size of a penny. A scan revealed the presence of cancer in several lymph nodes around my right breast. Basically, I was a mess! An aggressive course of treatment was necessary.
First, I did eight rounds of chemotherapy to shrink the tumors. The first couple of rounds, while bad, were tolerable. As the treatment continued, my fatigue was extreme, I experienced sores in my mouth, I had constant nausea, and of course I was bald. I followed up chemo with a mastectomy and then went on to 28 rounds of radiation. Radiation, like chemo, was easier at first and then toward the end caused burning and extreme pain in the radiated area. After I healed from radiation, I had a 14-hour reconstructive surgery. My breast cancer fight lasted for an entire year. But let’s go back to the beginning.
I stayed home the first week of the new year, wallowing in nausea and self-pity, but the time came for me to go back to work. I am the Vice Chairman of the Montgomery County Commission in Alabama, and I had a commission meeting that I did not plan to miss. I woke early, smoothed on some makeup, and fidgeted with my wig until it didn’t look too fake to me. I had to sit and rest in between putting on each article of clothing. The exhaustion pulled me back to my warm bed, but I fought it. I forced a smile on my face and walked out of my bedroom to find my precious six and seven-year-old children sitting in the kitchen. They had gotten themselves up and dressed for school. They had no idea just how sick their momma was, but they instinctually knew they needed to step up and be helpful. We drove to school in silence because I was too exhausted to speak. I dropped them off with a mumbled I love you, then headed downtown to the commission chamber.
Then, Life Goes On During Treatment
As I walked into the crowded board room, I was greeted by friends and colleagues, who gave me warm hellos and expressed genuine concern. It was the first time they had seen me since I started chemotherapy. Although well-meaning, I had to wave off their hugs and handshakes. It was January, the height of cold and flu season, and thanks to chemo my white blood cell count was at a dangerously low level. The risk of infection loomed large, and infection would have landed me in the hospital and delayed my treatment. I had learned what to do and what not to do to avoid infection. Additionally, online resources like 3 Steps Toward Preventing Infections During Cancer Treatment provided information and reminders about what to do in case of fever, nausea, shortness of breath, and other signs of infection. There was never a moment when I wasn’t keenly aware of the danger of infection and what it would mean for me if I got one. I worked hard to avoid it.
The commission meeting ended, and I left the building. I would go on to attend every single commission meeting I had during my chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Normalcy was the goal, and although it required a remarkable amount of toughness and perseverance, it was a goal I was determined to reach. Knowing the facts and keys to preventing infection gave me confidence to keep my life as normal as I was physically able to. Fighting cancer is a marathon, not a sprint. Keeping my mind focused and my attitude positive made all the difference in the world.
If you’ve ever had to endure the misery that is chemotherapy, you know you have bad days, really bad days, and days when you would prefer to be dead. On one of my really bad days, after dropping the kids at school, I came home, collapsed on the couch, and opened my Bible. It was February, it was cold outside, and the landscape was barren and lifeless—kinda like I was! I was beat down, I was discouraged, and I felt horrible. I asked God, no I begged God, to comfort me in some way—big or small—to help me feel His presence. I knew intellectually that God was with me, but that day I truly needed to experience Him in a tangible way.
The Comfort of a Tasty Treat
Later that morning, as I was curled up on the couch watching TV and feeling miserable, I kept seeing commercials for plump, juicy berries covered in delicious chocolate. The ads go in heavy rotation around Valentine’s Day, and it was early February, so they were frequent. I think their ads literally came on during each commercial break. By lunchtime I couldn’t take it anymore, I had to have a chocolate-covered strawberry! I went into the kitchen and searched the fridge up and down for a strawberry and some chocolate, to no avail. There wasn’t a single thing in my house that would be considered fresh. I did find an almost empty bottle of chocolate syrup and I got a teaspoon of that, but it didn’t do the trick. I did not have the energy to drive to the grocery store, so my craving for a chocolate-covered strawberry would go unsatisfied. Back to the couch I went to watch TV and feel sorry for myself.
That afternoon I had to pick my children up from school. Devoid of energy, I didn’t talk much on our short drive home. As we pulled into our driveway, I noticed something on our doorstep. It was a box. As I got close enough to read the writing on the box, I began shaking like a leaf and tears welled up in my eyes. I could not believe what I was seeing. It was a box of chocolate-covered strawberries sitting on my doorstep! They were sent from my friend Jessica, who lives in Washington, DC. I had never in my life asked anyone for those treats. I don’t know that I ever thought much about them until that very day. But that morning, in my weakness, I asked God to comfort me in a tangible way, and He sent me exactly what I asked for, a box of chocolate-covered strawberries.
A New Perspective
It took me a full year to fight the cancer that was in my body, and I’m happy to say I won that fight. Five years later, I’m still doing fine. Better than fine, actually. Yes, I deal with grief, pain, and fear every single day. But for all that cancer took away from me, it gave me something extraordinary. Cancer gave me a new perspective on life. Cancer gave me the opportunity to live my life in the moment, with intention. Cancer was my reminder that life is short, and tomorrow is not promised. I oftentimes hear people ask, “where has the time gone?” but not me. I can honestly account for every minute of every day since my diagnosis. I don’t take one moment for granted. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I don’t back down from a challenge. And I savor each moment with the people I love—cancer did that, and for that I am grateful.
Ronda M. Walker is a wife, the mother of four, the Vice Chairman of the Montgomery County Commission in Alabama, a speaker, and a writer. She is also a certified organizational trainer for Troy University.
13 comments on “Perspective”
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Wonderful..thank you for sharing…
I am a 2 cancer survivor who eliminated all adenocarcinoma cells from my prostate in 2005 monitored by VA MED CTR and am now 86 yrs old working for the homeless. I was taught God helps them who help themselves, so I READ THE INGREDIENTS OF FOOD I BUY since many foods contain carcinogenic additives PLUS ALUMINUM which destroys the IMMUNE SYSTEM. Necessities for remaining cancer free.
An octogenarian biochemist.
A true inspiration – thank you for sharing your journey.
My husband has stage 4 cancer and I walk the journey with him.
We have been happily married for 30 years & I thank God every day for every day I have with him as I count each day as precious bonus.
(Both of us have been married previously but we have a wonderful relationship & 9 children between us that all communicate happily between themselves.
I am a nursing sister & so completely comprehend the enormity of the issues at hand.
My God continue to keep you and yours truly blessed.
I’m so very proud of you!!! You inspire me!!!!
I had surgery on May 6, 2020 for a skin cancer that metastasized into my lymph nodes and other things below my right ear. The right side of my face is paralyzed since my facial nerve was involved. It may come back within six months, or not. I’m entering my third week of radiation, 5 days a week. I’m afraid and desperately need to read survivor stories. Thank you!
Dear Patty:I am a survivor of 2 cancers.I am 69 years old.I had breast cancer at the age of 42 (stage 01).I had a mastectomy of my left breast,reconstructive surgery on both sides,a tummy tuck,several surgeries,due to complications,6 months of grueling chemotherapy treatments,in which I was always vomiting and/or nauseated.I was the first one in the family with this cancer.This was in 1994.In March of 2020,at the same time as the coronavirus started,I was diagnosed with stage III(VERY CLOSE TO STAGE IIII)Lung cancer(I have never smoked a day in my whole life).Because it was in my neck area,I wasn’t able to have surgery to remove it.I also had cancer in my right,as well as left lung.My lymph node lung cancer tumors were all 2 cm in diameter.I.I have just completed 8 weeks of radiation,3 chemotherapy treatments,plus 4 weeks of fluids(3 times a week)for dehydration,and am starting 1 year of immunotherapy every 2 weeks.All this while losing my niece in April 2020,due to brain cancer,following a diagnosis of kidney cancer 7 months before her brain cancer.She was only 44 years old,and has a 12 year daughter and a 15 year old son,who are now being raised by my sister and her husband,who are 74 and 77 years old,respectively.My nieces husband passed away in 2014 of complications,due to back surgery he’d had in a prior year.Also my oldest daughter passed away in 2013,of sepsis,due to complications ,as a result of the flu,one of which was severe asthma.She was only 40 years old.My husband’s son died of a heroin overdose in 2012,at the young age of 33,leaving behind 3 young sons.My mom just passed away on June 22 of congestive heart failure,at the age of 94.My dad passed away in 2009,at the age of 86,of heart disease.The good news is that my recent ct scan revealed that my cancer has shrunk to 1 cm,and the cancer in my neck has disappeared.The advice I can give you is don’t give up hope,and pray ALOT.I thought I was going to die,when I was diagnosed both times,and I am still alive,so keep fighting,and I will keep you in my prayers.I hope that in some way I have helped you.Also my nieces husband was 44 years old when he died.He died on the same day as my niece died.Also my sister’s son is 48 years old,and is living with a serious brain disorder from 5 years ago,in which he had surgery on,and was given a 20 % chance survival rate.He still can’t speak clearly,can’t write or walk,and has to be tube fed.And my other daughter is 41 years old,and has a 14 and one half year old son,who is autistic,diagnosed at age 2.(My only grandchild).So hang in there.Things will get better.I really do believe that.
so inspired by your story and it was heartfelt.
I am presently in the middle of chemo treatments for breast cancer. Just now seeking to find blogs and read about success stories from cancer survivors. I do not think there can be enough words of support and understanding out there. I appreciate everyone who takes the time to share with others. My goal is to do exactly that once my journey is over. Only once did a feel I might die from cancer. That was the first day I found out that I had it. But then I decided that I would fight it and live my life by my favorite bible verse…I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13
Thank you. I needed this today more than any other day. My dad was diagnosed with lymphoma last month and is halfway through chemo, with his next chemo this upcoming week. Today was a rough day in that he had minimal energy and was very emotional, which in turn made me worry more. Days like today remind me to take peace in how much progress he’s made since his diagnosis and starting treatment. He just has two cycles to go. There will be good days and bad, and seeing your success story gives me hope.
Thank you for sharing Your journey! It is so important for those who come behind. I pray you will be cancer free for years to come, and see your children grow up!
You are such an inspiration.
I’m just half way into my 3rd round of Carboplatin and Taxol for stage 4 NSCLC. This is my 2nd go round. I enjoyed 19 months of remission before new growth appeared. It was quite a blow when that new growth appeared. I have my moments of wanting to just stay in and hide from the world, but I can’t afford to live there.
I couldn’t make it without God, and prayers from friends and family. Cancer has certainly given me a new outlook on life. It is SO important to remain positive!
GOD bless you and all who are traveling this crazy journey!
Thanks for inspiring me and I’m sure many others . I just got out of the hospital from sepsis which almost killed me .. now I m researching how not to become
Sick when going through Chemo when I ran across your story . Thanks for sharing
I really needed this blog. My father has Colon cancer that metastasized to his lungs, liver, bones and intestines and he is not doing good at all he’s sick puking and having diarrhea all the time nauseated has not eaten solid foods in three months so I’m afraid that I’m gonna lose him soon. That means the world to me so please keep me in your prayers and thoughts if you can as I will for you guys
My wife has battled through breast cancer, ground glass nodule cancer in the lung and now with round three of stage 4a non-small particle lung cancer. She went through her first round of her chemo/immunotherapy cocktail last month and is now in the hospital with pneumonia. Her temperature spiked the night before and we were immediately rushed into the ER. It’s just the the two of us here in Monterey, CA and I was doing the cursed late night internet search on chemo therapy related pneumonia and came across you wonderful perspective. After some tears, I am more settled down after reading and I just wanted to say thank and bless you!
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