OKEECHOBEE — Rhonda Townsend was at work when she found out she had breast cancer. When she got the news, she was in a meeting, and she left the room to take the call then promptly went into the bathroom to throw up, she said. She had gone for her annual mammogram after missing a year due to a lack of insurance, and the cancer was already at a stage three C which is right before a stage four when they found it. It was a very aggressive moving type. They did the biopsy on Oct. 15, 2013, and then on Oct. 18 told her it was stage three C. On Oct. 28, she was in surgery. She had a radical left breast mastectomy, and they took about 20 lymph nodes with the breast. Ten of them showed positive for cancer.
Right around Christmas, she had a port put in and on Jan. 14 they started with iron infusions. She needed blood because her hemoglobin was so low due to another problem. She had three units of blood then started chemo. She went once a week and then towards the end cut back to every three weeks. She had to go for about a year and a half. She continued to work full-time while she was having chemo. She had no side effects from it though, she said. She wasn’t nauseous or sick. She had to get a shot with the kind they gave her in the beginning, and that would knock her down for the whole weekend. Her legs would give out. Her neuropathy exacerbated all the way up her legs, but that was the only reaction she had. The neuropathy got so bad after the shot she could barely walk.
Radiation started around August 2014. In 2015, she was able to have reconstructive surgery. They wanted to wait to make sure the radiation didn’t burn her, and it did. She had third degree burns. It can change your skin color, and they want to be sure everything matches when they do the reconstruction.
She had her mammogram done at the annex at Raulerson. She had to fight with her insurance company to get them to pay for her biopsy. They told her they had up to 30 days to approve it. The doctor who did the biopsy donated her time, and Mrs. Townsend only had to pay for the things the doctor used to do the biopsy. She didn’t charge for the facility time or for her time because she knew it needed to be done immediately, but Aetna Insurance said they could take 30 days to approve a biopsy.
One of the things she found most helpful during that time was the Heroes 4 Hope group that was started by Thomas Barber for cancer patients. Frank DeCarlo, Angie Griffin and Pam Peppers were all involved in that. It was a support group where people could tell their stories and discuss things that people without cancer wouldn’t understand.
“It was a place we could discuss our feelings and bounce them off each other,” she said. She is doing well now and enjoying her new grandbaby.