Woman defies odds in battle with breast cancer - FOX 32 News Chicago

FOX Medical Team

Woman defies odds in battle with breast cancer

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A few months before the September 11th attacks, Rhonda Wilson received some devastating news: the breast cancer she'd been battling for more than a year had come back.  This time, it has spread beyond her breast into her neck. Wilson wasn't yet 40 and her story was just beginning.

Wilson is part of a small group of breast cancer patients who have metastatic cancer, meaning the cancer cells have moved beyond the breast, and a cure is no longer possible.

Over time, Wilson has come to accept that and in the process, she says, she's learned something really important: how to live.

Wilson has been going to Northwest Georgia Oncology in Marietta since her first battle with cancer in 2000.
"A lot of people feel like when you are coming to an infusion room that everybody will be depressed and it'll be sad. It's not that at all," said Wilson.

Wilson said that she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in May 200, when she was 38 years old. She went through chemotherapy, a mastectomy with reconstruction, more chemo and then radiation.
"I made it through that year, went back to work, and a few months later we found out it spread to my spine," said Wilson.

Rhonda's oncologist, Dr. Don Schaffer, didn't sugarcoat it.

"I don't remember what I said, but I remember being very frank: this is very bad," said Schaffer.

Rhonda's cancer was metastatic. It had spread and was no longer curable. Only about 3 percent of patients would survived beyond 5 years, Wilson learned. But that fall, as she watched September 11th attacks, something inside her shifted.

"Because a lot of people went to work that day and never saw their family again, never had a chance to make things right, if they'd had an argument. So I looked at it as a gift that I know life is short," said Wilson.

At 39, Wilson had more radiation, and more chemo, more tough times.

"It's interesting how you look at her now, and how she's evolved and come almost at peace with this. It's like, 'OK, I have this. I don't know what my prognosis is.  And we don't,'" said Schaffer.

Rhonda began receiving once-a-month infusions of the breast cancer drug Herceptin.  Schaffer isn't sure why, but he said the drug seems to have blocked her cancer cells from reproducing uncontrollably, kind of like flipping off a light switch.

"Because that's all we're giving her.  We're not giving her getting chemotherapy.  We haven't given her chemotherapy in probably 10 years," Schaffer said.

And Rhonda, who didn't expect to live 5 years, is at 12 and counting.

"I think life is sweeter.  I can say I really don't have a lot of stress in my life, because I won't allow it.  And I think maybe that has a lot to do with," Wilson said.

"Very few women will be as lucky as her.  But there are other women like her out there, not that I've known, but I know they're out there," said Schaffer.

"This is part of my life. I never miss an opportunity to see a friend. I've reconnected with friends from elementary school, and college," Wilson said.

Last year, Rhonda and her husband and friends celebrated a huge milestone with a trip to Europe.

"A lot of people dread being 50.  And I was ecstatic about being 50.  And I'm planning my 60th birthday," Wilson said.

Rhonda's cancer has gone "quiet," but her oncologist says if they stop the Herceptin infusions, he believes it will quickly come back.

The goal for many metastatic cancer survivors is to manage their disease so that it because a chronic illness, and extends their survival as long as possible.

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