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October 04, 2023

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: A survivor’s story of resilience

IU Health West Hospital

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: A survivor’s story of resilience

Written by Emma Avila,, writer for IU Health’s Indianapolis Suburban Region

Rhonda Conrad recently completed treatment at the IU Health West Cancer Center. She emphasizes the importance of empowerment while facing breast cancer.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, making it the most common cancer in American women.

For Rhonda Conrad, this is the second year that this month holds special meaning.

In September of last year, Conrad went for a routine mammogram, and by the time she left, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“That day was a very overwhelming day,” Conrad recalls. “It had gotten pretty far. I was stage three.”

After her diagnosis, she decided to meet with the care team at the IU Health Simon Cancer Center to establish a treatment plan. She connected with Dr. Kathy Miller, who specializes in hematology-oncology. Miller recommended chemotherapy, surgery and radiation.

Conrad began chemotherapy a couple of weeks later. She also began getting a PHESGO injection every three weeks, which stops cancer cells from dividing and growing.

“One thing I thought about IU Health is I wanted things to move pretty quickly, and they accommodated that,” she says.

She underwent six rounds of chemotherapy, which ended in January of this year. A few weeks later, she underwent a double mastectomy. The surgeon also removed lymph nodes on her right side.

After waiting a few weeks, she began 30 rounds of radiation at the end of April at IU Health West, which is closer to home.

“I live in Hendricks County, and I work in Hendricks County. Because it was so close, it didn’t take over my life, just part of my day, not the whole day,” she says. “I love the infusion center there. Everyone is just so nice. They really care, and you can tell.”

When Conrad began radiation, she connected with Sarah Dyer, a clinical nurse navigator for the IU Health West Cancer Center.

“I was Rhonda's nurse navigator from the beginning of her radiation therapy treatments and continue to be her support in survivorship,” Dyer says. “Nurse navigators can play an important role in a patient's cancer journey. They are the point of contact for patients for whatever they may need throughout their treatment and even after treatment is complete. Nurse navigators support, educate, coordinate care and provide resources throughout the journey. I personally believe that it is important for a patient to have at least that one person they can contact with any questions, concerns or to just be a listening ear whenever needed.”

Sarah Dyer, clinical nurse navigator at IU Health West

“There are so many appointments you have. She helped orchestrate all of it,” Conrad adds. “She seemed to know when I wasn’t able to do it for myself.”

Since Conrad’s surgery and treatment, her care team has not found any traces of cancer.

“It was gone. There wasn’t anything,” she says. “They couldn’t even see it microscopically.”

Now, her perspective on life has changed. Conrad used to work as an oncology social worker. She now understands what the experience is like from the patient side.

“You have to spend some time dealing with your own mortality,” she explains. “One thing I always told patients is that you will be looking at a tree very differently for the rest of your life because of what’s happened to you. It’s more real, more pure, more there because you faced it being potentially gone.”

Conrad hopes sharing her story will encourage others with breast cancer to stay strong.

“You have to empower yourself because this is not going to be easy,” she says.

“Rhonda has always kept so positive which has only helped her through some of the toughest times,” Dyer adds. “She is an inspiration and I wish only the best for Rhonda in her continued healing and with everything in life.”

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