Thrive by IU Health

October 17, 2017

Diary Of Breast Cancer

Diary Of Breast Cancer

On the first day of February, the temperatures were a little above normal in Central Indiana and Rhonda Jones, 50, was already planning a beach vacation. But life changed when she learned she had breast cancer.

She’d scheduled her annual mammogram faithfully for years – each time leaving the appointment with that peace of mind – the scans were clear. But in December, her mammogram was followed by an ultrasound - and then a second ultrasound - and then a biopsy.

Rhonda Jones with friends before diagnosis

On a date marked in the history books by the French Revolutionary War, Jones started her own war. She began her fight against breast cancer.

“I can not describe the feelings you go through and I hope you never have to learn,” she wrote in her online journal. “I am sure I am still learning.” Ten more tests and numerous doctor appointments revealed three cancer spots, including one in her lymph nodes. Her enemy was considered Stage 3 by her oncologist Dr. Vijaya Kakani.

“I have a working brain and heart. Now I just need courage,” she wrote. She underwent four rounds of heavy chemo in eight weeks, followed by 12 rounds of chemo every week. A full mastectomy was scheduled for July (but was later delayed to August) followed by 30-35 days of radiation.

“The cancer is aggressive. It is a triple negative so the doctor's are being aggressive. The good news is it is curable. After the 2-3 year mark, there is little to no chance it will reoccur. And we shall celebrate. I am in good hands with the great doctors at IU Health Arnett. I also work with a great bunch of ladies who will take good care of me. I may be getting a little VIP treatment,” she wrote in February.

At the start of her journey, Jones apologized to friends for updating them through social media, describing the posts as “impersonal.” But friends responded with encouragement. One friend, who had also battled breast cancer, wrote: “You are in for a journey and it is a roller coaster ride.” Pictures show the progression of Jones losing her hair, wearing a silly hat on St. Patrick’s Day and with friends all wearing headbands to show unity.

As she started chemo, Jones wrote: “When people ask what it feels like to get chemo I liken it to getting the flu or a sinus infection. On chemo day they pump all these fluids into you. Some to help; some to kill. You feel off because your body is trying to figure out how to react. You are tired. Things don't taste great. Then on Friday you are superwoman - high on steroids. Saturday you just wish the flu would decide which way it is going. Sunday you feel the truck approaching. Monday through Wednesday you gradually feel better, then it starts all over again.”

By mid-March, Jones began to lose her hair. It was a time she knew would come but somehow wasn’t sure how to reconcile in her mind. So she began to think about hair as it relates to a woman’s persona.

Rhonda Jones at baseball game

“Lets talk about hair. Our society certainly places a lot of emphasis on hair, especially women,” she wrote. “Every other commercial is about hair products that will make yours so much better. I have always hated my hair. It is super fine and thin. . . My best friend had long hair and had beautiful ponytails and pigtails. I was so jealous. When I got the chance to grow it out, I did. And I spent my money from babysitting to go to a real hairdresser. . . My hair has been super short and it’s been long. It has been curly and flat. I have spent tons of money to make it cute. . . It has been many colors - mostly to cover the gray. So when you hate your hair why is it so hard to loose it? I didn't think it would be, but I am not going to lie - it is difficult. Every morning clumps in the shower, clumps in the comb, shedding on your towel, your pillow, your clothes.” In the end, Jones’ husband of 22 years, Chris Jones, helped her shave her head.

Afterward she wrote: “It was the best decision ever.”

At about the same time, she had her third round of chemo, couldn’t keep any food down, and lost about 10 pounds.

“My stomach sounds like a transformer movie. I am getting stronger everyday thankfully. Other than the stomach explosions,” she wrote. She completed her fourth and final round of chemo on April 6 and reported the tumor was down to 1.5 centimeters.

Throughout her treatment, Jones continued working – sometimes shortening her days – and even won the Presidential Cup at the American Advertising Awards ceremony in Tippecanoe County.

Cancer is unpredictable and sometimes the strategies to fight it are also unpredictable. In late April, Jones learned her treatment schedule would be lengthened and the fall break beach vacation she was planning would need to be postponed. Surgery was pushed back to August 10 - her birthday. Thirty-five days of radiation began this month – nine months after her diagnosis. She hopes she will be finished by Thanksgiving.

“I was just really getting excited about that beach vacation. But I will be surrounded by my family during the holidays, which always brings joy to my heart. We will look at a beach vacation for spring break 2018,” she wrote when she learned the news.

On May 4 with the second round of chemo complete and 10 more to go, Jones wrote about side effects – dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, leg cramps, and lack of sleep.

“Let’s talk about sleep - I miss it. I am a great sleeper, just ask my family. I used to be average 6-7 hours during the week and 8 on weekends. Those days are gone. Yes, I am tired. My body is physically spent. But sleep? Maybe 2-3 hours at a time. I have become an old man. I go to bed exhausted. I sleep. Covers on, covers off, repeat.”

She also realized she was becoming forgetful: “Chemo brain is a real thing. It reminds me of being pregnant. I think of so many things I need to do then cannot remember. I make a lot of lists now. Concentrating is hard sometimes.”

Rhonda Jones with Pink Heals in front of fire truck

As she faced the rainy days of spring, Jones wrote of blooming flowers, preparing her deck for warm weather and baseball. Her 12-year-old son plays on a traveling team.

For inspiration, she began wearing a keepsake diamond ring. The ring belonged to her grandmother and was handed down to her mother and then to Jones.

She put the ring on the day of her first treatment and has worn it every day since. “I get strength from the two women before me – who both survived cancer. I know they are helping me through this journey. Every day I see my angels and know I’ve got this,” she wrote. Her mom was diagnosed with uterine cancer at 35 and her grandmother battled ovarian cancer.

It was the strength she needed as she faced surgery on August 14 – a radical mastectomy, removing lymph nodes that later tested cancer free. On her last doctor visit, her oncologist prescribed oral chemo.

“I am disappointed. I am tired of being exhausted. I am tired of being the weakest link. I hate feeling like I am 100 years old. I am not good at letting others help me,” said Jones. But then she added: “Never fear. Tomorrow is a new day. I will get up put a smile on my face and have a great day. I am expecting one hell of a party in 2018.”

-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at
T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.

Latest Stories

Filter from

November 24, 2020 IU Health Frankfort Hospital now open The new IU Health Frankfort Hospital is open and ready to serve you. A fence around the... November 24, 2020 Nurse down 75 pounds: ‘Self-care is vital, especially during a pandemic’ As a progressive critical care nurse, Kristy Fields sees many patients treated for symp... November 23, 2020 Q4 2020 Quarterly Report: COVID-19 brings community together, while social distancing Crystal Hinson Miller, chief philanthropy officer for Indiana University Health and pre... November 23, 2020 IU Health COVID-19 Data IU Health is committed to being a trusted source of information for the public during t... November 23, 2020 Father of five girls gets wish with hospital bedside wedding Seven weeks ago, Matthew Rynearson was diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumor. When he e... November 20, 2020 Transplant Gratitude Triggers $1 Million in Funding Technically, Jerome Josephs received a kidney when he underwent a transplant at IU Heal... November 19, 2020 In the Midst of a Pandemic, Three Foundation Team Members Achieve International Certification Diane Buzzell, Julie Paolillo and Kate Konzen have several new letters after their name... November 19, 2020 Rock band member chooses IU Health for testicular cancer treatment Minnesota native Ryan Keyes came to Indianapolis to play drums in a rock band. Now, he’... November 18, 2020 Offering help to go tobacco-free during COVID-19 People who are tobacco users and who vape have a higher chance of getting COVID-19. IU ... November 17, 2020 How to Stay Safe & Healthy This Holiday Season With COVID-19 cases surging across the state, it may be time to rethink your traditiona... November 17, 2020 Long-time nurse known for educating the next generation of nurses She has been at the bedside of countless patients – the sickest of the sick, and Marcia... November 15, 2020 Father Donates Kidney to Young Son: “It’s a Huge Sigh of Relief” By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org It was in her 20th we... November 13, 2020 Double transplant patient on quest to educate young adults with diabetes Even before his first transplant, Mike Davis knew the importance of self-care for diabe... November 12, 2020 How to Cope with Holiday & COVID-19 Stress With COVID-19 cases on the rise and the holidays around the corner, you may be feeling ... November 12, 2020 Lung cancer patient, non-smoker: ‘Anyone with lungs can get cancer’ It started with a mild cough that wouldn’t go away. Now Shauna Dalton is taking meds tw... November 11, 2020 Veteran’s Day – A family legacy for IU Health doctor IU Health Dr. Kevin Rice talks about his journey to the medical field and his service i... November 10, 2020 Better People, Better Patient Care: How a Philanthropic Gift is Paving the Way for Leadership Development at IU Health In just five years, Indiana may be experiencing a shortage of more than 60,000 physicia... November 10, 2020 Nurse who had COVID-19: “The positive is I can donate plasma to help others” The numbers are the highest they have been in months. COVID-19 continues to be a deadly... November 09, 2020 TCC Gives’ donated iPads help IU Health patients and families connect The isolation created by the COVID-19 pandemic has weighed heavily on everyone, but it ... November 08, 2020 ‘Hospital at home’ patient: ‘They spoiled me. I couldn’t have asked for better care’ In April, IU Health launched a program for ill COVID-19 patients that allowed them to r... November 05, 2020 New glucose management option helps COVID-19 patients Since the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare professionals have learned th... November 02, 2020 Risky tumor removal threatened patient's ability to talk & swallow Daniela Gomez started experiencing severe headaches when she was 14 years old. For six ... October 29, 2020 A look back at LifeLine rescue of crash victim: “A life-defining moment” It was in the early morning hours when LifeLine flight nurse Mike Collins was summoned ... October 28, 2020 First living liver recipient: Three months later and patient enjoys new life When Kelly Kinkade’s health began to decline, she turned to IU Health’s top-ranked tran... October 26, 2020 3 Healthcare Topics Every Hoosier Should Know About Before They Vote As we approach Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 3, healthcare continues to rank high on ju... October 25, 2020 He thought he had COVID-19; Nurse practitioner suspected something else Ryan Gillen is beyond grateful. He says one special nurse who discovered his illness, i... October 22, 2020 Cancer patient, 28: ‘People say 2020 has been bad, but for me it’s a blessing’ He’s young, launching his professional career and he’s facing the challenges of a cance... October 22, 2020 For this student nurse, COVID unit has helped her grow PCA Kate Davenport: “It’s so important to meet people where they are and offer support,... October 21, 2020 Grant Expands Dementia-Support Services in Southern Indiana “It really does take a village when it comes to dementia care,” said Dayna Thompson, an... October 21, 2020 What Characteristics are the Most Important Part of a Safe & Effective Weight Loss Program? In today’s digital age, you can find weight loss plans everywhere. From diet pills that... October 20, 2020 This doctor has a reason to be a real man wearing pink Each year, the American Cancer Society raises money and awareness for breast cancer wit... October 15, 2020 Elementary teacher, 28, diagnosed with breast cancer Both her grandmothers had breast cancer, but Sarah Clark had no reason to believe her d... October 14, 2020 When Minutes Count: Know Risk Factors for Stroke Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and is a leading cause of long-term disabili... October 14, 2020 Putting on the White Coat: Celebrating an IU School of Medicine Bicentennial Scholar Image courtesy of IU School of Medicine Where once walked a scribe, following doctors ... October 13, 2020 Infant Loss: Two Mothers Open their Arms to Those who suffer Two Nurses at IU Health Arnett both suffered the loss of their precious newborns. Their... October 12, 2020 Philanthropy Funds Rooftop Garden to Offer Patients, Loved Ones and Team Members a Breath of Fresh Air In the midst of uncertainty and stress, it’s important that all of us take a moment to ... October 12, 2020 Understand the importance of safe sleep While the prevalence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in the United States has de... October 12, 2020 Olcott’s Gift Paves Way for Nurse Navigation at the New Regional Academic Health Center Joan Olcott will be long remembered as an important figure in the Bloomington community... October 11, 2020 Breast cancer patient found lump two weeks before mammogram At the recommendation of her family physician, Kelly Kelso scheduled a mammogram. Two w... October 09, 2020 Merriman Award Honors Compassionate Team Members Statewide Five IU Health team members around the state have won the “Lynda,” the Lynda A. Merrima... October 09, 2020 From Riley to University Hospital – Patient relies on music therapy He first came to IU Health as an infant and recently when he came back as an adult, Nat... October 07, 2020 Former school bus driver fights pancreatic cancer For 25 years, Alan “Dale” Albright drove a school bus. He looked at the kids on his rou... October 06, 2020 How Could My Alcohol Use Affect My Family? “It’s just one more drink.” “I haven’t had any legal problems.” “I worked really hard t... October 06, 2020 IU Health midwifery practice invites women to “call the midwife” In a nod to the popular PBS television series “Call the Midwife,” four IU Health nurse ... October 01, 2020 Mother’s devotion: Driven to improving mental health care After years of experiencing firsthand her son’s diagnosis of mental illness, Joan Ester... September 30, 2020 LifeLine crew reunites with seriously injured teen airlifted to Methodist It was his second time to board a LifeLine helicopter and this time, Brandon Stuckwish ... September 29, 2020 How to Recognize & Prevent Heart Disease During COVID-19 Have you given much thought to your heart this year? During the COVID-19 pandemic, ma... September 29, 2020 IU Health, IPS launch career development program at Crispus Attucks Upon graduation and completion of the fellowship program, students will be guaranteed a... September 28, 2020 Grant Connects People in Rural Communities to Emergency Behavioral Care Thanks to a new grant secured by IU Health Foundation, people in rural communities in n... September 24, 2020 White Memorial helping patient move from a motorized cart to walking the fields Gene Dallinger suffers from COPD and started working with pulmonary rehab at IU Health ... September 24, 2020 From North Africa to the U.S.: Expatriate encourages community engagement A native of Algeria, Mohamed Merzoug joined IU Health’s Community Outreach and Engageme... September 24, 2020 As he retires: Transplant leader dedicated to patients and hospital community After more than a decade of serving as IU Health’s Medical Director of Kidney & Pancrea... September 23, 2020 Lab worker driven by niece’s death from sepsis Thousands of children die each year as a result of severe sepsis. Matthew “Trevor” O’He... September 22, 2020 Methodist childbirth educator looks forward to Riley move The new maternity tower at Riley will centralize all inpatient and newborn care so even... September 21, 2020 In Pursuit of Health Equity: An Evolution in Healthcare At the crossroads of storylines between the COVID-19 pandemic and summer-long protests ... September 21, 2020 Practicing Mindfulness During Times of Uncertainty The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the fact that things in life can be out of our co... September 18, 2020 IU Health Arnett donates masks to local food banks Indiana University Health Arnett is donating masks to local food banks to help improve ... September 17, 2020 Two surgeries, one day - Father donates kidney to son When his son’s kidneys began to fail, Shannon Dobrucki did what most fathers would do –... September 16, 2020 IU Health Foundation’s Jessica Journey Receives International Industry Honor “Serving people with excellence, compassion, ethics, and positivity” has earned Jessica... September 15, 2020 Her nursing career is an extension of her life of empathy for others Melyssa Sams started her career later in life but she’s always been headed toward nursi... September 15, 2020 Hospital dietitian first came to IU Health as a pediatric patient Long before she even knew about careers in healthcare, Jennifer Golding was a patient a... September 14, 2020 Wear a Mask Because You Care … and Because It Works One of the best ways to protect yourself, your loved ones and the people in your commun... September 14, 2020 Why it’s Crucial to Get Your Flu Shot in 2020 2020 has taught us a lot of lessons. One major lesson being the importance of maintaini... September 10, 2020 Nurse: “I chose IU Health because I trust the oncology care” There are hospitals closer to her home, but when DaJuana Moore was diagnosed with breas... September 09, 2020 College student recovering from bone marrow transplant When she discovered the mass two years ago, Mayra Rodriguez completed treatment at IU H... September 09, 2020 IU Health Foundation Funds Officer Down Kits for Tipton Police & Tipton County Sheriff's Departments Pictured from Left: Thomas Sliwa, MD – Emergency Medicine; Brad Robins – Sergeant Tipto... September 09, 2020 IU Health Foundation Grant Helps People Quit Smoking Indiana ranks fifth-highest in the nation for tobacco use, but the IU Health West Centr... September 08, 2020 IU Health Team Member Gives to Transform Healthcare Inequities For Craig Brooks, transformation manager for IU Health Physicians, “transformation” is ... September 07, 2020 Healthcare at home with virtual visits As the COVID-19 case number increases throughout Indiana, more and more Hoosiers are fa... September 04, 2020 Indiana University Health Tipton Hospital opens COVID-19 testing site TIPTON, Ind. – Indiana University Health Tipton Hospital understands the need for a loc... September 03, 2020 Brain surgery on a former president? We can do that From president to patient: Amos Sawyer led the country of Liberia for four years, but i... September 03, 2020 Pharmacy Technician: "I'm exactly where I need to be." For 23 years, Jennifer Harshman has worked as a pharmacy technician. Throughout Harshma... September 02, 2020 Is Addiction Really a Disease? Is addiction really a disease or a matter of choice? Ask the mother who lost her 19-yea... September 02, 2020 Occupational therapist starts sexual health program for cancer survivors Addie Jacobs, occupational therapist at IU Health West Hospital, developed the idea for... August 31, 2020 Administrative Coordinator celebrates ninth year at IU Health Saxony Hospital Holli Smith, administrative coordinator, celebrated her ninth year as an IU Health Saxo... August 28, 2020 How COVID-19 Affects Heart Health COVID-19 is a disease caused by a virus that is closely associated with a very importan... August 28, 2020 Guest Relations team members work to provide patients and visitors with a memorable experience Sonali Patel and Emely Villalta know how difficult it can be for patients and visitors ... August 27, 2020 Open Arms Miscarriage and Infant Loss Support Group Two nurses from IU Health Arnett are teaming up to lead a support group called Open Arm... August 26, 2020 Father Patrick is a ray of sunshine at Methodist Hospital “Chaplaincy is not all about religion. It’s about being present through human suffering... August 25, 2020 Saxony Knee Replacement Patient is Grateful for Her Personalized Care Andrea Colbert worked with Dr. Leonard Buller, orthopedic surgeon at IU Health Saxony H... August 25, 2020 Q3 2020 Quarterly Report: Ball Memorial Hospital Foundation joins IU Health Foundation family Crystal Hinson Miller, chief philanthropy officer for Indiana University Health and pre... August 20, 2020 COVID patient with down syndrome: “Thank you God; You saved the day” She was alone and an hour away from the most trusted people in her life – her parents. ... August 19, 2020 New Website Focuses on Possibilities of Philanthropy Three years after IU Health Foundation opened its doors, a revamped website focuses on ... August 19, 2020 Patient: “Extremely rare disease diagnosed because I was at a teaching hospital” Some of her symptoms went unrecognized; others were more obvious. In the end, it was a ... August 17, 2020 IU Health North Clinical Educator Supports New Nurses and PCAs Megan Miller, clinical educator at IU Health North Hospital, discovered her love of nur... August 17, 2020 IU Health Frankfort now offers Pulmonary Function Tests (PFT) “PFTs are a group of tests that measure how well your lungs work,” explains Kareena Wel... August 17, 2020 Nurse: “I can help save people but I can also give them dignity in the final time” She’s spent three decades caring for critically ill patients. Jennifer McAvene knows th... August 17, 2020 IU Health North Lactation Consultant Helps Mothers Through Their Breastfeeding Journey After experiencing personal struggles with breastfeeding, Martha Ollikainen, neonatal i... August 14, 2020 IU Health West Lactation Consultant Shares the Importance of Breastfeeding Jan Record, lactation consultant at IU Health West Hospital, knows how difficult breast... August 13, 2020 Transplant patient: “The nurses were my lifesavers” At the worst of times, Angela Michael was so ill she didn’t think she could make it thr... August 11, 2020 Nurse Spotlight: Ashley Ritsema After suffering a pregnancy loss, Ashley Ritsema, neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) n... August 10, 2020 COVID-19 Funds Expand Yoga Programs Donors to the COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund have helped to bring the healing powers of y... August 05, 2020 IU Health to add eight blocks to downtown campus, build new $1.6B hospital In a major transformation of its downtown medical campus, Indiana University Health pla... August 05, 2020 IU Health files plans for transformative new hospital in downtown Indianapolis INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana University Health has outlined plans for a world-class ho... August 04, 2020 Patient donated kidney, received kidney and enjoying fresh start He has a giving heart. So when his brother needed a kidney, Harambee Purnell donated hi... August 03, 2020 Take a trip through the decades at Methodist safety fair CVCC nurses refresh their skills during an annual training event that aims to teach whi... July 31, 2020 Virtual education, coaching leads to diabetes prevention Have you been told you have prediabetes signs and symptoms? IU Health has a plan in pla... July 28, 2020 Nurse is a ‘Teacher’ in a Different Classroom She just completed 30 years at IU Health and Nurse Melissa Coxey is realizing her caree... July 23, 2020 What You Need to Know About E-Cigarettes & Vaping: Your Guide to the Latest Facts Much to tobacco companies' delight, electronic cigarettes and vaping have caught on sin... July 23, 2020 From New York Designer to Andretti Racing: Cancer connects patient to supporters William “Bill” Ramey’s small town spans two Indiana counties. Since his cancer diagnosi...