Ron Dunder - Age 70, St. Clairsville, Vocal Chord Cancer
Irene Dunder - Age 65, St. Clairsville, Breast Cancer
My cancer story:
Irene and Ron Dunder
RON: I smoked for more than 40 years, but after I had a heart attack in November 2002, I quit smoking and drinking. Three years later in August 2005, I had some hoarseness and went to my doctor, Dr. Commerci. He took one look in my throat and sent me to see Dr. Tiu, an ENT, the same day. They did a vocal chord scraping and I was diagnosed with carcinoma of the vocal cord in situ, meaning the cancer was only in the top layers of the chords.
Given the choice between chemo, radiation or surgery, I chose surgery. Dr. Tiu said I might not be able to talk again.
I had four surgeries on my vocal chords starting in August - Dr. Tiu did the first and then he sent me to see Dr. Rassekh in Morgantown to do the next three. Each time, the top layer of skin was shaved off and tested. Dr. Rassekh said this type of cancer is caused by smoking. I had surgery about once every two months and had my last on Feb. 23, 2006.
I couldn't eat anything solid after the surgeries and lived on Dairy Queen chocolate milk shakes. I was also very sore and unable to talk for a day or two after surgery. I also had two teeth removed because they had to go down my throat to do the surgery.
I had a lesion on right side of my tongue, which was removed on July 20, 2007, and by Aug. 20 2010, I was officially released from Dr. Rassekh's care. I now just follow up once a year with Dr. Tiu, and everything looks good.
IRENE: Just by accident, I happened to feel a lump in my right breast on Valentine's Day 2011. I was concerned and had my daughters check it a few days later. I saw my doctor, Dr. Sharon Lazo on Feb. 22, and in less than week, I had a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy. The doctors moved fast and were efficient. Dr. Lazo sent me for tests right away and Dr. Cross did my surgery. On Feb. 28, 2011, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma HER-2 positive breast cancer. It was stage 2b.
On March 8 I had a mastectomy and Dr. Cross also removed some lymph nodes. I had a 3 cm mass in my right breast and two of the four lymph nodes removed tested positive for cancer.
Dr. Das was my oncologist, so I went to get a medi port and then I checked in to the hospital on April 4, 2011 for my first dose of chemo. I had six cycles of chemo, and then continued on herceptin until I started radiation treatments with Dr. Reddy on Aug. 11. I had 25 radiation treatments, but I had a lot of problems with burnt and irritated skin, so there were some days I had to miss radiation to heal. I started back on herceptin Aug. 22 until April 2012. I have been cancer-free for three years and continue with follow ups with Dr. Das.
RON: My wife, Irene, and my daughters Shaunna and Rhonda were there for support the entire time. I also really liked my doctors. If you trust your doctor you can get through anything. I'd always make jokes with the doctors and nurses and it really helped get through the situation. Dr. Commerci got the ball rolling with quick action. Dr. Rassekh was good to me all the way through - the first time I met him, I felt like I'd known him all my life. And Dr. Tiu even called me at home to see how I was after my second surgery. They all really took good care of me.
IRENE: My husband, my daughters and my other family and friends were like caregivers of a different kind, calling, checking on me, seeing if I needed anything, seeing how I felt. Ron did everything, and really took good care of me. He took me to all the doctors, to the hospital, to get medicine, bought things I needed, sat with me through all my moods on good and bad days. He always wanted to be there. Family and friends were always there with prayers, phone calls and encouragement. With that and especially with the help of almighty God, we can get through anything.
One lesson learned on your
RON: Having the heart attack was the best thing that happened to me because it prepared me for what was ahead. I started taking better care of myself and quit smoking and drinking. It wasn't easy but I did it one day at time. My faith was definitely a lot stronger if it hadn't been for God, I'd have been gone in 2002. He gave me another chance. If it wasn't for faith, I wouldn't have made it through. I prayed and others prayed for me, and I made it through with prayers and the family the Lord had there with me.
IRENE: I always felt that family and dear friends were first, and that got reaffirmed after my daughter was diagnosed with Hodgkins in 2006. Then when I got diagnosed with breast cancer, the same people were there for all of us. Just go out there and return that favor and help people who need help. You don't have to be alone, and don't be afraid. You can still get in touch with people to help like your doctors and nurses. I learned the most from my daughter's cancer, so I kind of knew what to expect going in.
Message to newly diagnosed and patients in treatment:
RON: Do what your doctors tell you to do. Have faith, but also realize you have to face reality - you're either going to live or die. Even though I went into this blind, I put a lot of faith in my doctors and God. I was not scared - I was concerned but not scared. Just try to keep your priorities straight and roll with the punches. There isn't an overnight cure and healing takes time.
IRENE: When I found out I had cancer, keeping it a secret wasn't an option. I wanted people to know because they could all help me get through this. You need to be in touch with family, friends, people you need to talk to. You can't keep this kind of stuff to yourself. I didn't mess around and wanted to know things and asked questions - I needed to know the truth. It's good to speak up and find out what's going on. Just because they do all this treatment doesn't mean you're home free. You still have to keep in touch and follow up with your doctors. Sometimes I hated going when I thought I was fine, but that was also when I found the lump, and it turns out I really wasn't fine. So keep up with your appointments.