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‘Enjoy every day for what it is’

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Brought closer by adversity: two-time cancer survivor Ronda Lewis, left, with daughter Charmaine (Photograph supplied)

Ronda Lewis thought she had beaten breast cancer. She was devastated when the disease came back, bigger and stronger than before.

Almost as bad was having to share the news with her daughter Charmaine.

“How do you tell your daughter something like that?” The question rolled over and over in her mind.

As it turned out, Charmaine solved the problem for her. Worried because her mother was unusually withdrawn, the 25-year-old confronted her: “Out with it! What’s Up? You’re making me crazy!”

She and her daughter lived together, travelled together and shared a weakness for Disney princess movies; Ronda was relieved her secret was finally out.

Her mother, Linette Trott, died from breast cancer at age 32. Ronda had tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation; doctors warned she was three to seven times more likely to develop breast cancer than women without it. Still, as she’d successfully fought the disease seven years before, in February 2017 she and Charmaine thought they knew the battle ahead.

Ronda had actually discovered the lump on her left breast the previous December.

It was in the area of her mastectomy and was hard, like bone. For two months she pretended it wasn’t there.

In February, when it started getting bigger, she knew she had to deal with it.

“I didn’t want to believe it had come back,” said the 47-year-old who is now encouraging other women to “listen to your bodies, take care of yourselves, do your annual screenings and stay aware”.

She had a mammogram and an ultrasound and knew what was coming before her doctor said the words.

This time around however, the tumour was larger; doctors described it as “Stage 2A” and decided to take a stronger approach.

“The first time I [found out I had cancer] I just got into my car and cried,” Ronda said. “This time I was like, ‘OK, what do we have to do? Let’s just get this done’. The worst part of it was when I heard I’d need sixteen rounds of chemotherapy.

“Chemo was tough the first time and I’d only needed four rounds.”

The doctors at Massachusetts’ Lahey Hospital & Medical Centre removed the tumour and eighteen lymph nodes after finding cancer in three of them; the swellings often act as a highway, transporting cancer around the body.

Chemotherapy, and six weeks of radiation, followed in Bermuda.

Although thrilled to be cancer-free, the experience was mentally and physically tougher than Ronda had expected.

“I remember after the first round, one Saturday, I got up and just wanted fresh linens on my bed,” she said. “I took all the sheets and stuff off the bed, then didn’t have the energy to put everything back on.

“I sat down and cried so much. I had a lot of days where it was like, ‘I don’t want to do it any more’.

“I knew I had to get through it to be healthy and alive, but it was emotionally very rough. My daughter can attest to that.”

Charmaine, who does not have the BRCA1 gene mutation, was determined to be strong for her mother.

“I had to become the mom of the house,” the Fairmont Southampton concierge said. “I had to grow up.

“I refused to cry in front of her. I was supposed to be the strong one.

“She didn’t know this, but I set my alarm clock so that it went off at 2am and 5am every morning so that I could get up and check on her.

“There were many times I felt like I couldn’t handle what was going on and I’d call my friends and say, ‘I just can’t do this’.”

But, she did manage.

“It has really brought us closer together,” Ronda said. “Watching her becoming a caregiver really touched me.

“It was a lot of work for her, but she really cared for me. I tell her all the time, I truly appreciate everything she did.”

She completed her last treatment a few days before her 47th birthday, January 17.

After her first bout with cancer, she was eager to get back to her job at AIG Global Risk Solutions.

Her attitude has changed a bit since her second battle. She and her daughter are now on an Alaskan cruise that had been on their bucket list.

She also intends to walk to raise money for breast cancer awareness next month.

“I think we have to enjoy life and enjoy every day for what it is,” she said. “Instead of waiting for a better time, let’s just do what we want to do, now.”

The BF&M Breast Cancer Awareness Walk leaves from Barr’s Bay Park at 6pm on October 17. Register at www.racedayworld.com or www.cancer.bm

Two-time cancer survivor: Ronda Lewis, right, with daughter Charmaine (Photograph supplied)