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Rita, Lung Cancer Survivor

With teen girls to raise, this mom beat cancer in the fight for her life.

The cold symptoms just wouldn’t go away. Finally, Rita went to the doctor and was given a prescription of antibiotics. Still, the congestion and struggle to breathe continued, so her physician ordered a chest X-ray. Her world stopped when the results revealed a visible tumor in her lung. And it was malignant.

“Cancer” was the last word Rita expected to hear that day in June 2015. As the mom of two teenage high school girls her life was busy. The diagnosis was life-changing, but the love and support from Benny, her husband of 37 years, their daughters, her mother and other extended family members was invaluable as she plunged head-first into this new world with a goal of beating the disease and getting back to the life and family she loved.

The first part of her journey took Rita from her home in Honaker, Virginia, to Charlottesville, where she hoped to have surgery to remove the tumor. However, the tumor was not in a location where it could be surgically removed, so she returned home for treatments at Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abingdon.

“This is where my real journey toward recovery started,” Rita says. At the Regional Cancer Center at Johnston Memorial, she began a regimen of radiation and chemotherapy treatments.  Meanwhile, her oldest daughter Maggie started her senior year in high school. Leah began her sophomore year. She didn’t want to miss these special times. As a mother, it was a challenge to balance the daily drive to Abingdon and focus on her own care while keeping up with her girls’ schedules and being there for them. She felt like the treatments would never end.

The team at the Regional Cancer Center kept her spirits up. She finished 30 days of radiation. Then three months later, a PET scanned showed that there was still cancer activity. Her physician decided on bi-weekly treatments of Opdivo (a cancer-fighting drug).

In the spring of 2016 before starting the treatments Rita got fantastic news. She would be able to get her treatments at the new infusion center at Russell County Medical Center in Lebanon, just 20 minutes from home. Rita would be the first patient to receive treatment there.

“I was so relieved when I found out I could get my treatments close to home,” Rita says. “Nurses Ginger and Ellen at the Regional Cancer Center in Lebanon became like family, too, which helped me not dread my visits.”

Over the next few months regular scans to monitor the tumor showed that it was shrinking. Now the cancer is no longer active, but Rita will go back in a few months for another scan. Still, she feels positive that no matter what the results, she will have a cancer-fighting team to help her through.

“The team at Johnston Memorial Hospital and Russell County Medical Center have given me over two great years with my family,” she says.  “I can’t explain what they did for me and how much it means. Cancer seems like an impossible mountain to climb, but with God’s help and all the people he put in my path, I’m reaching the top!” 

Learn more about cancer care at Ballad Health.