As a Wichita South High School cheerleader, Rhonda Hicks loved urging on her classmates.
For the past 16 years, Rhonda has shown the same enthusiasm as she helps at-risk high school and firstgeneration college students through the education system.
But three years ago, the now 47-year-old divorced mother of two found herself needing help navigating.
“I was watching TV and all of a sudden I got a revelation to touch my left breast,” she says. “I felt a bump — one that wasn’t painful, but was hard.”
Although scheduled to have a routine mammogram in a couple of weeks, Rhonda called her family physician, Carol Nibert, MD, at Ascension Medical Group, who got her in right away.
“I think it’s more than a bump,” Dr. Nibert said, and quickly scheduled her for a mammogram and biopsy.
The evening after her biopsy, Rhonda’s phone rang.
“I am so sorry, but we found a triple negative carcinoma, which is a very aggressive type of breast cancer,” said Dr. Nibert, who recommended that Rhondasee her colleague, breast care specialist Patty Tenofsky, MD, for a consult the next day.
She went to see Dr. Tenofsky, “and lo and behold, there was Terri,” says Rhonda of her fellow cheer squad member, who now is a nurse navigator for the breast care specialist’s patients.
The way forward
Just as Rhonda helps students in the Upward Bound Wichita Prep program chart their path, Terri Leschuk, RN, does the same for breast cancer patients.
She and Dr. Tenofsky provided Rhonda with all the information she needed to map out her course of treatment.
“They were knowledgeable and caring and delivered the information I needed in a way that spoke to my learning style,” she says.
Dr. Tenofsky recommended chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy and then reconstruction; the choice as to whether to remove one breast or both was up to her. Rhonda chose the more aggressive treatment route.
“During this journey, I didn’t want to have any further worries,” says Rhonda, who has a 16-year-old son, Kevin, and 22-year-old daughter, Kamika.
After chemotherapy, Rhonda had surgery and continued her care at the Cancer Institute at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis in Wichita.
“After a lady came in to give me a massage, I told them, ‘You’ve got to stop all this wonderful treatment because I don’t plan to come back here,’” Rhonda says with a laugh.
A week later, she tested cancer free.
Rhonda underwent radiation therapy with David Bryant, MD, a Ascension Via Christi Cancer Center radiation oncologist, and then began reconstruction with Richard DeSplinter, MD, a Ascension Medical Group plastic surgeon.
While radiation-weakened skin caused her reconstruction process to be longer than average, Rhonda says she never lost confidence in the treatment plan Dr. Tenofsky outlined and Leschuk helped her navigate.
“I don’t want anyone to go down this road, but the phenomenal care I received from start to finish brings tears to my eyes,” says Rhonda, now well on her way to recovery.