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People Profile: Rhonda Ross

Network - Summer 2008

By Deborah Aranda

Rhonda Ross and her husband, Mathew, with sons Adam (7) and Mathew (14).

As far as Rhonda Ross knows, only a few people have had a cancer diagnosis like hers and survived. Yet, while the road to recovery was daunting, for the past five years she’s been cancer-free.“ I didn’t have a very good chance, but I’m a miracle, and I’m living my life to the fullest,” she says.

The diagnosis was epithelioid hemangioma sarcoma, a rare cancer that spreads through connective tissues like the muscles or nerves of the body. It can start in different joints of the body, and very rarely does it spread to the lungs. But it did for Ross, and what started as a sharp pain in her leg was found to be 13 cancerous tumors in her lungs.

After her first symptom, doctors took an X-ray of her leg and were baffled at what they saw. She went in search for more answers, which led her to M. D. Anderson.

When news struck

Ross was 34, happily married and expecting her second child. What wasn’t expected was a diagnosis of cancer. Most mothers have a chance to experience the joy of a new birth, but Ross’ agenda looked quite different. Shortly after the birth of her son, she began chemotherapy at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Ariz., where she and her family live.

“The doctor came in crying to let me know the cancer cells shrunk just from the first round of chemotherapy,” Ross says.

Doctors at M. D. Anderson suggested she move to Houston for treatment, but Ross decided it was best to stay in Phoenix with her family.

The following nine months, doctors here and at Mayo Clinic worked together, making it possible for her to fight the battle at home.

Although questions arose, she remained focused on the positive side of things.

“You have to be persistent. When you hear cancer, you think life is over, but there are so many people that are living.”

The ultimate risk

With 13 tumors in her lungs, the only choice was a surgery that had not been done before. “I ended up having both of my lungs operated on, and after that it was a very rough ride.”

While medical bills stacked up and her husband juggled to maintain the household, Ross’ toughest moment was explaining to her children what was happening to her.

Through it all, she pressed on, and had it not been for a strong support group, she believes she would not have made it to where she is today. “My family was overwhelmed. People stepped up to the plate and did some amazing things for me,” she says. “My son’s school did a carwash and raised more than $1,800.”

Living beyond cancer

Ross, now 42, strives to give others the same support she received. 

Today, she and her family participate in the annual Relay for Life survivorship walk, and they are a living testimony of moving forward.

“You move forward, because you can take cancer with you or you can leave it behind you, and I left it behind me.”

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center