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This year’s Relay for Life is Friday evening in Estherville’s Library Square

Rhonda Chrestiansen said family, faith helped her face breast cancer last summer with courage.

June 4, 2019
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

By Amy H. Peterson

Staff Writer

Rhonda Chrestiansen of rural Estherville always wondered how she would react if the doctor told her she had cancer. Rhonda lived eight decades without having to find out.

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Last June, her annual mammogram caused Dr. Keith Probst of Avera Holy Family Clinic to call her in for another look. After an ultrasound and biopsy, three days went by and then the call.

"It was the Big C," Rhonda said.

Rhonda's dedication to attending her annual mammogram meant the cancer was still Stage 1, caught early enough that most of it could be removed through a lumpectomy, and none of it had reached her lymph nodes.

Fact Box

"Breast cancer doesn't kill people. It's when it reaches the lymph nodes, the liver, the brain that it becomes hard to treat,"

-Rhonda Chrestiansen

"Breast cancer doesn't kill people. It's when it reaches the lymph nodes, the liver, the brain that it becomes hard to treat," Rhonda said.

The result of the diagnosis meant after healing from lumpectomy surgery in Sioux Falls, Rhonda had to travel to Abben Cancer Center in Spencer over a three-week period for 18 radiation treatments.

"My kids arranged for a ride so I didn't have to drive. That was really nice," Rhonda said.

Rhonda lives alone on the farm she married into in 1956 when she and late husband Floyd moved into a not-yet-finished farmhouse. It has been Rhonda's home her entire adult life, and the view from the sunporch she more recently enclosed from the former open deck the one she's looked out to for over 60 years. Her son, Bruce, came through the lane on his tractor during the interview as he does each day to feed the livestock.

"When you go through cancer, you really rely on your family," Rhonda said. In addition to Bruce and his three sisters, including Nancy Danielson of Wallingford, Rhonda has seven granddaughters and a seventh great-grandchild (making a total of five boys, two girls) was born in March.

In January, 2019, when the Chrestiansen clan celebrated its Christmas holiday, every member from every generation put on a black tee shirt that says, "Cancer picked the wrong Grandma!" The shirts, emblazoned with a pair of purple boxing gloves and a white ribbon, were just one way Rhonda said her family showed up for her.

Several members were set to ride RAGBRAI, the annual bike ride through Iowa. The ride was in late July, conflicting with Rhonda's surgery date. They skipped RAGBRAI this year, choosing instead to load up the bikes and ride the trails near the hospital in Sioux Falls.

Rhonda had brought baked goods to Galloping Grandmas and otherwise supported Relay for Life in the past.

"Before I had cancer, I never realized how many people it affects, and how important Relay for Life is for so many people. It's been a learning experience," Rhonda said.

Radiation left Rhonda tired. Doctors told Rhonda the radiation would work for up to a year, and she felt it working. She had a burning sensation like a bad sunburn that continues off and on."

Rhonda's advice to all women of a certain age: "Keep having annual mammograms. Breast cancer affects women of all ages."

Rhonda's spirit earned her the white boxing gloves on her tee shirt.

"I never thought twice. Of course I'm going to fight and not give up. I have too many family members I wanted to fight to stay with. I want to watch the great grandchildren and all the family grow," Rhonda said.

Rhonda said she turned her situation over to God's hands. "He's accompanied me each step of the way," Rhonda said.



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