Everyone wins when cancer loses5/3/2017
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Man & Woman of the Year will be announced at the Grand Finale Gala on Saturday, May 20
The nightmare began on Feb. 20, 2013. Tricia Gonyo took her daughter, Ashley, to the doctor. The 4-year old’s body pains were so extreme her mother couldn’t wash her hair without inflicting agony, even sleeping was painful.
Concerned, Ashley’s pediatrician sent her to Blank Children’s Hospital for testing. That’s where Tricia and her husband, Scott, lived every parent’s nightmare.
“Your daughter has cancer,” the doctor told them.
Leukemia is a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues including its bone marrow and usually involving white blood cells.
“The cancer cells continue to grow, but there’s nowhere for them to go,” Tricia explained. “It creates pressure from the inside of the bone.”
The most common form of the disease for children is B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, and that’s what Ashley had. It’s the most curable, but treatment requires chemotherapy, high doses of steroids and hair loss. It’s not fun.
With broken hearts and heads spinning, the Gonyo family was handed a pile of paperwork, consent forms and medical releases. It all demanded attention, but Tricia remembers setting it all aside for something more important. With tears rolling down her face, she crawled into the hospital bed to comfort her 4-year-old daughter.
“I held her tight,” she said. “And together we started our fight.”
Less than 48 hours after Ashley went to the pediatrician, she began chemotherapy.
“Normal” is a relative term, but the Gonyos tried to keep Ashley in her routine. She played sports, went to summer camp, maintained friendships and even went to school.
“Ashley started the first day of school in the fall of 2013 with a completely bald head,” says Tricia.
After 26 months of treatment, frequent ER trips and suffering through quarantines, the chemotherapy treatments ended in April of 2015. Ashley is still subject to standard blood monitoring, but if she continues cancer-free for a total of five years, she’ll be considered cured.
“Your life is flipped upside down and turned inside out,” said Tricia. “I didn’t know I had that sort of strength. I had so many people during the treatment say to me ‘I couldn’t do it.’ And I said back ‘Yes, you could, because you have no choice.’ ”
While in treatment, Ashley was named 2014 Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Girl of the Year. Now it’s her mom’s turn. In honor of her daughter, Tricia accepted a nomination as a candidate to be the organization’s Iowa Woman of the Year. She is giving the cause all she can.
“It’s not fair; it’s not right,” she says. “The cancer doesn’t discriminate. There is no socioeconomic class that’s safe, it’s hitting everyone.”
Tricia’s fundraising goal is $100,000, and she hopes it helps with a loftier achievement.
“I don’t want another family to have to hear what I had to hear,” she said. “And to have to pick themselves up off the floor and start fighting for their kids. I know too many people that didn’t end up on the side of it that we did, and I’ve gone to too many funerals of kiddos that didn’t end up on the side of it that we did, and it’s not fair. Kids are supposed to be able to be kids, and they’re supposed to be able to grow up and still be innocent.”
Every dollar given to Tricia’s campaign is the equivalent of one vote. LLS is dedicated to funding research, finding cures and ensuring access to treatments for blood cancer patients.
Winners of the 2017 Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Man & Woman of the Year will be announced at the Grand Finale Gala on Saturday, May 20.
People who want to help may do so by visiting www.triciagonyo.com. The last day to give is May 20. ♦