For more than 25 years, Ronda Kucinski has focused on making other women feel their best. As a hairstylist and manager of a local beauty salon, she truly enjoys the creative freedom of her work.
“I am thankful for my clients, who over the years have grown to be friends,” Ronda says.
Throughout her career, Ronda has formed friendships with her customers, as well as her “salon family” of fellow stylists, and has been there for them through important milestones during their lives, including proms, high school and college graduations, and weddings.
“Sometimes people share more with their hairstylist than they would with a therapist,” Ronda says.
Frequently on the go with business travels and her 12-year-old son’s activities, Ronda doesn’t have much free time. Last year was especially busy, and she recalls a point where she felt the need to slow down.
“I think my body already knew I had cancer,” recalls Ronda.
An Unwelcomed Diagnosis
A few days before Easter in April 2014, one of Ronda’s guests, a woman who educates high school students about the importance of cancer screenings, came in for her hair appointment. Seeing this guest triggered a reminder to Ronda to do her monthly breast self-exam.
Shortly after, Ronda did find an abnormal lump in her breast. She contacted her gynecologist, who urged her to come in immediately.
With a full schedule of salon clients that day, it was difficult for Ronda to acknowledge the urgency of her own health, but she went to the appointment anyway. After initial testing, her physician referred her to ProMedica Breast Care for a mammogram, biopsy and other necessary screenings.
A few days later, Ronda received a phone call she never expected. The test results proved she had triple-negative breast cancer, a type of cancer that is aggressive and difficult to treat.
Genetic testing showed the presence of the BRCA gene mutation in her DNA as well. Her inherited risk makes her more susceptible to having breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Ronda accepted the news as best she could. She started the path of treatment that same day with a chest X-ray and blood work.
Her medical oncologist prescribed 16 weeks of chemotherapy. For the first eight weeks, she powered through and even worked on her feet all day at the salon. The nursing staff was impressed by her energy and positive attitude.
“I didn’t think chemo was so bad! I actually felt pretty good for a while,” Ronda explains.
During the last eight weeks of her treatment, however, the process became more trying. Suffering from major fatigue, she finally took a break from work to focus on her health.
“My hair salon family really stepped in to serve the guests. We worked as a team to get through this journey,” Ronda says.
Following the chemo treatments, Ronda’s markers came back remarkably clean. She underwent a mastectomy, reconstructive surgery and an oophorectomy over the next few months for further prevention.
Going Through Chemo As A Stylist
Ronda was warned by her oncologist that hair loss would begin 10-14 days after her first chemotherapy treatment. And as a hairstylist who had helped other women go through the effects of chemo, she knew what to expect.
“Losing my hair was something that I knew was inevitable,” Ronda says. “I’ve seen this with guests. The longer you try to wait, the more surprising those clumps of hair loss become. And the longer you wait, the more psychologically messy it gets. If I could give any advice to people currently going through this, I would want them to listen to their oncologists, who in my experience have been spot on about when to expect hair loss, and shave their heads before the hair starts coming out.”
With the assistance of her cousin (who is also a stylist) and mother, Ronda went home to shave her head in a more private setting, instead of the salon. She knew it would be difficult for others to see her this way.
“In the end, I finished shaving off most of my own hair,” Ronda says. Her mom and cousin were overcome with emotion.
As Ronda continued to work at the salon during her chemo treatments, she came in every day with a realistic looking wig, a full face of makeup, and a smile on her face.
“The first couple weeks, especially, you try really hard to cover it up. I didn’t want to make other people feel uncomfortable.”
Now that her hair is growing back, things are a bit different.
“It started to grow back into a totally different color and texture,” Ronda says. “I laugh because now I have to practice what I preached to the clients who already experienced this. It’s not as easy as it looks.”
Support for Survivors
Once Ronda recovered, she expected to feel like herself again. She was ready to move on with life. But to do this, she needed to pull together some important pieces for her future. She didn’t know where to turn.
“I was feeling a little lost during that ‘new normal’ period they always talk about,” Ronda says. “It wasn’t until I was done with my treatment and trying to go back into the work force that it really hit me hard. I remember thinking, ‘What do I do now?’”
Her oncologist referred her to ProMedica Cancer Institute’s Survivor Center, where she worked with a team of cancer experts (including an oncologist and nurse practitioner) to develop an individual survivorship care plan. Ronda’s personalized plan included exercise and nutritional programs, and the STAR Program® for physical rehabilitation.
Ronda is an active person, and refers to herself as a “go” kind of girl. So when she knew that she wouldn’t be able to keep up with her former workout friends at the gym, she found comfort in the exercise and yoga classes offered at the Survivor Center.
“It was very tough to accept that I couldn’t go at the pace I always had,” Ronda says. “But the classes, which welcomed survivors at different stages, really pushed me and helped me build up my stamina.”
Following her first visit, Ronda remembers thinking, “This is it! This program is exactly what I need. I only wish I would have known about it sooner.”
Today, Ronda is grateful for her caregivers and the support she continues to receive. With a new appreciation for taking time for herself and enjoying life’s gifts, she is back at the salon styling her clients’ hair, and her own.
Are you or a loved one a cancer survivor? Learn more about ProMedica’s Cancer Survivor Program.
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