On the Other Side

in Tonya

“The 23rd Psalm replays in my head all the time,” Tonya says.  “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me… I wake  every morning and I think, ‘BRING IT ON!’”


So many of you have asked for an update on my neighbor, Tonya, who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor earlier this summer (if you don’t know her complete backstory, read Lost and Found in the Garden). 


Recently, Tonya has experienced a resurgence in her health.  This summer was rough – to say the least.  In addition to having a brain biopsy, she suffered from eight severe seizures, a blocked bowel, and went to the emergency room four times.  It has been very stressful on Tonya, her husband, and their children, who are still too young to really understand what is happening to their mommy.


However, the money raised on Healthy Tipping Point – nearly $20,000 – helped them tremendously.  Tonya and Kevin could afford to hire a nanny, which was absolutely necessary as Tonya was instructed by her doctors not to engage in any heavy lifting (like picking up a toddler).  The money also allowed Kevin to take time off of work (he works on commission) and take care of Tonya when she was very sick.  And lastly, the money paid for Tonya to travel to three different medical centers to get opinions on her treatment plan.


Their final consultation at Duke sealed the deal – Tonya will not be getting chemotherapy or radiation.  Experts believe her tumor, which is the size of an egg and located above her right eye, is at a Stage 2 and is very slow growing.  In fact, her doctors think that she might have had the tumor for years and never realized it.  Chemo and radiation have been deemed ‘too aggressive’ and capable of causing irreversible damage to her brain.  She will probably get chemotherapy or radiation if the tumor grows to a Stage 3.


Duke also told Tonya that most of her health issues, like the seizures, lethargy, and brain fog, are actually a side affect of all the drugs that she’s been put on.  NOT the tumor!  Tonya says she regrets just blindly taking all these powerful drugs (mostly anti-depressants and anti-seizure drugs) without really investigating the consequences.   So her doctors are taking her off most of the drugs, and as a result, she’s feeling better than ever.


Now – if you recall – Tonya shaved her head in anticipation of getting chemotherapy.  She didn’t want to watch her hair slowly fall out. 


Does she regret going bald now that she isn’t getting chemo?


Short answer – HECK NO!


First of all, I think Tonya likes not having any hair.  She says it’s very easy to get ready in the morning.  Secondly, and more seriously, the main reason why she shaved her head is because she wanted to signal to strangers what she was going through.  Tonya loves to talk to others about their faith and hardships, and people do really just open up to her. 


Her doctors cleared her to get a beautiful tattoo on her scalp.  It’s a colorful cross.  In the upper-right corner are three stars, for the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and the words, “Thank you,” because she feels blessed by her faith, family, and support network. 


The tattoo is also a “Thank you” to the experience of having the tumor.  The diagnosis has really opened Tonya’s eyes to what’s important and valuable in her life.  It has reaffirmed her commitment to sobriety (she’s a recovering alcoholic) and strengthened her faith.


“This whole summer has been a nightmare in so many ways,” she told me.  “I have been plummeted into the depths of chaos and craziness and madness.  But I feel like, with Duke’s opinion not to pursue chemo, I am finally coming out on the other side.  I have an answer.  I have a plan.  I feel like I’m back in the state of mind that I was in before my diagnosis.  I feel strong and focused.”


I asked her if she feels ‘like a sick person.’  And she smiled.  “I am not sick,” she says.  “I am happy and filled with a positive spirit.”


“If you’re not getting chemotherapy,” I asked, “Then what’s the plan?” 


She smiled again.  “My plan is to pray my butt off.  Stay sober.  Get off all of these drugs.  Be centered.  Ask God to take this tumor away.  Get acupuncture.  Keep my cell phone away from my head.  Eat organic vegan food.”


The tumor has really transformed the way that Tonya, Kevin, and the children eat and live.  No more fake food.  Lots of veggies.  No toxic plastics leaching off to the foods.  No more chemical cleaners in the house.  Tonya is really committed to cleaning up their food and home environment, not just for her, but for her entire family’s health.  “So many people that I know have changed the way they eat, view medicine and medical care, and live because of my tumor,” she says.  “It’s been a rippling effect of health, a pebble that drops in a pond.  It’s bigger than me now.”


She was so proud to show off this picture – vegan, organic lunches for the boys, packed in glass and BPA-free containers. 




“When I got diagnosed,” she concludes, “The first thing my father said to me was, ‘What are you going to do about it?’  And it’s so true.  What are YOU going to do about it?”  She stops and looks at me.   She waits. 


I replied, “What do you mean, Tonya?  I can’t do anything about your tumor.”


She laughs.  “Oh no.  I didn’t mean my tumor.  I don’t think my dad meant my tumor, either.  I think he meant – What are you doing to do to make it the life you WANT to lead? What are you going to do to be healthy and happy?  What are you doing to do about YOUR LIFE?” 


Tonya smiles and looks right at me, almost through me.  And then she concludes, “I don’t know about you, but I’m going to live it.” 


To learn more about Tonya and how you can help, click here.



  • Meaghan (My Spoonful Of Inspiration) September 6, 2011, 6:00 pm

    Wow- such an encouraging, inspirational story. We all can learn so much from her strength. 🙂

  • Sweet and Savvy September 6, 2011, 6:03 pm

    This is a truly amazing, inspiring post! I am so glad that Tonya is feeling better, and I hope that she continues to improve and get to spend precious time with her family!

    Thoughts and prayers with she and her family!

  • Courtney September 6, 2011, 6:03 pm

    Caitlin, this post made me tear up again and again – between your elegant writing, this amazing family with two beautiful little boys, Tonya’s KICKASS tattoo, and most of all, her indomitable strength of spirit and will…she deserves a full and happy life of bliss and it seems like she’s well on her way to living it. Much love and positive wishes to her and her family.

  • Katie of Cabbage Ranch September 6, 2011, 6:05 pm

    What an incredibly powerful post. Thanks for sharing this update. We’ll continue sending good thoughts her way.

  • Molly @ RDexposed September 6, 2011, 6:08 pm

    Oncology patients usually brighten my day…never fails.

  • Shelley@MileHighHealthy September 6, 2011, 6:08 pm

    I love it when people take their health into their own hands! It is so powerful and inspirational to realize that you don’t have to sit by and let terrible things happen in your life. You have the ability to turn them around and make them a positive force for change and goodness. Tonya really is an inspiration and I cannot imagine what she has gone through. Many positive thoughts for her and her family.

  • Lisa September 6, 2011, 6:10 pm

    What a truly amazing, remarkable and powerful woman!

  • Hillary September 6, 2011, 6:12 pm

    First of all, Tonya looks fantastic. I know that sounds like a terribly shallow thing to say, but I kept thinking it as I read this entire post. She looks FANTASTIC. And I think the way you look at a “time like this” says an awful lot about the kind of person you are. Tonya is clearly a kick ass person.

    These are words we all need to live by. If she can make it through the day, feeling positive and being an awesome wife, mother, and human being, then I can shut up and stop being negative and start recognizing how damn lucky I am.

    Thank you for posting this, Caitlin. And thank you to Tonya for continuing to share her struggles and triumphs with us.

  • Krista September 6, 2011, 6:13 pm

    I’ll be honest, I haven’t been reading your posts about Tonya because as the mother of a young child, her story terrifies me. But that first picture of her today sucked me in. She is truly amazing.

  • Sarah @ w30 September 6, 2011, 6:15 pm

    I hope Tonya knows how many people – strangers – she is inspiring all across the blogosphere. Sometimes it’s hard to grasp the concept that we are ALL dying, NOTHING is permanent, so we might as well get on with LIVING. I wish her and her family the very best.

    • Tonya Breen September 8, 2011, 1:46 am

      I will have to remember this….we are ALL dying. My world is so upended right now but, for some reason, thoughts like that and raging storms and brokenness make me feel so at peace…..I think it’s because it just confirms to me what my heart already knows as truth-God and His Word. Everything else “we think we know” about his world is but an illusion.

  • Ashley September 6, 2011, 6:15 pm

    Wow, what an amazing woman. So much strength and beauty. Her story reminds of the power of having faith in God. He’s so good. I’m keeping her and her beautiful family in my prayers.

  • Lauren September 6, 2011, 6:15 pm

    WOW, such an inspirational story and you told it so perfectly! It is also a GREAT reminder to be as informed as you can about whatever diagnosis you may receive.

  • Laine September 6, 2011, 6:18 pm

    And… crying! There have been a lot of deaths around here lately (the wrong kind – kids, suicides, not old people who sucked the marrow out of life and were ready to go) and it just makes me seize my life and wring every thing out of it that I can. This is such a good reminder! I will pray for her, too, and live my life!

  • Moni'sMeals September 6, 2011, 6:18 pm

    This post touched my heart and soul on so many levels. Tonya looks AMAZING and she is SO inspirational and courageous. I only see BEAUTY and STRENGTH! wow.

  • Gina @ Running to the Kitchen September 6, 2011, 6:22 pm

    So great to hear a somewhat uplifting update on Tonya! I don’t quite understand what the doctors at Duke are saying (if they are avoiding chemo are they just assuming it will go away or something since they’re taking her off all the drugs?) but I’m glad Tonya has such a positive outlook on it all and her family has been able to do what they needed this summer because of everyone’s generousity!

    • Caitlin September 6, 2011, 6:24 pm

      No, they are saying that chemo and radiation would do more harm than good. So it’s not worth it to try right now.

  • Sarena (The Non Dairy Queen) September 6, 2011, 6:22 pm

    Her story is just so inspiring. I feel for her in so many ways. I had an operable tumor in my abdominal wall when I had two little boys. It was so sad when I couldn’t pick them up anymore. I was so frustrated and overwhelmed, but while I was miss diagnosed and then had exploratory surgery, I had to keep my head focused on my taking care of my family and me. Life is full of ups and downs…things we can’t explain, but we can only grow stronger through these experiences. Thank you for sharing Tonya’s story. Really, she is such an incredible individual!

    • Tonya Breen September 8, 2011, 1:40 am

      I HAVE to go to bed but I would love to hear more about your story! Email me?

  • Trainer Kjirsten @ Balanced Healthy Life September 6, 2011, 6:22 pm

    Such a great positive attitude we all should aspire to have. Tonya is an inspiration and I pray for her and her family. Oh, and I LOVE her tatoo!

  • jenny September 6, 2011, 6:26 pm

    YES!!!! I love this — love that she’s determined to make something GREAT out of this. There is no way to deny that she is the cause of not just a ripple, but a massive tidal wave of change. She’s truly changing the way people see adversity. I know she changed me.

  • kalli September 6, 2011, 6:32 pm

    seriously this is the best post ever and truely how we should all approach life. live it and love it and be thankful for the opportunity!

  • Cait @ Beyond Bananas September 6, 2011, 6:32 pm

    Power to Tonya for being such a strong and amazing woman – who has committed to her health – and her life. She is an inspiration – so brave and courageous. Thank you, Caitlin for this update. I too will be praying for Tonya!

  • Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga September 6, 2011, 6:38 pm

    What an amazing woman…her story, her courage, her bravery…wow, I am just in awe of her and this touching post…thank you.

    Everything from vegan lunches w/ BPA-free plastic to that amazingly!!! gorgeous tattoo!!! I love it all.

    Many prayers for continued health, Tonya!!

  • deva (voracious vorilee) September 6, 2011, 6:40 pm

    my monitor is blurry through my tears at this post. so poignant. tonya’s faith is so evident in all that she says and does – she is truly inspirational.

  • Natalcho @ Tomatoes Rock September 6, 2011, 6:40 pm

    Go Tonya! You can do this!!! You are a true inspiration to all of us!

  • Faith September 6, 2011, 6:40 pm

    Beautiful – thanks for sharing!

  • Lesley September 6, 2011, 6:43 pm

    I seriously think there is awesome and there is Tanyawesome. It’s like a whole other level. If you are reading this I wish you the best. I have a friend who was diagnosed with Hep C and many months and prayer circles later it was gone. You seem like someone the world needs, so my heart says you’re not going anywhere.

    And how stylish are you? Love that first pic, way to rock your look!

    • Lesley September 6, 2011, 6:44 pm

      *Tonyawesome 🙂

    • CaitlinHTP September 7, 2011, 9:27 am

      best word ever

  • Brittnie (A Joy Renewed) September 6, 2011, 6:52 pm

    What an inspirational story and post. I so admire her strength, attitude and faith. She is a walking testimony!! I love her tattoo and her openness to sharing her story with the world. What an amazing and beautiful woman. My husband and I will add her to our daily prayer list.

    Tonya – if you are reading this… you ROCK and prayers are being lifted.

  • Mama Pea September 6, 2011, 6:53 pm

    I am totally inspired to the core of my being. Thank you, Caitlin and especially thank you, Tonya.

  • Michelle September 6, 2011, 6:58 pm

    Great, great, great update! Thanks to both of you for sharing such a positive life change!

  • Stephanie @cookinfanatic September 6, 2011, 6:58 pm

    This post brought tears to my eyes. What an inspiration Tonya is and what a positive light she is sharing with so many, whether in person or through the power of the internet. Just amazing. Thanks for sharing Caitlin.

  • Michelle September 6, 2011, 6:59 pm

    And by the way, Tonya exudes only confidence, peace and beauty in the kick ass photo at the top of the post. I see no cancer!

  • Sara September 6, 2011, 7:06 pm

    Wow. Tonya is amazing. I have to admit, when I hear “brain tumor,” I think “death sentence.” My father died from brain cancer over 23 years ago (he had a glioblastoma, which is the worst of the worst). I’ve read and watched everything I can about brain cancer, and it’s so often the same thing: death sentence. So to read Tonya’s words, and to feel her strength and determination, is inspiring to me. I was a kid when my father died, and my heart breaks for her children. But Tonya’s attitude and awesome outlook on life gives me so much hope for her future. Thank you for the update, Caitlin.

    • CaitlinHTP September 7, 2011, 9:27 am

      I am very sorry to hear about your father 🙁

      • Tonya Breen September 7, 2011, 11:14 pm

        Me too. Tonya

  • Ashley @ My Food 'N' FitnessDiaries September 6, 2011, 7:10 pm

    Wow, what a powerful story. Tonya is an amazing woman that I hope we all can learn from.

  • Angie September 6, 2011, 7:15 pm

    You write so beautifully, Caitlin. I’ll be keeping Tonya in my thoughts, she seems like such a strong woman.. I believe she can beat this. Thank you for sharing her story, and please keep us updated. 🙂

  • Alicia September 6, 2011, 7:16 pm

    I nearly cried at the end. It’s such an inspiring story and beautifully written, Caitlin.

  • Jen September 6, 2011, 7:23 pm

    Inspiring doesn’t seem like enough of a word for Tonya, but I’m at a loss for anything else at the moment. Wow. Seriously, WOW. What an incredible soul. Love and prayers to her and her beautiful family.

  • Liz September 6, 2011, 7:30 pm

    Wow! What an incredible story! I love the first pic of her – she totally rocks the no hair look 🙂

  • Kim September 6, 2011, 7:53 pm

    I love her fighting spirit, and OMG those boys are ADORABLE!

  • Kathryn @ Flopoodle September 6, 2011, 7:56 pm

    Gosh I just got chills reading this. What an incredible, positive woman. She’s not feeling sorry for herself, and she’s not letting anyone else pity her, either!

  • kathleen @ the daily crumb September 6, 2011, 7:56 pm

    this post gave me chills. tonya is an unbelievably strong woman and you, caitlin, are an exceptional friend and person for sharing her story with your readers. i pray for her always.

  • Emily September 6, 2011, 8:04 pm

    Such a beautiful and inspiring story. I will be thinking of and praying for Tonya and her family. I will also be determined to live and thrive for as long as God allows me 🙂

  • Ashley September 6, 2011, 8:05 pm

    Tonya is such an inspiration to everyone, going through what she’s been through and coming out of it a better person for it. Her story makes me want to live life to the fullest and never to take my health for granted. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  • Emily @ Comfortable Home Life September 6, 2011, 8:14 pm

    Absolutely beautiful. What a story. What a woman. She is an inspiration to all!

  • Aubrey S. September 6, 2011, 8:15 pm


    I don’t know how I missed Tonya’s story back in May, but I am absolutely touched. Thank you so much for the update. Our household will be surrounding Tonya’s family in prayer, and we will give when we can.

  • Errign September 6, 2011, 8:16 pm

    Love this post & how inspiring Tonya is. Her story is an all too familiar one, the more it progresses. My dad has a left front temporal lobe tumor as well, that was not treated with chemo or radiation. He had brain surgery on October 29th, 2005 (funny how you remember these things), so we’re going on SIX years of health! There are tough days, there are seizures, there is depression – but there’s LIVE and LOVE too.

    I was 17 when my dad was diagnosed and I grew up quickly and I started off jaded, but now, while I would do anything in the world to change my dad’s diagnosis, but I never want to forget how much it’s taught me about life, love, sickness, health, appreciation and being strong. I’m keeping Tonya in my thoughts and I’m sure that she too, will be doing the things she loves with her children 6 years, or even 20 years down the line.

    • Sara September 6, 2011, 8:34 pm

      That’s amazing, Errign! Good luck to your dad.

    • CaitlinHTP September 7, 2011, 9:26 am


    • Tonya Breen September 8, 2011, 1:38 am

      Wow. How similar, indeed. Even though I know you may be forshadowing my future, still I say “bring it on!” You have obviously learned so much about life and love through your family’s experience. I know some people will think that this sounds terrible, but I would honestly rather only have a few more years with the boys the way I am now over a lifetime with them the way I was. Even if my time with them can be counted in months and days, at least I can teach them from such a different perspective now…..Before, I taught them to numb out with TV and sugar and mindless eating. I was angry and frustrated and impatient. I missed SEEING their little faces because I was too busy with “stuff” and I was so stressed by the end of the day that I couldn’t wait until they went to bed so I could start drinking my wine. NOW, I can teach them how to be little men who LOVE LIFE; who throw caution to the wind and don’t care what others think of them; who respect their environment and have compassion for those who cannot help themselves. And if I die on them in this life, maybe they will hate me for a little while. But I’m actully OK with that, too. Ultimately, I know that Our Father will bring them back to me and it will all seem but a blink of an eye!

      • Errign September 8, 2011, 7:43 am

        Hi Tonya!

        I hope you didn’t think I was being negative, at all! I am so very appreciative of my dad’s health & the lessons I’ve learned from him having a tumor. I just wanted to acknowledge that there are the bad days, but the important thing is that I can still see him, ski with him and have him laugh at me as I fall off my mountain bike once again. I really do think there are so many more positives than negatives, and I’m sorry if I came off as a downer – that was totally not my intention. 🙂

        It’s crazy how much things like this that should (according to human nature) make us angry, break us, and discourage us can teach us so much. I know it’s different for me being the family member, but all we’ve done is take things day by day, and weirdly, that makes the years pass by before we know it. 🙂

  • Fallon September 6, 2011, 8:17 pm

    AWESOME! I had to share this on Facebook. I love how she is just embracing everything. That is how it is suppose to be done. Live each day to the fullest.

  • Emily @ Comfortable Home Life September 6, 2011, 8:19 pm

    Absolutely beautiful. What a story. What a woman. She is an inspiration to all!!

  • Chelsea @ Go Chelsea Go! September 6, 2011, 8:23 pm

    This has to be one of my all-time favorite posts from HTP! The pictures of Tonya are gorgeous, and I am so happy that Tonya is not going to need all of these drugs, chemo, and radiation!! It reminds us all to strive for a happy, healthy, and whole life–health cannot be taken for granted.

    Also, you write beautifully Caitlin! As I said, one of my all-time favorites from HTP!!

    • CaitlinHTP September 7, 2011, 9:25 am

      Thank you sweetie!

  • Kayla @ The Best Things September 6, 2011, 8:25 pm

    Brave and beautiful. She is just glowing. What an amazing thing to be able to say about someone going through what she is going through. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Liz September 6, 2011, 8:30 pm

    Wow she looks so incredibly beautiful!!!! What a wonderful person she seems to be, inside and out.

  • Katie September 6, 2011, 8:35 pm

    Tonya is one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever heard of. I love when you write posts about her, not only because she is so amazing, but also because you are such a gifted writer! Also, she looks adorable with a shaved head, and her tattoo is beautiful! What an incredible woman.

  • Kris September 6, 2011, 8:46 pm

    Tonya is inspiring, and the epitomy of inner and outer beauty. Prayers for her and her family. And thank you Caitlin for the so beautifully written update.

  • Sara@RunningInPinkProject September 6, 2011, 8:51 pm

    And this just made me sob like a little child. Wow. So inspiring. Many prayers to Tonya and her family! <3

  • Kristen @ The Concrete Runner September 6, 2011, 8:52 pm

    What an amazing woman! So very inspiring! I love the reminder to LIVE your life, to do what you need to do to live the life you want to lead. Thank you so much for sharing her story!

  • Rachel @ The Perseverance Diaries September 6, 2011, 8:58 pm

    Wow that was so incredible to read! I am beyond excited for Tonya and her family. The power of prayer is amazing. I’m so happy to hear that this has inspired her to change her lifestyle around. That’s the beauty of adversity sometimes, it makes us change ourselves for the better. I am in LOVE with her tattoo, what a badass! I wish I had gotten a tattoo when I had to shave my head but now that my hair is growing back I missed my chance! What an inspiring, strong woman she is. Thanks for sharing her story, I’m sure it’s touched many lives.

  • Katy (The Singing Runner) September 6, 2011, 9:06 pm

    My goodness, I am BAWLING right now! What an amazing and inspiring woman. Wow! Her story definitely puts a lot of things in perspective and her attitude is incredible and inspiring.

    I am speechless and in awe. Thank you so much for the update!

    P.S- She looks stunning in the first picture! 😀

  • Erin September 6, 2011, 9:11 pm

    Wow, what a beautiful story and I have to say I love Tonya’s hair cut!! She’s so beautiful and a true inspiration to everyone.

  • marisa September 6, 2011, 9:13 pm

    I am a silent reader but this post touched me so much! Tonya is so beautiful and this post honestly made me realize that i am not seizing every opportunity! i want to thank tonya from the bottom of my heart and let her know that she is in my thoughts! what a fantastic and strong person!

    • CaitlinHTP September 7, 2011, 9:21 am

      thank you marisa!

  • colleen September 6, 2011, 9:21 pm

    WOW! Simply WOW!

  • amanda September 6, 2011, 9:23 pm

    she looks beautiful and ass-kickin. go tonya.

  • Annette @ EnjoyYourHealthyLife September 6, 2011, 9:24 pm

    Beautiful boys! She is amazing, and she, with God’s help, will get through this 🙂 Life is beautiful and she is living it!! Thanks for sharing!

  • JenATX September 6, 2011, 9:25 pm

    great update, thanks so much 🙂 I love hearing others’ perspective on life & how such a tragedy can bring positive experiences to others. so cool.

  • Kamaile September 6, 2011, 9:40 pm

    What an inpiration you are Tonya! I LOVE your tattoo!!!!!! 😉

  • Shaya (Eye Girl Eats) September 6, 2011, 9:41 pm

    How beautiful. Please tell Tonya how inspiring and lovely and amazing she is.

    I am sending her lots of love and positivity.

  • Marian @ marianwrites September 6, 2011, 9:42 pm

    Tanya is such an inspiration to us all. Thank you so much for sharing her story – it is always good to have a reminder of the fact that we have so much to be thankful for! And that first picture of her is so BEAUTIFUL!!!!

  • Mary September 6, 2011, 9:45 pm

    Leave it to Duke to come up with a plan that is lassiez faire. Of course, our neuro department here is pretty epic. I just hope she doesnt have any problems with her heart, then they’d want to put an LVAD in her. Then of course, she’d see my smiling face in her hospital room!

    I’m so glad she’s got an awesome outlook on things. she is such a strong lady. not to mention she is beautiful with her bald head! 🙂

  • Claire September 6, 2011, 9:48 pm

    Such an inspiration, literally have chills. She has such a great perspective on life, and really that’s all that matters. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Reenie September 6, 2011, 9:49 pm

    WOW….that’s awesome.

    Praise the Lord!!! What a beautiful person….inside and out. Love the Tat=)

  • Jess@atasteofconfidence September 6, 2011, 9:57 pm

    She is so inspiring.

  • Sana September 6, 2011, 9:59 pm

    Only Tonya could look so chic with cancer, get it girl 🙂

  • Jenn September 6, 2011, 9:59 pm

    Thank you so much. That was such an inspiring post about an amazing woman.

  • Dana @ the Big Fat Skinny September 6, 2011, 10:00 pm

    Tonya is GORGEOUS and SO INSIRING! Thanks for the post Caitlin!

  • Pamela @girlgonewestblog.com September 6, 2011, 10:00 pm

    I’m on the verge of tears. I watched my father die from cancer when I was 14, definitely the hardest thing I’ll ever survive. Knowing that mothers and women like Tonya are out there, embracing their reinvigorated zest for life while praying things don’t get worse makes me both terribly sad and exceedingly happy. I wish the best for Tonya, her family, and her badass tattoo, and I hope her boys never have to suffer through what I did. With her attitude and positivity – I don’t think they will!

    Per yoozsh, thank you, Caitlin, for a touching, well-written, and thought-provoking post.

    • CaitlinHTP September 7, 2011, 9:21 am

      <3 I am so sorry about your paps. Thank you so much for your support of Tonya!

    • Tonya Breen September 8, 2011, 1:13 am

      Pamela, you are right….I do not know if my boys will have to suffer my death in the same way you clearly still feel the pain of your father’s and that can make me very sad if I think about it too long. According to the medical community, this tumor will at some point (within the next 5-10 years) progress into a Grade 3-then 4 and it may be the thing that takes my life. I don’t know. Really, the truth is I could stress over this tumor all day long and then be hit by a bus tomorrow or have a heart attack from these drugs or any number of other circumstances could claim my life way before this tumor ever does a thing to me! Here is something that my sweet stepmom told me this summer that helped me…..think about the fact that our concept of time and God’s is so vastly different. Now, think about 100 years. That’s a century. In that relatively short amount of time (from an eternal perspective), everyone you have known, know currently and will ever know (including yourself) will be dead and resting in peace in their new bodies with the Creator of the Universe! There will be no fear, no regret, no sorrow or saddness or pain. Just peace and love and joy. And Pamela, I’m not sure what you believe, but I believe that your earthly Father will be there to hold you, too! Hang on. You will see him again soon.

  • kristen September 6, 2011, 10:01 pm

    oh my. what a powerful post.
    I decide to live too!
    I would love to know what changes she has made to help her family

  • Ellie@fitforthesoul September 6, 2011, 10:04 pm

    Wowwww I constantly think of Tonya, and I know that God uses her as a beacon of light to so many people! REally, she is amazing and so is God. More than anything, I am blessed by her GROWING love for Him and unwavering faith.

  • Pauline @ Milkshake junkie September 6, 2011, 10:16 pm

    I am so happy for Tonya! Her story really touched me and I am so glad she will get to play with her children!

  • Selena September 6, 2011, 10:19 pm

    She makes me want to know her and just be around her…

  • 'Dee @ 'Dee's Garret September 6, 2011, 10:28 pm

    I will never cease to be amazed by this woman. What a walking life-lesson she is!

    And your writing about Tonya and her story is eloquent, poignant, and beautifully done. Bravo.

    PS – I SO agree with ditching all the plastics and potential sources of “poison”. I make my own husband a little nutty with how relentless I am in weeding it out of our lives. When cancer becomes so prevalent in the youth and young adults in our society, something is very wrong. We are quite the creative and industrious nation but I fear we’re engineering our own demise with some of that industry.

    • Caitlin September 7, 2011, 8:23 am

      Agree 100%

  • Leanne (Bride to Mrs.) September 6, 2011, 10:30 pm

    I love this. Absolutely love this.

    Tonya is such an inspiration and her story has deeply impacted me!

    My husband works with a guy who is 36, and his wife who is 34 has really bad ovarian cancer and her chances are looking pretty slim at beating it. My husband is 26 and I’m 24 so we’re exactly 10 years younger then they are — we always talk about how if we knew we only had 10 years left to live, would we do things differently? Would we not waste our time on certain things but make more time for eachother?

    Tonya’s right about the rippling effect… 🙂 I pray for her and her family all of the time!

  • Sarah September 6, 2011, 10:31 pm

    Tonya’s story breaks my heart, but at the same time, uplifts it and reminds me to find joy in every moment, and live in such a way to maximize every day that I’m given. Thank you, and thank you to Tonya for sharing! Thinking of her family in the coming weeks/months and hopefully years!

  • Lauren September 6, 2011, 10:36 pm

    Caitlin – have you thought about donating the money you make from pageviews of Tonya posts to her fund? Or to another cancer charity? Seems like the right thing to do and would be a nice way to “pay it forward” even further.

    • CaitlinHTP September 7, 2011, 8:10 am

      What an excellent idea!

    • Tonya Breen September 8, 2011, 12:53 am

      Agreed. Caitlin, let’s talk! Great idea!

  • Kelly @meatlesswithaman.blogspot.com September 6, 2011, 11:13 pm

    Awesome update- SO SO SO GOOD to hear!!! Thanks for sharing and thanks to Tonya for allowing us into her life. She looks amazing and I’m so glad she feels that way too. The tattoo is incredible! I love everything about this.

  • Danielle September 6, 2011, 11:15 pm

    I’m so glad that Tonya’s got such a positive outlook on her cancer diagnosis. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly 3 years ago. It was heartbreaking for the family, but we all kept a happy face on and laughed through the entire experience. My mom caught it early and she’s now in remission. But it taught us to just be happy for what life has given us!
    I hope Tonya and her family keep on smiling and I’ll be thinking about them.

    • Caitlin September 7, 2011, 8:15 am

      I am so happy to hear about your mama!

    • Tonya Breen September 8, 2011, 12:52 am

      I had to comment here. So glad you were able to laugh through your mom’s cancer..and so elated to hear she is in remission! I decided early on, I think it when my stomach was messed up from all the drugs so badly that I pooed my pants in IKEA and had make myself a skirt out of paper towels while I dried my tights and underware with the Excellerator hand dryer in the bathroom, that I could either A) cry or be embarrassed or pity myself or B) The option I chose-laugh my butt off at the hillarity of it all. I can say with much certainty that, of all the cornucopia of meds they had me on that day, “Laughter” was definightly the best medicine! Thanks for sharing!

  • Khushboo September 6, 2011, 11:18 pm

    I want to say Tonya is inspiring but it just doesn’t seem strong enough!

  • Staci September 6, 2011, 11:48 pm

    Thanks so much for this update. I absolutely adore this woman despite not knowing her personally. To have such an amazing spirit in the face of all that ugly is amazing. I will be praying my butt off for her as well.

  • Staci September 6, 2011, 11:48 pm

    Thanks so much for this update. I absolutely adore this woman despite not knowing her personally. To have such an amazing spirit in the face of all that ugly is amazing. I will be praying my butt off for her as well.

  • Alyssa @ Don't Look Down September 7, 2011, 12:11 am

    Amazing story. It reminds me that everyday I need to live my life in the present!

  • kathy September 7, 2011, 1:23 am

    What a brave woman. she shows such courage. I am still shocked people still give there kids crap fake food. I hope she looks into the gershwin method. I hope she has a long healthy life and gets to see her kids grow up.

    • Caitlin September 7, 2011, 8:14 am

      She’s using the gershwin method!

  • Julia September 7, 2011, 2:28 am

    WOW, I still cannot believe how someone can stay so positive despite all the bad news!!!!
    It really is inspiring and should be a lesson for everyone of us: No matter what happens to you, you can always choose to be happy and positive and just live your life.

    • CaitlinHTP September 7, 2011, 8:13 am

      Amen to that!

  • Sophie @ threetimesf September 7, 2011, 4:05 am

    I’m so glad to hear that Tonya is getting on okay – she is such a positive inspiration! 😀

  • CJ @ http://healthy-happy-whole.com/ September 7, 2011, 4:13 am

    Tonya you are so strong!!! A true inspiration and role model. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers!

  • Kelly September 7, 2011, 6:14 am

    Thank you for the update on Tonya! What an incredibly strong mom she is!! My thoughts and prayers are with her!

  • samantha September 7, 2011, 6:26 am

    She radiates so much joy in that picture at the top! May we all learn to appreciate life so much that we radiate that too!

  • Caitlin September 7, 2011, 7:47 am

    prayers go out to her family!

  • Courtney September 7, 2011, 8:20 am

    Thanks for the update! Such a inspiring woman– praying for her and the family!

    • Courtney September 7, 2011, 8:21 am

      **an** inspring woman 🙂

    • Courtney September 7, 2011, 8:21 am

      **an** inspiring woman 🙂

  • Becky @ Fit Chick on the Fly September 7, 2011, 8:40 am

    This is my first time reading about Tonya, and wow she sounds like an amazing woman. And this was beautifuly written by you!

  • Charise September 7, 2011, 8:45 am

    What a beautifully written update, Caitlin! And yay to Tonya for feeling better and not having to go through chemo (at least at this point) and being such a positive force.

  • Ashley September 7, 2011, 8:57 am

    Wow! All I can say is that Tonya’s story is so encouraging and inspiring. I hope other people can learn from her experience and become more aware of what side-effects from drugs can do to our bodies. I’m so glad to hear she is so positive about the experience and I will be praying for her and her family as well! She is an inspiration to all women!

  • Ali @ Around the VeggieTable September 7, 2011, 9:06 am

    Thank you for updating us! I have been trying to keep up with Tonya’s story and continue to pray for her…she is such an inspiration for everyone!

  • Laurie September 7, 2011, 9:17 am

    Caitlin, thanks so much for the updates on Tonya! What an incredible woman! I don’t know if you have read ‘Crazy Sexy Diet’ by Kris Carr, but I thought it was a great read! She was diagnoised with a rare cancer several years ago, and she clean up her diet eating organic whole foods, etc. She is doing well and she thinks eating this way has prolonged her life. I thought about Tonya and thought her or her family might want to read it even though they are eating something like this anyway. I just thought it was a great book!

  • Ashley O. @ The Vegetable Life September 7, 2011, 9:21 am

    This is by far one of the best posts I have read on any blog in a very long time. Tonya is gorgeous and has the most amazing spirit!

  • Alett September 7, 2011, 9:33 am

    Thank you for the update.

    LOVE it. Amazing.

  • Lee September 7, 2011, 9:50 am

    Wow, she is such an inspiring woman!

  • Kaci September 7, 2011, 9:57 am

    She’s so inspiring! XOXO to Tonya!

  • Nikki @ The Tolerant Vegan September 7, 2011, 10:41 am

    She is truly inspiring!

  • Joey September 7, 2011, 11:15 am

    Awesome update. I love her positive outlook on life. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to see the good during such a hard time. She is in my thoughts and prayers & I’m grateful for the inspiration she gave me to see the good in all things!

  • Kelly September 7, 2011, 11:41 am

    What an inspiring/awesome update! I’m really interested in Tonya’s journey and I wish her all the best. I’ll be sending positive thoughts her way.

  • Erica September 7, 2011, 11:50 am

    I absolutely love this and am so glad you posted an update on Tonya. I have been wondering how she is doing. As a cancer survivor myself, I know exactly where she is coming from when she says “Thank You”. Having Stage 3 cancer put my life back into focus, and a focus on all the right things not the things that don’t really matter. My diagnosis gave me an appreciation for all the little things, and taught me about the little things that DON’T matter. Cancer taught me to live each day to its fullest and to cherish every moment. I am most grateful, though, for my closer relationship with God and a deepening of my Faith, as well as my family’s faith and for that I will always be so so thankful. Because even if there comes a day when I lose this battle, my family will have their roots in their Faith in God and the strength that comes with it forever. I know exactly what she means when she says she’s going to “pray her butt off.” Never ceasing, Tonya, and one day at a time.

    I love Tonya’s tattoo, and wish I had thought of doing something like that while I was bald! I went the wimpy way and just did my foot! Haha!

    I am so thankful for you sharing her story with all of us. There is no telling how many people have been touched by hearing it. xoxo

  • Alex @ Raw Recovery September 7, 2011, 12:03 pm

    She looks like a model! What a beautiful and inspiring story of strength and courage. She will (if not has) changed lives through her story because she seems like a special soul. Thank you for posting this! I wish her all the best!

  • Amy September 7, 2011, 12:08 pm

    Amazing story!! Thank you for sharing!

  • Amber K September 7, 2011, 1:25 pm

    Thank you so much for this update, I think we could all learn a lot from Tonya. 🙂

  • Jill in Chicago September 7, 2011, 2:20 pm

    Thank you Caitlin, for sharing this beautifully inspiring update. And thanks to Tonya for sharing her positive outlook with us. God Bless you both!

    I have a friend who is battling cancer, and now I’m thinking about what I can do about it. (I might send him this, to start.)

  • Brooke @ Tales of a Bride-To-Be September 7, 2011, 8:24 pm

    Thank you for this update, I believe Tonya is a messenger. God has set this upon her to send out a message only she know and can tell. She is a strong woman who is so lucky to have the support of a community of strangers who care, along with her own family and close friends like you.

  • Paula September 7, 2011, 9:26 pm

    Tonya is beautiful, and so was this. Thanks for sharing.

  • Allison September 7, 2011, 9:36 pm

    This is an absolutely beautiful [and beautifully written] story… Truly an inspiration…

  • Tonya Breen September 8, 2011, 12:06 am

    I just read all of your comments and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart! I wish that I never had to sleep and I could reply to each and every one of you (but I would be in big trouble with Caitlin’s husband if I don’t start doing a better job of taking care of myself and “sleeping” is at the top of my “To Do” List)! You guys are amazing and I wish I could just be friends with you all!!! Or maybe I can….friend me on FB if you want to keep following my story (or more selfishly, so you can keep the encouragement comin’ my way)! At my meeting tonight, the topics of “asking others for help” and “giving up control” were posed. A very wise man said that he had been coming to meetings for years, often withholding what he felt called to share because it might seem trivial, “sound dumb” or because he thought “no one else would understand.” He said he had finally learned that his thought process all boiled down to PRIDE. “Who was he to say what would impact someone else or what may or may not be meaningful? And who was he to WITHHOLD something that might potentially HELP somebody else?!?!” The next man who spoke, another old-timer, said he has realized that nothing in this life is inconsequential. He chuckled and said, “Well, it may not mean anything TO YOU, but it sure does mean somthing to me.” I just sat there in my chair, smile from ear-to-ear because I knew EXACTLY what he meant! Every song that comes on the radio, every prayer that is spoken over me, every piece of scripture that someone emails me, each 5 & 10 dollar donation (yes, someone donated five dollars and that literally made me cry more that any of the larger donations because I know they likely needed that $5 more than I did but they gave it in faith anyway!), every word of encouragement……these things are making up the fabric of MY LIFE and they mean EVERYTHING TO ME! You will never know! With gratitude and humility, Tonya

  • Sarah September 8, 2011, 9:10 am

    Tonya is truly an inspiring woman. Thank you for continuing to keep your readers updated on her life and progress. I’m planning to pass the link to this post on to my own readers!

  • Alex G September 8, 2011, 11:25 am

    Wow.. beautiful person with beautiful ink. So inspirational! Praying for Tonya’s recovery and her family to keep strong.

  • Autumn September 8, 2011, 3:09 pm

    Way to go for taking charge of your own health! The only thing that really made me cringe is the tatoo. I wanted to get one (a while back). I looked into what goes into the ink. To make the colors vibrant heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, etc are used. Was this a concern?

  • Autumn September 8, 2011, 3:09 pm

    Way to go for taking charge of your own health! The only thing that really made me cringe is the tatoo. I wanted to get one (a while back). I looked into what goes into the ink. To make the colors vibrant heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, etc are used. Was this a concern?

  • dana September 8, 2011, 9:17 pm

    she sounds like a fabulous woman!!

  • Marta September 9, 2011, 3:53 pm

    This was such a wonderfully written post. Tonya’s story is inspiring, and she sounds kick-ass. I will keep her family in my thoughts!

  • Amy@ahealthyandhappyheart September 14, 2011, 9:15 pm

    What an incredible story..what a strong and beautiful women she is!

  • Chrissy May 15, 2012, 10:19 pm

    I was just thinking about your sweet friend Tonya…How is she doing? Recovering? If you feel comfortable, could there be an update?

  • Rochelle January 17, 2014, 7:22 am

    Hi Caitlin, I know this post is super old, but I was wondering how Tonya is doing? I think about her quite often as her strength really inspired me, such a strong woman! Anyways was just curious how she is

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