It was one of those perfect spring mornings, the sun was shining bright and a smile on every face.
May 21, 2022, in Big Rapids, Michigan.
As runners and walkers got ready for the start of the Wheatlake Wellness Walk and 5K, Dani Trochelman and Nicole Quinn stopped and shared a quick hug before the race.
It was much more than just a casual hug.
The race had deep personal meaning for the two residents of Reed City. It marked a momentous step in their cancer journey and marked a bond of shared determination, understanding and encouragement.
Their smiles and budding hairstyles showed hope for the future.
Trochelman and Quinn joined more than 200 community members and cancer fighters as they traverse the 5K trail along the Muskegon River to raise money for the wellness center at the Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center in Reed City.
The presence of the two women provided perfect symmetry – they were able to support a race in favor of a cancer center that has helped them in their respective battle against breast cancer.
‘I’m feeling good’
In January 2021, Trochelman, 69, discovered a lump in her left breast during a self-exam.
She underwent a mammogram at Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital, which prompted diagnostic radiologist Geoffrey Remes, MD, to schedule a biopsy.
The biopsy confirmed she had breast cancer.
“I’ve never had any problems in my life,” Trochelman said. “I was always in good health. My blood pressure, my cholesterol. I was surprised because I have no family history. Zero.”
She told the care team at the Spectrum Health Cancer Center at the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion about her desire to receive treatment close to home.
“We have this great cancer center here in Reed City and that’s where I live,” she said. “If I can, I’d rather stay in Reed City.”
As she prepared for treatment, Trochelman took a sobering approach.
“I thought, ‘Okay, let’s do what we have to do to get out of this and move on,’” she said. “I don’t want it to be something I think about for the rest of my life.”
She had HER2-positive breast cancer, which required six rounds of chemotherapy, as well as a lumpectomy and a full radiation regimen.
During treatments, she was always grateful for the encouragement of her husband and two sons.
Four of her friends also strengthened her spirit.
“They sent me little text messages during the treatment,” she said. “Like, ‘Hold on’ and, ‘You’re doing great.’ It was very nice.”
A friend from North Carolina sent her a personal bell to ring upon completion of her chemotherapy treatments.
Trochelman said she’s thankful she didn’t need a mastectomy, and hair loss from chemo didn’t bother her.
As she completes her treatment, her hair grows back.
“I call it my chemodoodle,” Trochelman said with a laugh. “Not everyone can have one — and not everyone should have one.”
She chose a wig at the wellness center and took advantage of free services such as acupuncture, massages and reflexology.
She is almost done with follow-up infusion therapy and she is feeling stronger every day.
“I feel good,” she said. “Now I’m just building up body strength. I get out for a walk. Food tastes good to me now and I feel like my body feels more normal.”
She also works to support other patients battling breast cancer. She is working to set up a support group, Breast Cancer Sharing Circle, which meets once a month at the cancer center in Reed City.
“This is such a goal for me, to get that going,” she said. “I just want to let people know that we’re here for you. It is only for women who have breast cancer.”
The group meets every third Tuesday of the month at 11 a.m. at the wellness center at the Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center.
Circle of trust
Quinn’s health journey began in October 2020, when she noticed a lump in her left breast.
“It was a kind of hard grape,” she said. “I would compare it to that.”
An ultrasound and mammogram led to a biopsy at the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion, and doctors quickly confirmed she had cancer.
And, like Trochelman, Quinn had HER2-positive breast cancer.
She broke the news to her husband, Andrew, and their three children.
When her son Johnny (9) asked if he could tell people at school, Quinn explained that every cancer story is different.
“They might have a really sad story about cancer,” she warned him about what he might hear. “But that doesn’t mean that will be my story.”
Quinn required six rounds of chemotherapy over 18 weeks, followed by a lumpectomy in April 2021.
She mistakenly thought that treatment would be quick because the cancer was detected early.
“I thought, ‘Okay, early stages, easy peasy, no problem,’” said Quinn. “No. It was a year and a half of active treatment.”
While undergoing chemotherapy treatments, she also received saline infusions twice a week.
“My body was exhausted,” she said. “Monday, the saline solution helped me survive. Wednesday it helped me to return to the land of the living.”
At the end of May 2021, she started with 16 rounds of radiation. She would visit the cancer center in Reed City every weekday for three weeks.
With the cancer center less than 10 miles from her home, it made commuting a little easier.
When she was done with radiation, she received a targeted chemotherapy infusion medication, Kadcyla, which reduces the chance of the cancer coming back.
“Losing my hair was pretty traumatic for me,” she said. “My hair was really long. That was the first time I cried, when I heard I was going to lose my hair.”
Once her hair started falling out, she planned a shaving party with some family and friends.
“We made it lighter so it wasn’t something to be sad about,” she said.
Today, to her delight, her hair grows back.
a better morning
During treatment, Quinn received enthusiastic support from friends, family and colleagues. She also relied on the cancer center team members.
“I like the cancer center,” Quinn said. “They will do everything they can to make you feel better.
“I swear, every nurse who comes by asks if you need anything, like water or a warm blanket, or they serve grapes, cheese, and soups,” she said. “I can’t say enough about downtown.”
Quinn completed treatment on April 18. Her son, Johnny, helped her ring the bell to celebrate.
“He likes to ring the bell,” she said.
During her treatment, she found many sources of inspiration, but she shared one quote that appealed to her: “Be strong now, because things will get better. It may be stormy now, but it cannot rain forever.”
That feeling was fully apparent on the Wheatlake Wellness Walk and 5K, as runners and walkers gathered under a clear, sunny sky.
Both women have completed the walk and they continue to celebrate their shared success.
Reflecting on her own journey, Trochelman summed up her experience: “She needed a hero, so she became one.”