In 2013, Rhonda Hilmershausen was visiting her mother out of town when she discovered a lump in her breast while showering. Soon after this discovery, Rhonda was diagnosed with breast cancer.
While her positive and upbeat attitude is something she strived to keep throughout her treatment, there is no denying the initial fear that is often associated with a breast cancer diagnosis. “You hear cancer, and you’re scared out of your mind,” Rhonda said.
Finding a purpose
But Rhonda didn’t let that fear get the best of her.
“When you first get diagnosed, you go through your own pity party — and that is OK. You keep asking, ‘Why me? Why was I chosen for cancer?’ It took me a few years to come to terms with it, and when I did, Susan G. Komen was a big part of that realization,” Rhonda said.
Rhonda was first introduced to Susan G. Komen Wisconsin shortly after her first surgery, when her close friend Teresa encouraged her to attend Race for the Cure in Madison. “She’s the one who told me, ‘You are going to go to the Race for the Cure if I have to push you in a wheelchair or put you on a gurney.’”
That’s when she discovered the power of the Komen Wisconsin family. “The love that I felt there is something I cannot even describe. It is survivors, it is supporters, it is family, and they are all high-fiving you as you’re finishing the walk. You just feel like you’re loved, even by strangers,” she said.
“I had finally figured out that I got — and survived — cancer so I could help others get through a diagnosis; deal with the emotional rollercoaster involved in the process; and let others know they were not alone.”
After that first Race for the Cure, Rhonda began to put a lot of her energy into fundraising. She knew that the more she raised, the more people she could help.
“I had finally figured out that I got — and survived — cancer so I could help others get through a diagnosis; deal with the emotional rollercoaster involved in the process; and let others know they were not alone. And being able to do all this through fundraising and awareness with Susan G. Komen Wisconsin was all the drive I needed,” Rhonda said.
When it really hits home
Today Rhonda is one of Komen Wisconsin’s top fundraisers. She has always known that her efforts were helping people, but the day Rhonda truly realized the power of her fundraising is the day her own family was helped.
In 2017, Rhonda’s sister Vicky was told by her doctor she needed a diagnostic mammogram. When her insurance would not fully cover the procedure, she turned to a program at Aspirus, which received funding from Komen Wisconsin.
“I helped my sister. And to meet the people who are benefiting from your dollars, that is something everyone should get the opportunity to feel.”
With the help of that Komen-funded program, Vicky was able to get the screening she needed and give her family a sigh of relief after receiving normal test results.
“When my sister told me she used Komen funds, I started crying and said, ‘OK, there’s my answer. This is why I am supposed to do this,’” Rhonda said. “I helped my sister. And to meet the people who are benefiting from your dollars, that is something everyone should get the opportunity to feel.”
It is people like Rhonda, who take something bad — like a breast cancer diagnosis — and turn it into something good and impactful in our community. She channeled her energy into fundraising and awareness efforts. Rhonda’s hard work and fundraising dollars ensure more women and men like her own sister can get screened early.
As a survivor, Rhonda’s story and efforts can make a lasting impact in the Madison community and beyond.
“I do not think I am defined by cancer; it will always be a part of who I am, but I do not know if I will ever not talk about it,” she added.