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Birthdays are supposed to be a time to celebrate life’s blessings. While Claudia Rhudy enjoyed her 37th birthday Friday with her family, there was an unwelcome guest at the festivities: invasive ductal carcinoma.
After finding a lump while putting on her pajamas one night before the holidays, the mother of three underwent testing, and on Jan. 2, she was diagnosed with the most common type of breast cancer. She’s spent the time since fighting for her life with her husband, Blake, by her side.
“I was the most devastated and broken when we went to see the surgeon and found out the treatment plan. She was told she would need to have chemotherapy and everything, so it was a worst-case scenario in my mind,” Blake recalled. “That day was the hardest day of my life.”
When Claudia’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, doctors tackled it with surgery, but no chemotherapy or radiation was needed. Blake said he thought his wife of nearly 13 years would have a similar treatment plan, but doctors had other ideas. She was scheduled for 16 rounds of chemotherapy and surgery. Radiation treatment has not been ruled out.
“I think she’s pretty tough,” Blake said. “I know when I get a cold, I think I’m going to die. If I went through this, I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed for the last three weeks, and I’d expect everyone to feel sorry for me.”
Hard Pill to Swallow
Claudia said the shock of the diagnosis was quickly replaced with anxiety about sharing the news with the couple’s three children: Markus, 15, Ciera, 10, and Addison, 5. The duo decided to bring it up during their family Bible study, but they shared more details with the older two than with their youngest child.
“The 5-year-old really has no idea what is going on,” Blake said. “She asks on a daily basis if Mom is going to be OK because she knows her mom is sick. That is really tough to hear.”
The Rhudys shared the news quietly with some of their friends, such as Wilson Community Church Pastor Gary Combs and friends from their small church group. Kendra Cain, who has known the couple for nearly five years, was among the first to hear the devastating news.
“Honestly, I was in complete shock,” Cain recalled. “That was not at all the reason I thought she wanted to have lunch. Her and Blake had always shared how they felt their calling was missions, and we honestly assumed she was going to share that they had made plans to go somewhere to start this new journey.
“I’m pretty sure the only words I could get out at the moment were, ‘I’m so sorry.’”
The rest of their church found out after Claudia had her first treatment when the couple shared a social media page at www.caringbridge.org/public/claudiarhudy/.
“The reason we wanted to do it that way was we were really broken. We were devastated with the news and weren’t prepared to answer questions,” Claudia said. “I just couldn’t go through it over and over again with everyone. We decided to organize it and tell the whole church and others at the same time.”
Outpouring of Support
As news spread, friends and strangers alike volunteered to make meals for the family, take Claudia to and from treatment or help with the kids.
“Things like that have been a huge blessing,” Blake said.
While Claudia has lost some of her energy and her long black hair, she has tolerated the battle relatively well. Originally she was slated to wrap up chemotherapy before her wedding anniversary in June, but two hiccups have delayed the timeline. When her white blood cell count was too low, doctors pushed back her treatment, but thankfully a trip to the emergency room for a fever didn’t further delay her chemotherapy.
“Once we had a plan, it got a little easier, but it was hard to see Claudia get sick,” Blake recalled. “I didn’t know a lot about cancer before this. I knew it sucked, but I didn’t realize when I saw someone who lost their hair and looked sick, it was the effect of the chemo.”
The family had been in good health prior to that fateful night when Claudia felt the lump, so Blake’s insurance as a manager at Walgreens had been sufficient.
“We did some of her testing in December, and we hadn’t met our co-pay, so we met that in just two weeks, but it all started over again in January,” Blake recalled.
The diagnosis fell during open enrollment, though, so at the suggestion of UNC Rex Cancer Care staff, the Rhudys switched insurance companies to minimize treatment delays due to pre-authorization requirements. They’ve had to cover co-pays, but otherwise have had minimal out-of-pocket expenses.
The biggest cost will come once doctors decide how extensive of a surgery Claudia should undergo since Blake plans to take time off work during her recovery. As such, the couple’s church family have come together in hopes of raising at least $3,000 to help during that time.
“We don’t ever want to go through this again, so we want to do whichever surgery gives her the best chance of not having the cancer come back,” Blake said. “For the most intense surgery, recovery is about four weeks.”
Break from Reality
Cain and Karen Norfleet spearheaded an effort to organize a fundraiser for the Rhudys, eventually landing on a murder mystery dinner.
“After that, folks started volunteering left and right for the various aspects,” Cain said. “We had a volunteer meeting at the end of April and had a bigger turnout than we had planned. So many folks are excited to help the Rhudy family.”
The Greatest Mystery of All Time is being held at 6 p.m. June 1 at Wilson Community Church. An anonymous donor has covered the cost of a spaghetti dinner from Oh My Lard, online mystery dinner party company Supper Sleuths donated the script and many others have contributed.
“It is going to be a very fun evening for a great price. Where else can you get dinner and a show for $20?” Cain asked. “But most importantly, people should attend because 100 percent of all monies brought in from the ticket sales, 50/50 raffle and silent auction will go directly to the Rhudy family. Every aspect of the event has been donated.”
The capacity for the event is 125, and fewer than 50 tickets are still available. To purchase a ticket, call Cain at 419-584-7312 or Norfleet at 252-245-2563. Residents and businesses who want to donate to the effort can also call the women to contribute.
“It’s been amazing to get random Facebook messages or texts from people I don’t know but who know the family and want to help in some way,” Cain said. “I love seeing how many lives the Rhudy family has blessed, and it’s awesome to be able to give back and bless them now.”
Even those who can’t contribute time or resources can help the couple, who said the most important thing folks can do is pray.
“We have so many people praying for us,” Claudia said. “It has been such a blessing to feel the love God has for us through our friends, our church family and people we don’t even know.”
While the diagnosis was devastating, Blake and Claudia said the journey since has shown them their many blessings.
“Sometimes in life, you think you’ve got everything figured out. I’d just finished my bachelor’s degree and was starting some Masters of Divinity classes. Our plans were to serve as missionaries around the world, but God had other plans,” Blake said. “We don’t understand exactly why we have to go through this, but we know God has a plan and we trust in him. We believe that in the end, we’ll use this as part of our ministry. Maybe we’re meant to use this experience to help others as they go through the same thing.”