DARLINGTON – The Lafayette County Relay for Life event will be held on Saturday, June 17 at Collins Park.
Representing the Relay for Life this year is honorary chair Tonya Milz.
In February 2013, Tonya Milz of South Wayne was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I had some pain in my arm pit on my right side for a couple months. So I decided being 40 at the time, that I should get that first mammogram and just rule it,” Tonya remembered.
The mammogram came back as suspicious. She then got a biopsy and found out that she was positive for DCIS or ductal carcinoma in situ, abnormal scattering of cells instead of a tumor.
“My doctor explained it like someone took a salt shaker and sprinkled it in. It is incredible to me that they even found it.”
Her first thought was about her family, husband Cory and her kids, Brody (17), Cayden (15), Lucas (13) and Mya (9).
“You can’t help but to go into a little bit of a panic mode.”
She found out her diagnosis the day before Regional Youth Wrestling and remembers sitting in her bedroom that night thinking she needed to “pull [herself] together”.
“I am a very optimistic and very matter of fact person. After that emotional weekend was over, I was ready to sit down, have a plan and act.”
Tonya spoke with a surgeon and her oncologist and opted to have a bilateral mastectomy followed by reconstruction surgery, even though they had not found anything in her left breast.
“Since I was young I thought that if there is something in my right, how do you know there is not one cell somewhere in my left.”
After the mastectomy in April, she had close surgical margins, which meant that there were cancer cells close to the edge of the tissue and she needed to follow up with radiation. Tonya had 25 treatments of intense radiation.
“That was probably one of the hardest parts but I am lucky because I didn’t have to have chemo.”
She was left tired toward the end and it took nearly a year for the radiation burns to heal. In the beginning, telling her kids, her husband said everyone was going to shave their heads and show support, while her sons, who sported longer haircuts were slightly taken aback.
Tonya laughed, “I said no one had to do that since I wasn’t having chemo but all they had to do was wear pink and my boys who never touched pink in their life wear pink somewhere during every sporting event they are in and it makes me feel good.”
Telling her kids was hard. Before she was diagnosed, a neighbor had just passed away of breast cancer and that was something that was on their minds.
“Some women in my life have made impacts on me as a woman. One woman said it is hard because you have to be strong for everybody else. Not just me that has cancer but everybody in my family too.”
But Tonya says the hardest part of all was telling her parents.
Tearing up, Tonya said, “I have parents that want to fix everything for me. Knowing that they couldn’t fix something like this when pretty much everything in my life they did, that was hard and yet I had to be strong when I told them. And even though they couldn’t fix it, the support they gave me and support from other people did help with the healing.”
Her husband says that 2013 was their lucky year because not only did they find her cancer but the Black Hawk Football Team, which her husband coaches, won state.
Tonya comments on how amazing Cory had been through it all. Not only was he the football coach, but also at that time, he was finishing up his master’s degree, working full time as the principal at Black Hawk School District, taking care of their kids and Tonya, while she had her treatments.
“I think he is a real life super hero and I am truly blessed to have my family and friends in my life.”
She still has her checkups from time to time. Just last month she went in for an MRI for some concerns but came back negative for anything.
“It is always in the back of my mind. It is scary because cancer is something that can be in your body and you will have no idea that it is there. Outside of the tiny bit of pain that I only felt at night, I wasn’t sick. Listen to your gut if you think something is not right. Listen to that inner intuition and just follow through with it.”
Tonya is honored to be a part of the Relay for Life as the honorary chair. She says that events like this allow you to openly say thank you and express the gratitude and most of all spread the hope that there are continuous advances in medicine.
“Medical technology is incredible and the fact that they could find something in me so early is amazing. I am generally an optimistic person. If you know my family we are pretty happy people. I don’t like to sweat the small stuff. Going through this has given me even more of an appreciation of how important little things are and just living in the moment.”