When Surviving Breast Cancer, Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend
A Penn Valley resident’s connection to diamonds provided strength and inspiration throughout her treatment.
Randi Rentz’s world changed from the front seat of her car. But it wasn’t a head on collision that would alter her world. April 30, 2008 was an ordinary day for the Penn Valley resident, until her phone rang that afternoon. She pulled off the road to take the call from her doctor, when she learned she had breast cancer. In the seven years since her diagnosis, Rentz has become a voice for awareness, even penning a book for fellow survivors.
Before she could be an advocate, though, Rentz had to work through her own treatment. After the initial shock of that spring day, Rentz’s thoughts immediately turned to something unexpected: “I don’t have time for breast cancer,” Rentz recalls thinking. The next year would prove an extraordinarily trying one for her, but one she came through stronger.
There is no convenient time to have cancer, but the timing was particularly bad for Rentz. She had just lost her father and her mother had died when she was a teenager. She was packing up his house when she began to feel pain in her breast, “almost like a scalpel.” At the age of 42, she didn’t expect it to be anything, perhaps a cyst or a rib out of alignment. When the pain persisted, she went for her mammogram, which came back clean. Still, she insisted on an ultrasound, after which she was told to see a specialist. “I was in denial at the time, thinking it was a cyst,” Rentz recalls.
It would prove far worse, and in just a month, after seeing specialist after specialist, Rentz was going under the knife. “No matter how old you are, it can be pretty earth shattering,” she says of her diagnosis. During that time, Rentz relied heavily on her friends to help her through her treatments and to be an extra set of ears in doctor’s appointments. “It takes a village to get through breast cancer, or any cancer, really,” she says.
After six rounds of chemotherapy ending that December, Rentz expected to finally be able to return to some semblance of normalcy, but she was dealt another blow. “I had a mass on my ovary,” she recalls. Though it wasn’t cancer, she had a full hysterectomy the following year. “It took me a year to feel like myself,” she says.
Throughout all of that, Rentz lost her hair but never her spirit. “I thought that after the treatment was done, I would feel better. Healing from the collateral damage from treatment takes an incredibly long time,” she says. “You really have to find shining moments daily. It’s just the small things in life that got me through everyday. They don’t take away the pain, nausea, constipation, but they provide a balance and perspective.” She’s carried that mentality ever since.
Her story is one that many women share. According to the American Cancer Society, nearly a quarter of a million new cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed in American women last year. About 12 percent of women will develop the disease at some point in their lives, according to breastcancer.org, making it the second deadliest cancer for American women, behind only lung cancer.
During her successful treatment and recovery, Rentz took to writing a blog to share her story with her friends and family. What began as a simple way to stay connected and avoid having to repeat the same information turned into something bigger. “My blog became my personal experience with cancer. I was getting responses from people all over the world,” she says. The honest and witty commentary helped spread the word about breast cancer awareness and connected a community.
More than that, it struck a different note from other books on breast cancer. What followed was her forthcoming book, “Why Buy a Wig When You Can Buy Diamonds?” As she was going through treatment, Rentz sought out comfort in books, but only found a dour style. “I was looking for humor and I couldn’t find it,” she says. “I think that the book resonates with honesty, optimism, inspiration, dignity and selflessness. It’s so important when you’re facing a huge challenge. You can go down that fearful road or you can take the journey with your glass half full. I think it’s important to add humor. It’s important to laugh.”
Her desire to help others, albeit in a different way, stemmed back years, far before her diagnosis. Rentz wanted to get into therapy from a young age and wound up working as a teacher for those on the Autism spectrum. Helping others through writing came as a natural fit.
What ensued is a hilarious and true story of her personal struggles and triumphs through breast cancer. The diamonds in the title also had a significant meaning to Rentz, who had lost her mother when she was young. Before her death, Rentz’s mother took her diamond wedding band and had it turned into studs for her daughter. “I always wore them and it gave me strength. As I got older, when my father got sick, I put the diamonds back on,” Rentz says. It was no surprise then, when her own diagnosis came, that she turned to diamonds, wearing those same studs throughout her treatment.
When her chemotherapy was complete, and her hair gone, Rentz sought out a wig, but after looking, thought better of it. Instead of buying something she would only use temporarily, she bought more diamonds. “It reminds me of my mother—strength, courage,” she says.
Much like a diamond, getting through cancer requires strength. And Rentz had plenty of it.