Recently, Rumer Rodne opened a journal which her mom, Mary, had been saving for her. On each page, Rumer read the story of her cancer diagnosis, the year of chemotherapy and radiation she underwent and how the experience was for her family. She felt like she was in the room with them. “I cried,” she said. “It was emotional and personal.” She said her mom especially is the strongest person she knows, a constant support through every medical crisis she has endured.
Having been diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, cancer of the muscle and connective tissue, at 18 months old, Rumer does not have many memories of her treatment experience. But she has her parents stories: How as a toddler she kept scratching her hair line, had strange bloody noses, and cried all the time, how doctors found a cancerous mass behind her upper right cheek bone in October 1993.
She remembers flashes of hospital rooms and certain smells will come to her wafting with memories of cancer, but mostly, she is left with the many long term side effects of cancer and treatment.
Throughout her childhood, she had to take growth hormones. Now 28 years old, she stands at only 4’ 9”. “I’ve learned to embrace my shortness,” she said. “Cancer taught me to never give up, so I take [survivorship] as a second chance at life.” Additionally, she has had consistent ear problems and wears a hearing aid.
But she said the worst experience of all was jaw reconstruction surgery in 2004. The left side of her jaw grew, but her right side, where the cancer had been, could not keep up. Doctors had to put a plate, screws and a rib graft in her jaw, and she could only eat things like Go Gurt and drink apple juice. She recently opened her journals from that time, which she said were hard to read. “I wanted to give up and not live anymore because I was in so much pain,” she said. “But I pushed through it.” Even worse for a teenage Rumer, she had to miss concerts of her favorite bands, Simple Plan and Good Charlotte to recover from the surgery.
Years past, and annual survivorship check ups just became part of her routine. She went to college in Oklahoma to study forensics, biology and chemistry, graduating in 2015. While studying there, she decided to go in for a dental check up.
Her x-rays came back showing that the entire bone in the right side of her jaw was missing. “The rib graft bone on the right had completely disintegrated into pieces,” she said. “There was only muscle left.” But oddly, Rumer was not in pain. Her mom called the oral surgeon anyway, and the doctor said if her jaw did not hurt, not to worry about it too much.
But in spring 2019, the pain raged. Rumer went to the emergency room and was referred to a surgeon who told her they could do a total joint replacement surgery. The choice to move forward was left up to her, and though the suffering from her previous surgery haunted her, she ultimately decided to move forward.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, she waits for a specialist to create and send her jaw joint. The joint is handcrafted and checked for quality in places all across the country, so the process takes time.
During the last year and a half, Rumer decided to study nursing and became a registered nurse this past December. She is currently searching for a job in Minnesota as an RN, and she said she is so much more appreciative of people in medical roles than she was during childhood.
“Growing up, I disliked going to the doctors and told myself I never wanted to be in the medical world,” she said. “But now I love it, and I want to give back.”
In addition to her newfound interest in the medical world, Rumer is an avid concert-goer, has shelves of movies and loves to travel. Long-term side effects have not kept her from places like Portland, Seattle or her new obsession, Disneyworld. On the side, she also helps with her family’s small business, Sassy Squatch. Together, they create home decor items, door and wall signs, and more.
Her mother recently threw her a huge prom-themed party because she has been in remission for 20 years and cancer-free for 25 years. “A lot of people do not realize how valuable life is,” she said, “I cherish everything that I have.” Which for Rumer, includes all the people who love her and have showed up for her throughout the years.
Today, she continues to share her story of survivorship, and feels grateful to bring awareness for childhood cancer research.
“No child should ever have to go through what I’ve gone through,” said Rumer. “We need to improve, but had we not done research, I probably would not be here.”