It was one of those perfect spring mornings, the sun shining brightly and a smile on every face.

May 21, 2022, in Big Rapids, Michigan.

As runners and walkers readied for the start of the Wheatlake Wellness Walk and 5K, Dani Trochelman and Nicole Quinn stopped and shared a quick pre-race embrace.

It was much more than just a casual hug.

The race had deep personal meaning for the two Reed City residents. It marked a momentous step in their cancer journey, and signified a bond of shared determination, understanding and encouragement.

Their smiles and budding hairstyles showed hope for the future.

Trochelman and Quinn joined more than 200 community members and cancer fighters in traversing the 5K route along the Muskegon River, with an aim to raise money for the wellness center at the Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center in Reed City.

The presence of the two women offered a perfect symmetry—they could support a race benefiting a cancer center that has helped them in their respective battles against breast cancer.

‘I’m feeling good’

In January 2021, Trochelman, 69, found a lump in her left breast during a self-examination.

She underwent a mammogram at Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital, which led diagnostic radiologist Geoffrey Remes, MD, to schedule a biopsy.

The biopsy confirmed she had breast cancer.

“I have never had any problems in my life,” Trochelman said. “I was always in good health. My blood pressure, my cholesterol. I was surprised, because I have no family history. Zero.”

She told the care team at Spectrum Health Cancer Center at Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion about her desire to undergo treatment close to home.

“We have this great cancer center right here in Reed City and that’s where I live,” she said. “I’d prefer to stay in Reed City if I can.”

As she readied for treatment, Trochelman took a matter-of-fact approach.

“I thought, ‘OK, let’s just do what we need to do to get rid of this and move on,'” she said. “I don’t want it to be something I think about the rest of my life.”

She had HER2-positive breast cancer, requiring six rounds of chemotherapy, as well as a lumpectomy and a full regimen of radiation.

During treatments, she felt ever grateful for encouragement from her husband and two sons.

Four of her friends also bolstered her spirits.

“They would send me little texts during treatment,” she said. “Like, ‘Hang in there,’ and, ‘You’re doing great.’ It was very nice.”

A friend from North Carolina sent her a personal bell to ring at the completion of her chemotherapy treatments.

Trochelman said she’s grateful she didn’t need a mastectomy, and losing hair from chemo didn’t bother her.

As she completes her treatment, her hair is growing back.

“I call it my chemodoodle,” Trochelman said, laughing. “Not everybody can have one—and not everybody should have one.”

She picked out a wig at the wellness center and took advantage of free services such as acupuncture, massages and reflexology.

She’s almost finished with follow-up infusion therapy and she’s feeling stronger every day.

“I’m feeling good,” she said. “Now I’m just working to build up body strength. I’m getting out walking. Food is tasting good to me now and I feel like my body is feeling more normal.”

She’s also working to support other patients who are battling breast cancer. She’s working to establish a support group, Breast Cancer Sharing Circle, to meet once a month at the cancer center in Reed City.

“This is such a goal for me, to get that going,” she said. “I just want to let people know we’re here for you. It’s just for women who have breast cancer.”

The group meets at 11 a.m. on the third Tuesday of each month at the wellness center at Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center.

Circle of trust

Quinn’s health journey began in October 2020, when she noticed a lump in her left breast.

“It was kind of like a hard grape,” she said. “That’s what I would compare it to.”

An ultrasound and mammogram led to a biopsy at Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion, and doctors soon confirmed she had cancer.

And, like Trochelman, Quinn had HER2-positive breast cancer.

She delivered the news to her husband, Andrew, and their three children.

When her son, Johnny, 9, asked if he could tell people at school, Quinn explained that every cancer story is different.

“They may have a really sad story about cancer,” she cautioned him about what he might hear. “But that doesn’t mean that’s going to be my story.”

Quinn required six chemotherapy treatments over 18 weeks, followed by a lumpectomy in April 2021.

She mistakenly thought that because the cancer was found early, the treatment would be quick.

“I was thinking, ‘OK, early stages, easy peasy, no big deal,'” Quinn said. “No. It was a year-and-a-half of active treatment.”

While undergoing chemotherapy treatments, she also received saline infusions twice a week.

“My body was exhausted,” she said. “Monday the saline helped me survive. Wednesday it helped get me back to the land of the living.”

In late May 2021, she started 16 rounds of radiation. She would visit the cancer center in Reed City every business day for three weeks.

With the cancer center located less than 10 miles from her home, it made the commute a little easier.

Once finished with radiation, she received a targeted chemotherapy infusion medication, Kadcyla, which reduces the likelihood of cancer returning.

“Losing my hair was pretty traumatic for me,” she said. “My hair was really long. That was the first time I cried, when I learned I was going to lose my hair.”

Once her hair started to fall out, she planned a shaving party with some family and friends.

“We made it lighter, so that it wasn’t something to be all sad about,” she said.

These days, to her delight, her hair is now growing back.

A brighter tomorrow

During treatment, Quinn received enthusiastic support from friends, family and coworkers. She also relied on the team members at the cancer center.

“I love the cancer center,” Quinn said. “They will do anything to make you feel better.

“I swear, every single nurse that walks by asks if you need anything, like water or a warm blanket—or they’re serving grapes, cheese and soups,” she said. “I can’t speak highly enough of the center.”

Quinn wrapped up treatment April 18. Her son, Johnny, helped her ring the bell in celebration.

“He loves to ring the bell,” she said.

She found many sources of inspiration throughout her treatment, but she shared one quote that has resonated with her: “Be strong now, because things will get better. It might be stormy now, but it can’t rain forever.”

That sentiment was on full display at the Wheatlake Wellness Walk and 5K, as runners and walkers gathered under bright, sunny skies.

Both women completed the walk, and they continue to celebrate their shared success.

In reflecting on her own journey, Trochelman summed up her experience: “She needed a hero, so she became one.”