University Park’s Ronni Loundy remembered being on her way to Sarasota Memorial Hospital for a lumpectomy in 2018.
While in the car, she received a call from her doctor that was more devastating than her breast cancer diagnosis.
Loundy was told she shouldn’t bother going in for her procedure because she needed a mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy.
“I don’t ever remember feeling as overwrought in my life,” Loundy said. “It was like a gut punch. … As a woman, any time you look at a mirror now, you look different. You’re just not the way you were, and I try not to look in the mirror.”
Loundy felt alone.
She had no one to talk to about her cancer diagnosis, what to expect from treatment and the rollercoaster ride of emotions she was feeling.
It wasn’t until she was surrounded by hundreds of people who were survivors, living with cancer or supporting someone who has cancer at Making Strides Against Breast Cancer at Nathan Benderson Park in October 2018 that she finally felt she wasn’t alone.
“I felt empowered, and it was nice to see other people in the same situation,” she said.
Since then, Loundy has worked to make sure others do not feel alone after a cancer diagnosis.
Every year, Loundy and her team, Answer to Cancer SRQ, raise money for the American Cancer Society. She participates in Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, and she answers the call whenever she is asked to speak to someone in the community who has received a cancer diagnosis.
“Sometimes people just need that one connection to know they’re not alone and somebody is there to answer their questions,” Loundy said. “It’s humbling to think someone feels that whatever advice I have is meaningful to them.”
Loundy looks forward to this year’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer on Oct. 21.
“It’s like a renewal,” she said. “It gets me going and reminds me why I’m (raising money). It’s important for all these women to see there are other people in the same situation they are and they’re not walking alone.”
Although Loundy was told she was cancer free in 2018 after her double mastectomy and radiation, she said she has moments of doubt.
“In the back of your mind, you never totally believe (you’re in remission),” Loundy said.
Loundy said creating her team and raising funds for the American Cancer Society have been a form of therapy for her.
“I couldn’t do anything about the fact cancer cells were in my body, but I can do something about maybe making a difference so no one else has to go through what I did.”
Loundy recruited University Park’s Eileen Cantarella to co-chair the Answer to Cancer SRQ team. Together, the duo started knocking on doors and asking for donations.
Since 2018, the team has raised nearly $250,000, raising more money each year than the previous year.
This year, Answer to Cancer SRQ has decided to fund a research grant that will explore the relationship between aging and metastatic breast cancer. The team will contribute $100,000 each year for the next four years to fund the $400,000 grant.
“I’m getting older and because I didn’t have (cancer) doesn’t mean I won’t have it,” Cantarella said. “About five of our friends have been diagnosed with breast cancer within the last year. We’re seeing breast cancer at an older age rather than a younger age. That’s why this research is important.”
Cantarella said raising money every year can be scary because they aren’t certain they’ll achieve their fundraising goals.
“You’re still actively going out there, sending emails, trying to engage people to either sponsor us or give us a donation,” Cantarella said. “We are hopefully going to make a difference. We have to be positive about this because there are no guarantees in life.”
The Meadows Country Club, Tara Golf and Country Club and Temple Emanu-El all are working in partnership with Loundy and Cantarella to support their mission.
Cantarella and Loundy wanted to put the “fun” in fundraising, so they started University Park’s Pink Week, which is a week in October filled with various activities to get the community engaged in their fundraising efforts. Pink Week includes pickleball, golf, tennis, croquet and a fitness class. Cantarella and Loundy said it’s a week of residents wearing pink, laughing and having fun supporting the American Cancer Society.
Loundy and Cantarella said raising thousands of dollars every year is a gratifying and humbling experience.
“I’m honored to think enough people are willing to help us and support us that we’re able to do that,” Loundy said. “At the same time, it’s empowering. It makes you think, ‘Wow, we can do anything right?’”
Cantarella said she’s in awe of the support from the community. She recalled going to lunch at Remy’s on Main last year and asked to speak to the owner, Larry Remington. They asked Remington for donated gift certificates, but to their surprise, instead Remington wrote the ladies a check for $700. This year, Remington donated $1,500, Cantarella said.
“He doesn’t know us from a hole in the wall,” Cantarella said. “We could have been scammers from Cincinnati for goodness sake. He didn’t even ask.”
“It’s people like that who make it easier to do this job because you realize there are people who actually believe in what you’re doing,” Loundy added.
Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.