Meeker’s Toni Simmons relieved to be cancer-free

BurkheadImageUseThisOneToni Simmons is ready to get her life back.
Toni recently received the news she has been waiting for — she is cancer free.
“It was like the whole world was lifted off my shoulders,” Toni said. “Stress went right out the door.”
Now she’s ready to get on with the rest of her life.
“It’s like we’ve been in a roadblock for three years,” Toni said last week as she was preparing for her final treatment. “I’m excited to live without chemo and without pain.”
“Toni is doing fabulous,” said her mother, Lynn Carroll. “We’re just about to finish her last treatment.”
Toni, who will turn 22 in February, had her last chemotherapy treatment this week. She went in for a PET scan about three weeks ago, and she was confident it would show the cancer was gone.
“I’ve had 17 (chemo) treatments overall, and after my third one, my tumor was already 65 percent smaller,” said Toni, who also underwent radiation last summer. “I was hoping there would be nothing there. I was pretty sure there wasn’t, but there was still a chance.”
As she hoped, the scan showed no sign of cancer.
“It didn’t show anything,” Toni said. “No cancer anywhere. Just a little bit of scar tissue from the tumor.”
Asked how she responded to the news, Toni said, “We’ve been celebrating a lot.”
Toni had a rare form of cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma. Before she had surgery to remove the tumor, she was in a lot of discomfort.
“I couldn’t even walk before,” she said. “I was in a wheelchair. (The tumor) was the size of a cantaloupe. It was in my pelvis, on my left side, and it laid against hip. I was in so much pain, I lived on Percocet. All I could do was lay on the floor and cry all day long, because it hurt so bad.”
Toni had her first chemotherapy treatment April 27.
“I would go every two weeks,” she said. “Then this summer, in July, I moved to Denver for two months and did radiation. Then I still continued chemo every two weeks.
“The chemo was the worst,” she said. “Radiation was a breeze for me. Radiation is like getting an X-ray. It didn’t even affect me. I got a small sun tan on my hip. But the chemo was way worse. Chemo makes your (blood) counts go down really bad. It can make you nauseous. Basically, you’re putting a bunch of toxic chemicals in your body. Imagine what that would do. I lost all my hair. I actually have a little stubble now.”
The day before I talked to Toni last week, she had undergone a blood transfusion.
“The chemo kills every cell in your body, the good cells and the bad cells. After so many chemos, I have to go get a transfusion,” Toni said. “I’ve had seven blood transfusions.”
Toni and her husband, Brandon, have a daughter, Jaicee, who is 18 months old.
“She keeps me going,” Toni said. “If I didn’t have her to drag me through the day, I would feel worse, I think.”
Asked how she coped with being a new mom and dealing with cancer, Toni said, “The community, my family, everyone praying for me.”
She’s hoping that, post-cancer, she’ll be able to have more children.
“It’s not a for sure thing yet, but I think I’ll be able to have more kids,” Toni said.
Before her life was interrupted by cancer, Toni was attending beauty school at the time, but she had to drop out. Now, she’s thinking about returning to school … but to become a welder.
“I experienced beauty school, and it’s not for me,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to weld. I would rather do a man’s job.”
With what she’s been through, she’s more than up to the task.
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Like many people, I had never heard of Charlie Wilson until the 2007 Tom Hanks movie “Charlie Wilson’s War.”
The film documented the true story of Wilson, a former U.S. congressman from Texas, who organized the U.S.-led covert operation to support the Afghan Mujahedin (freedom fighters) in their resistance against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.
“I’ve never met Charlie,” said James Ritchie, a local expert on Afghanistan and owner of the Meeker Hotel and Meeker Cafe. “I’ve talked to him on a couple of occasions. He’s been in the employ of the Pakistanis since he retired from Congress. What Charlie did was one of the greatest boons to Pakistan in their entire history. It put them on the gravy train. Since that time, Charlie has been on their gravy train. Our (U.S.) interest (with Pakistan) was that we had a common enemy in the Soviets.”
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Rangely District Hospital’s plans to open a fully-staffed pharmacy are moving forward.
“We don’t have an official date (for opening), but if everything continues as planned, we’re shooting for mid to late February,” said Nick Goshe, the hospital’s chief executive officer.
The hospital’s pharmacy will be located in the Early Education Center in space formerly occupied by the Columbine Medical Clinic. The town has been without a pharmacy since the Meeker Drugs satellite drugstore in Rangely was closed in May, following a fire that shut down the Meeker location.
Meeker Drugs has reopened, but did not have immediate plans to reopen its satellite location in Rangely. That’s when Rangely District Hospital stepped in.
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Plans are also moving forward on the road for the new Meeker Elementary School.
“Stantec, the consulting company for the project, is working on the design,” said Meeker Town Administrator Sharon Day.
The town will own and maintain the road.
Regarding the old elementary school, which will be vacated at the end of the school year, Day said, “The structural assessment for the grade school is in progress and a report should be ready for the town by about Jan. 24.”
The town has appointed a committee to look into options for the future use of the old school building. The town has been leasing the property to the school district, but will take it back once the building is vacated.
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Voters on both ends of the county will cast ballots in April for their respective town boards.
Up for re-election on the Meeker Town Board are Mayor Mandi Etheridge and board members Rod Gerloff, Regas Halandras and Chuck Mills. In Rangely, Mayor Ann Brady is term limited, but could run for one of the seats as a council member. Council members Dan Eddy, Clayton Gohr and Elaine Urie are also up for re-election.
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Congrats to members of the Rangely National Junior Honor Society, which raised money for the local animal shelter.
According to Aimee Hogan, a member of the NJHS, “For two weeks in December, Rangely Junior High students collected coins to benefit the Rangely Animal Shelter. It was a contest between sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, organized by the middle school National Junior Honor Society. The eighth-graders collected the most money and won a root beer float party. Altogether, $240 was raised for the animal shelter. Rangely Animal Shelter Manager Kay Nickson came to the junior/senior high school on Dec. 14 to accept the donation.”
Said Nickson, “We just want the National Junior Honor Society to know that this money will be used to find permanent homes for all of our homeless animals and how much we appreciate their thoughts of us and their donation.”
Nickson told students the shelter “has not had to put down any animals in six and a half years, due to donations such as theirs. This money pays to transport animals to new homes, which can range from the Salt Lake City area and throughout the Grand Valley.”
Over the past three years, NJHS has collected more than $800 through coin drives that has benefited the animal shelter.
Stephanie Hogan is the volunteer adviser for the Rangely National Junior Honor Society, and the faculty advisor is Cheryl Blackburn.
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On the Herald Times Facebook page, Alaina Henderson of Baytown, Texas, commented about The Bakery in Meeker closing on Christmas Eve after nearly 30 years in business: “My husband, son and I came to your bakery shop on a regular basis when we were in town … we will miss the cinnamon rolls, biscuits and gravy and small-town fellowship! God’s blessings for you and the family.”
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To join us on Facebook, go to the Herald Times Web site — www.theheraldtimes.com — and click on “Become a Fan,” in the upper right corner of the home page, under “The Herald Times on Facebook.”
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Best wishes for a full recovery to Ellie Anding of Albion, Neb., and a Herald Times subscriber.
“Sissy, get well,” said Ellie’s sister Zina Eliasen of Meeker. “She’s on the mend.”
Ellie is recovering from back surgery.
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The holidays were nice, but is anybody else ready for things to get back to normal? For the last two weeks, I had trouble remembering what day it was, because schedules were thrown off by the holidays.
Now if I can just keep straight what year it is.

Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at jeff@theheraldtimes.com.