10 June 2022
Wake Forest, N.C. — Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill may be rivals in sports, but in the fight against cancer they’re on the same side and making a huge difference in the fight against metastatic breast cancer (MBC).
On Saturday night, the Komen initiative that funds research at both universities is holding a gala with the goal of extending and even saving the lives of people diagnosed with MBC.
Rhonda Howell, a Wake Forest woman who was leading up the fundraising effort for the gala, died in January. Metastatic breast cancer took her life at just 42.
Rhonda Howell’s husband, Adam, is continuing her mission.
“Rhonda and I got married in 2011. We had our son Luke in 2012. Luke was 15 months old … in 2013, [when] she found out that she had breast cancer,” said Adam Howell. “She went through [the] whole gamut of treatment. She had to have the double mastectomy. She had four rounds of chemo and 35 rounds of radiation.”
Unfortunately, Adam Howell said, 15 months later the cancer had returned and spread to her bones and liver.
“We talked to the doctors and made the decision that it just didn’t make sense for her to work anymore. She needed to focus on her health,” said Adam Howell. “I think for a year or two she really didn’t know what to do with herself. She had a career her whole life. She was a very driven person, and she just kinda lost that purpose in life.”
So Adam Howell said that’s when she decided to get into advocacy. Rhonda Howell began to connect with Pam Kohl, executive director of the local chapter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
“That’s when we started talking to [Kohl], and she was talking about starting up this new initiative,” said Adam Howell. “I think with Rhonda being a UNC grad and treated at Duke the thought of having two of the best resource institutions in the country right here in our backyard, working together, that was when it kind of spurred that decision for us to partner with them.”
Adam Howell said his wife was driven to help others fighting breast cancer.
“I really don’t know where she got all the energy from. I know me personally, if it was me, I don’t know that I could do it well. I’ve watched a lot of what she had to go through, you know, tired all the time, not feeling well,” said Adam Howell. “She just had that drive that I think … was just something that she just really enjoyed doing.”
Adam Howell said his wife was realistic about the money she was raising.
“I think ultimately she knew that it was a far-fetched goal for there to be a cure anytime in the near future. I think this is obviously a terminal illness at this point. It’s taken 40,000 lives every year,” said Adam Howell. “I think that her goal was to try to figure out a way to raise money for research, to potentially get this to a point where it’s at least treatable and people can live with it”
Rhonda Howell raised $375,000 to fund research grants for metastatic breast cancer.
“I think she’ll be really happy to see that people are continuing to support the cause and really try to raise money for research. We’re going to do our best to honor her, and I know she’ll be happy and be smiling down on us,” said Adam Howell.
The Together We Thrive gala will honor her Saturday at the Renaissance Hotel in North Hills starting at 5 p.m.
If enough money is raised, a grant will be named in Rhonda Howell’s honor.