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Survivor Evy Nerbonne takes to the track at Relay For Life

It may not seem like Evy Nerbonne has slowed down much since her cancer diagnosis two years ago, but she swears she has. She's had no choice.

Nerbonne is familiar to many in Hudson as the face of the Hot Air Affair and for her work around the community. She and her husband, John, have lived and worked in Hudson for almost 20 years. The bulk of her career has been spent in advertising. She currently works for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. She has gained a reputation for being able to juggle several balls in the air at once.

But all that was threatened in October of 2002 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. With no history of cancer in her family, she admits to not making an annual mammogram a priority. By the time her cancer was discovered, it had grown large enough to include lymph nodes.

"I had a false sense of security that cancer would never happen to me. I've always had benign cysts in my breasts and just took for granted that lumpiness was normal for me and not a worry. I was wrong."

Nerbonne's treatment of the cancer began with a lumpectomy at the Piper Breast Center in Minneapolis. She had another lumpectomy when her doctor was not satisfied with the first surgery, followed by a course of chemotherapy that took five months. Ultimately Nerbonne underwent a bilateral mastectomy. In July 2003, she had reconstructive surgery.

Despite having gone through four surgeries, Nerbonne said she doesn't regret opting for the less invasive lumpectomy as her first choice of treatment. According to her doctors and statistics on the procedure, the lumpectomy was a reasonable course of treatment in her case.

"And I was mentally not ready for a mastectomy, an amputation. It was a sound medical decision. The difference in survival rates was so small that it was definitely worth the try for me."

Nerbonne said she was fortunate when it came to chemotherapy. She experienced few, if any, of the typical side effects of the toxic drugs. But while she didn't experience the nausea and other discomforts so often associated with the treatment, it did compromise her immune system to the point where she was dangerously vulnerable to almost any infection.

Nerbonne said the most difficult physical adjustment she has had to make has been to the fatigue that has become a part of her life. She also still occasionally experiences what she initally called "chemo-brain," moments when her thinking isn't as clear as it used to be.

"That's been the most difficult, getting used to the idea that I can't operate the way I used to. I just get too tired. But I'm getting used to it and I just go at things a little differently than I used to."

But to the casual observer, Nerbonne doesn't appear to have slowed down much. For the past two years, she has served on the Hudson Hot Air Affair committee with husband John. This year she has been in charge of the publicity for one of Hudson's most successful fund-raisers, the Relay For Life.

In addition to her work on the committee, Nerbonne, along with fellow cancer survivor Eric Pechacek, will serve as honorary co-chairmen of the fifth annual Hudson Relay For Life June 18-19 at Newton Field. She and Pechacek will open the event and lead the survivors' lap around the field. She will also speak at the 10 p.m. luminaria ceremony that honors both survivors and those who have died of the disease. She knows it will be among the most emotional experiences of her life, but she also knows she will be among friends and people who will understand, even without her words.

Nerbonne had participated in the relay before her diagnosis and believes that what she learned as a participant helped prepare her. "I tell people that the relay taught me how to have cancer. I have learned so much from the people I have met there, the friends I've made, the other survivors. It can easily overwhelm you but I knew people who had done it, lived it, survived it. It helped me put it all in perspective. I drew strength from it all."

Nerbonne believes her cancer has changed her. Despite being an experience she could have lived without, she believes she has learned to appreciate her life more.

"I really appreciate the people in my life now. The time I get to spend with them is special. People said when I got sick that I would find out who my real friends were. To a one, I have never been disappointed. Everyone was there for us, and people I didn't even know where there too. It is an amazing thing and very humbling to experience."

Nerbonne hopes her story will do for others what the stories she heard before her diagnosis did for her. She points to her sister, Ruth, as an example. Close to the time of her own diagnosis, Ruth, who regularly has her mammogram, found a lump and had it investigated.

"It turned out to be pre-cancerous. It worked the way it was supposed to. Ruth's is a success story, and that's what regular mammograms and early detection can do. You can change the whole direction of things."

The fifth annual Hudson Relay For Life begins at 6 p.m. Friday, June 18, at Newton Field. For more information go to

Meg Heaton may be contacted at

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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