Going full strength against cancer

Tonya Ormberg is fighting cancer, but she’s not alone. She has the support of her family, friends and the Marshall area hockey community.

Photo by Greg Devereaux Tonya Ormberg, center, fights back tears as her husband, Jason, and daughters, Brittney and Shelby, look on during a hockey “Stick it to Cancer” event recently in her honor


As she sits in a hospital chair watching the “red devil” chemo treatment flow into her arm, Tonya Ormberg looks pretty vulnerable. The treatment is strong and has a lot of negative side effects. It’s what caused her to lose her hair. But the 42-year-old has a ferocious determination deep inside of her and it’s helping her in the fight for her life.

“I’m like, ‘Let’s get this crap done,'” Ormberg said. “It’s mind over matter.”

That’s not to say it has been an easy journey so far. Fighting cancer is tough and it takes a toll both physically and mentally.

“I was that person who said I was going to keep working through this — then I could barely get out of bed,” Ormberg said.

The ‘red devil’ regimen this past week is the third of four Ormberg has received.

“They say the stuff will put a hole in a shoe,” she said. “That’s how powerful it is. So it tends to be tough on the body. It’s one of the older chemos and has all the icky side effects. So on the ‘red devil’ days, I hate coming in. It’s almost like my husband has to pull me across the floor to go.”

Since being diagnosed with breast cancer five months ago, Ormberg has experienced a wide variety of emotions. Despite the seriousness of the situation, having a sense of humor has helped her cope.

“I have my mad days, my sad days and my irritated and scared days, but you have to have a sense of humor,” Ormberg said. “It’s amazing that you can even have a sense of humor, but it definitely helps.”

Early on, there was denial, followed by shock.

“Last summer, we had a puppy and he kept jumping around on me,” Ormberg said. “My breast started getting sore and that’s when I found my lump. I said, ‘What is that?'”

Ormberg said a mammogram in January “came back a little abnormal but was ruled out by ultrasound.” Even after being sent for a biopsy, she held out hope.

“I was thinking it still had to be nothing,” Ormberg said. “But I got the dreaded call at the end of August.”

While Ormberg doctors at the Mayo Clinic, she’s able to get her cancer treatments at Avera Cancer Institute in Marshall.

“Everybody up here has been wonderful,” she said. “We are really lucky to have this here. I’m so glad I don’t have to drive. The nausea and fatigue afterward is awful.”

Despite her courageous personality, Ormberg is quick to admit she benefits from a strong support system during her battle with cancer. Along with the support of medical providers and that of her immediate family — husband Jason, 18-year-old daughter Brittney and 13-year-old Shelby along with parents, Maynard and Judy Koepp — Ormberg said she is lifted up by the Marshall area community, including the Marshall hockey family.

“They keep me going every day,” Ormberg said.

As part of a Hometown Hockey Hero project, the Marshall girls Mites, 10-and-under, 12-and-under and varsity players were a part of a “Stick it to Cancer” night at the Red Baron Arena & Expo, where they raised $4,000 for Ormberg, according to hockey coach Cassi Schreckenghaust.

“The girls did a Pizza Ranch fundraiser as well as scrimmage, sold bracelets and had a silent auction,” Schreckenghaust said. “We also raised money with a pie-in-the-face contest. The coach with the most money in their bucket was supposed to get pied, but we all ended up getting pied.”

Having coached Shelby Ormberg for a number of years, Schreckenghaust had a connection to the family, which made it easier to advocate for the benefit. But she also knew it could be a teachable moment for the girls hockey teams.

“The point of hockey isn’t just to turn these girls into amazing hockey players, it’s to turn them into amazing women,” she said. “I want to thank all the people who helped make these events a success, including all the girls for their hard work.”

Tonya Ormberg said she is forever grateful to everyone for their support.

“The Marshall Area Hockey Association and everybody put together the Pizza Ranch night for me,” she said. “I thought it was so cold out that nobody would come to it — and there was a game that night in Windom so all the hockey families were there — but the people were lined up outside. You couldn’t believe the people. They surprised me with a bunch of bracelets they sold that night. It was just amazing.”

A large number of people also supported the “Stick it to Cancer” event.

“It was absolutely packed out there,” Ormberg said. “They had silent auction stuff. The businesses in town who donated stuff — it was unbelievable.”

Ormberg said she is also humbled by the support from the community.

“I can’t believe it how people rallied around us,” she said. “They had meal trains going — we still have people that are bringing out meals two or three times a week. They’ll swing out and say, ‘Here’s a meal for the freezer.’ And the donations, along with the texts, calls and prayers, are awesome. I can’t ever thank this community enough for the support.”

While Ormberg never intended to publicly showcase her cancer journey, she said it just turned out that way due to the benefit and other community events. While it can sometimes feel overwhelming, she said that it was her way of giving back.

“It definitely opened my eyes,” Ormberg said. “I talked with my husband about it, and we decided that we need to be more aware of others going through this. We need to send more donations to people and get more meals to them because what we’ve received has been amazing.”

Ormberg said news of her cancer diagnosis spread like wildfire.

“I get a lot of people who come and ask me questions now,” she said. “Some of my girlfriends are finally going in for mammograms. You learn that it’s a real thing and that none of us are untouchable.”

Currently, about 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. Nearly 41,000 are expected to die from breast cancer in 2018.

“I just keep hearing more and more (people being diagnosed),” Ormberg said. “And people seem to be getting younger and younger. That 40-mark is when they told me to have a mammogram. But they’re finding women in their 30s and by the time they’re two years into it, the cancer might already be in their lymph nodes.”

Ormberg has spoken with several people who are frustrated after being told they’re too young for a mammogram.

“It’s a hard thing to be told that when you’re trying to be proactive,” Ormberg said. “It makes me mad that insurance companies are dictating that because if you can catch it fast, it’s very curable.”

Right now, Ormberg knows of four other women in the area who also have breast cancer.

“It’s kind of disheartening,” Ormberg said. “One is a recurrence. She was in remission and hadn’t had a sign of it in 20 years. It breaks my heart.”

Ormberg said she did genetic testing at the Mayo and was relieved to learn that her daughters weren’t necessarily at greater risk of developing breast cancer in the future.

“My cancer is all hormone driven,” she said. “But it’s one of those things where they can go in 10 years prior, so at 31, they can start getting mammograms.”

Doctors found that Ormberg has two types of cancer: invasive ductal carcinoma and ductal carcinoma in situ with a large area of pseudoanigomatous stomal hyperplasia.

“I’m 2B right now and that was Grade 3,” she said. “But I’ll find out more after my surgery in March.”

Before receiving the four “red devil” treatments of Adriamycin and Cytoxan every other week, Ormberg had Paclitaxel once a week for 12 weeks. After those 20 weeks, a three-week waiting period and a mastectomy, doctors will decide whether or not radiation is needed.

“I’m bloated from the steroids and the water weight,” she said. “So I’ve got a double chin. I’m losing a couple of toenails and I get mouth sores and nausea. I’m also the hot flash queen. I literally sweat 20 times a day and it feels like I’m cooking from the inside out.”

While Ormberg encourages people to check out all the programs they have for cancer patients, including Avera’s “Look Good, Feel Better” program, she found that the hot flashes interfere with wigs and makeup — each person gets $200 worth of makeup along with a wig and hat.

“The wigs are hot and itchy and they look fake,” she said. “But I have a pink one just for fun.”

There may be good days and bad days, but Ormberg said she holds tight to her faith and counts her blessings every single day. She’s grateful to her co-workers and boss at Schwan’s — she’s currently on disability but plans to return as soon as she’s able. Ormberg is also an Amiret first responder.

“I got a charm from my co-workers,” she said. “It’s pink boxing gloves. Isn’t that neat?”

She’s thankful for the inspirational messages she receives, including the ones on her CaringBridge site. And of course, there’s her hockey family — the one she never knew she would need someday.

“My daughter, Shelby, brought home a hockey flyer when she was in kindergarten,” Ormberg said. “She said, ‘Mom, I want to play this.’ I said, ‘Hockey?’ Nobody in our family played hockey and we don’t really watch it very much.”

After a trial run, her daughter was hooked.

“She ended up loving it from Day 1,” Ormberg said. “She’d play hockey 24 hours a day if we’d let her. Now, we’re part of this amazing hockey family. God had a bigger plan. Obviously, we’re in the group for some reason.”

Ormberg praised the inclusiveness and supportiveness of the Marshall hockey family.

“I wish everybody could have an experience with the girls hockey program,” she said. “There is such a special connection. They boys tend to get a lot more attention and it’s a lot more physical, but those girls work every day, just as many hours as the boys.”

The Tiger girls earned the No. 1 seed and begin Section 3AA playoffs today in Marshall. You can bet Ormberg will be there.

“I’ve only missed one game and that was the night of the Pizza Ranch fundraiser,” Ormberg said. “I’m going to be there for my daughter. This cancer is not taking that from me.”

Ormberg said Avera director Jess Moriarty taught her that.

“Yep, you get to decide,” Moriarty said.