Cancer survivor Boneau rings the bell of hope

Published 5:22 pm Thursday, February 1, 2018

GROVES — In the time leading up to his latest oncology visit last week Ronnie Boneau was understandably nervous.

Five years had passed since he underwent surgery and chemotherapy for colon cancer. He went to every scheduled visit, went through every necessary test.

Ronnie Boneau, executive director of the Groves Chamber of Commerce, rings the bell of hope at MD Anderson Cancer Hospital after getting the news he is five-years cancer free.
Courtesy photo

“I’m always nervous before getting the results and I knew this would be my five-year one,” Boneau, executive director of the Groves Chamber of Commerce said of the milestone visit. “This was the home stretch.”

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His oncologist, Dr. Bryan Kee, entered the room and said, “It looks good to me,” referring to test results showing Boneau was cancer free.

Boneau doesn’t remember how the idea of ringing the bell of hope — an actual bell on a plaque that cancer survivors ring in celebration — came up. After learning about the good news, Kee led Boneau and his wife down a hallway and around the corner at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. That’s where Boneau did the honors.

“I wasn’t expecting it. I was nervous about the results,” he said of that emotional tidal wave. “Then reality hit me. This would be the last time I would be there.

“I had built so much trust in the doctors and I realized in that moment this is the end with Dr. Kee. All of my emotions were pinned up, walking down the hall and around the corner. Ringing the bell on the wall, the whole time tears were running down my face.”

The ding of the bell brought out people from nearby offices to congratulate Boneau on his cancer-free status.

The emotions he had pushed down for so long remained free and tears continued as Boneau and his wife walked across a breezeway to their hotel room. He tried to explain these feelings this week.

“It’s a feeling like we had for the many, many, many people who flooded during Harvey and we didn’t flood. Every time you’d meet someone you’d learn that they had flooded and you feel guilty that you didn’t,” he said. “So here I am walking away with this (cancer) behind me and some won’t.”

Later, as the couple were driving away from Houston he took a look back at the skyline and saw all of the buildings where cancer patients were, fighting the battle — “some will make it, some won’t.”

Boneau never let cancer get in the way of life and work. A retiree from the petrochemical industry, Boneau also spent 20 years as a volunteer firefighter with Groves Fire Department. In 2007 he accepted a temporary position with the Groves Chamber that ended up lasting much longer.

“A two-month job turned into 12 years,” he said, adding that he didn’t know anything about how to run a chamber but quickly learned.

So while running the chamber Boneau learned in October 2012 that he had a cancerous mass in his colon. By mid-December he had surgery, followed by chemo.

“Learning I had cancer — it’s like a person driving down the road going 60 or 70 and all of a sudden a brick wall pops up,” he said. “Whatever plans you had made come to a screeching halt, you don’t know where you’re going. It’s the most helpless feeling.”

He kept up with six months of chemo, traveling to MD Anderson on Mondays for treatment, then getting a pack of sorts with a second type of chemo drug that attached to a catheter in his upper chest. On Wednesdays he would return to the hospital to have the pack chemo line removed.

Boneau said he used his available sick days and vacation days when he needed time way from the office, which was infrequent, and he kept doing what he always did before the diagnosis.

Several years into his journey he got a call from his longtime friend and Groves Fire Chief Dale Jackson; Jackson has just been diagnosed with colon cancer as well. The two men talked and the next day Boneau mentioned Jackson during his doctor’s visit hoping to help his friend get into MD Anderson. The following day Jackson got a call from the hospital.

“A month to the day I found out I had cancer, I was in the operating room having surgery needed to remove the cancer,” Jackson said. “Also, Ronnie took off work the first time I had an appointment and walked my wife and I through the hospital and showed us where we needed to go for all the tests I would be doing. This was so helpful, and took off so much of the stress.”

Since Jackson’s surgery, Boneau has been there answering questions and giving updates on what to expect.

“I am forever grateful to Ronnie and his wife Amy for the help and support they have provided to me and my wife Sheryl,” Jackson said. “I knew what I had to face, but they helped give my wife an understanding of what she could expect, too.”

Boneau, he said, had a very strong drive to maintain his day-to-day life while he was going through surgeries and treatments.

“I used him as my motivation and hope that I would also have success of being cancer free,” he said. “There is no way to express in words just how much Ronnie influenced my walk through this process, and because of him I look forward to that day when I can ring that bell.”

Now that the milestone — cancer survivor — has been reached, Boneau said he is thankful to God and to all of the people who supported him along his journey with prayers and well wishes.

“I’ve had never-ending support,” he said. “They say it takes a village to raise a child; well, it takes a support village to help someone win the battle with cancer.”