[00:00:00] Adam Walker: Komen has funded research for more than 40 years to find the cures for metastatic breast cancer, also known as stage four. But the five year relative survival rate for those living with MBC remains only 29%. That means seven out of every 10 people with MBC are expected to live less than five years.
This year alone, in the US, nearly 44,000 lives will be lost to MBC. This week is MBC Week and we are publishing a new episode every day to shed light on the people who are impacted the most when a life is lost to MBC: the husbands, daughters, sisters, and friends who are left behind. Each of our guests this week is driven by the purpose to help find the cures for MBC and to be a positive force for hope.
From Susan G. Komen, this is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.
Tara Coppedge never imagined that one of her assignments as a reporter would result in forming a deep bond with Rhonda Howell, who had already been living with metastatic breast cancer for two years when they met in 2017. The two women automatically clicked and forged a deep friendship that continued until Rhonda passed away in January of this year. The impact of losing a friend or loved one is profound and often offers life lessons from the experience, such as how to be brave and to never to take any relationships for granted. Tara is here today to share the story of their friendship and how losing Rhonda changed her life and fueled her inspiration to continue making a difference in the breast cancer community. Tara, welcome to the show!
[00:01:50] Tara Coppedge: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
[00:01:53] Adam Walker: Well, this is, this is a great story and it’s so unusual. So let’s just start with how you connected. Talk, talk about the beginning of your friendship. How did you and Rhonda meet?
[00:02:03] Tara Coppedge: Sure. Yeah. So I met Rhonda through a mutual friend who also had metastatic breast cancer.
She has since passed away, but she my friend reached out to me and said, You know, you have to talk to Rhonda. She is putting together this big fundraiser to raise money for breast. Cancer research specifically for metastatic breast cancer. And so she gave me her phone number and I, I will never, ever, ever forget our first phone call.
Like I remember hanging up the phone and just thinking, Wow, this woman is incredible. She was just a wealth of information, but just the way she talked to you and she just, I just kind of instantly clicked with her, and so I remember hanging up the phone and thought, This is more than a story about her fundraiser.
I need to do a story about her and her advocacy because she was doing so much in the community and so. From there, I, you know, in news we typically put together a story. It’s a minute to two minutes. I was able to put together a 10 minute story about Rhonda. Yeah. So it was, I was able to go with her to Washington DC and I got to know her family really well.
And through that story, Ron and I just became like really close. And she was a few years older than me. And so, you know, she was almost, became like a big sister. I kind of like looked up to her in that way.
[00:03:23] Adam Walker: Wow, that’s fantastic. I mean, I, I know how difficult it is to put together a one minute or a 92nd story. A 10 minute story is profound and it never really speaks volumes to who she was as a person. And, and let’s, let’s talk a little bit about that. Tell me about her impact in the community as an advocate and what it was like for you to experience that?
[00:03:42] Tara Coppedge: Yeah, it was amazing being able to document like her doctor’s appointments.
We went to even going to DC it was for the stage four stampede and so I was able to follow her and go with her into lawmaker’s offices where she would talk to them about the need for more research for metastatic breast cancer specifically, and she was a wealth of information. So smart. She knew what she was talking about.
You knew, like you knew that she knew every, you know, all the facts. And yet she came across so warm and just genuine. You know, She wasn’t angry, she wasn’t, you know, upset. You know, she had this, obviously this. This diagnosis and yet she was still calm about it and she, because she knew she had this mission to try and get more funding for research so she could live longer.
And so it was just really impactful to be able to watch that and to document it.
[00:04:38] Adam Walker: That sounds like an amazing person to spend time around. And so, yeah. So I wonder if you could just unpack a few of your favorite memories with her, what you were able to learn by witnessing her life and how she lived it and how you’re able to carry those lessons forward.
[00:04:53] Tara Coppedge: Yeah, well, I mean, gosh, it was clear. And I knew, I know Rhonda has had such a big impact in the breast cancer community in this area and beyond. And going to like the, her funeral and the recent come event where she was honored, you know, just seeing and talking to more and more people, you realize the kind of impact that she had was way bigger than I ever could have imagined.
Just the way that she lived life. And she always made everybody so feel so warm and she always, you know, Had this life threatening disease and yet she was asking you how, how are you doing? Right? And so she just made everybody feel special in their own way, which is a really unique quality for somebody to have.
And one of my favorite me memories, she came to my wedding in 2020. We got married in the middle of the pandemic and here she is with metastatic breast cancer going through treatments. She drove to the beach where we got married because it was all outside. And she made the two hour trip with her husband to be there.
And she, you know, did not feel well. She didn’t make it through the reception, but she was there through the ceremony. And that meant the world to me and for her to, to, to, to do that. You know, she didn’t have to and she knew I would understand, but yet she still came. So that was, that was really special and I was just honored.
But that’s just the type of friend that she was to everybody, and so definitely. After she’s passed, kind of, I always try to say like, live like Rhonda did, you know, just love people. Like she did try and treat people like she did and listen to them and ask, you know, how are, how are you doing?
[00:06:29] Adam Walker: She sounds like one of those friends that is always looking out for other people. And, and that’s, yeah, that’s the, I think that’s the kind of friend we always want to be in, in that we always want to find. That’s, that’s truly amazing and profound. So, so I’m curious, I mean, you met Rhonda. When you were doing a story about her having metastatic breast cancer, so she already had metastatic breast cancer.
When you met her, what was that like? Was it like getting to know someone with a terminal illness and knowing how that friendship would play out?
[00:06:58] Tara Coppedge: I guess going into it, you know, Rhonda was so always so positive and she was, like I said, so well educated. She would always be looking to the next trial. Okay, like, if this treatment fails, then this is what I’m going to do next.
She always had a plan and that’s, that’s kind of how you have to live when you have that diagnosis. And so I was, I guess, in denial. You know, I always just assumed that she would have another treatment to go to. You know, she was always on top of everything and, you know, I just figured, you know, she, well, she’ll, she’ll, you know, find another trial and it’ll be fine, you know?
And so it really didn’t hit me until, until the end that, you know, I just kind of figured. I don’t know. I guess it was just naive of me. But you know, and even during your friendship, you know, we would, we would meet a lot for lunch and coffees and stuff during the day and. You know, I would ask her how she’s doing and kind of leave it up to her.
It is kind of difficult because I don’t want to ask too many questions. As a former reporter, I like to ask a lot of questions, you know, but I also don’t want to like, you know, I don’t know the kind of mood she’s in, if she wants to share stuff or if she just kind of wants to like talk about her son or shopping or clothes or other things that we would talk about, you know?
So I always. You know, we just try and like kind of follow her lead. I would ask a couple questions but not try to dig too much unless you know she was, I could tell that she was willing to, to talk about it.
[00:08:25] Adam Walker: I mean, what you said, like that seems so wise to me and I think what I’m hearing you say is, She, you, you knew that she might not want to be defined by her illness and might not want to talk about that continuously.
Right. And, and that seems so wise to me that you’d, you’d, you’d open the door for that conversation if she needed it, but if she didn’t, then that’s fine too. And you could talk about whatever else, which is, which is a really good friend. That’s really amazing. Thank you so. She passed in January, and I know that’s gotta be difficult.
Can you talk about that? I mean, what’s that like? What’s it like missing her? What do you do? Those kinds of things.
[00:09:03] Tara Coppedge: Yeah. Well, I, and I think a lot. I think the hardest part is kind of thinking about her husband and her son and kind of who she left behind and, and her parents. You know, she was so, so close with her parents and her mom.
So just, I think that’s kind of the hardest part is thinking about her, her young son. She was so close with him and she was. I say, I just want to make it to his 10th birthday. You know, she would always kind of like set these goals and they traveled so much. They had all these trips and stuff, so I, I find comfort in that.
They made some really amazing memories, and that’s kind of what I try to hold onto too, in thinking about, you know, when I miss her and, you know, I recently had a daughter and so I, I think about that often and I just think that, you know, she’s watching and she knows,
[00:09:50] Adam Walker: Hmm. You know, and her memory lives on, right? Yeah. That’s why we’re for sure, that’s why we’re talking about her. Yeah. And that, that just profound and amazing impact that she had on you and, and now on so many people on our listeners, which is Yeah. Which is amazing. . So you currently work for a breast cancer foundation, Uh mm-hmm. . I’m curious, did your friendship with Rhonda inspire that, or, or what led to that?
[00:10:14] Tara Coppedge: Yeah, so and so my friendship with Rhonda inspired that my, both of my parents are also cancer survivors. My mom has is a breast cancer survivor, and my dad is a prostate cancer survivor. So those situations that they both have been cancer free now for about six years. And so that kind of, and that, that sparked me to do more advocacy stories, which led me to Rhonda.
And then that kind of really just in, in instilled it in me that okay, I love re reporting and telling stories about things to raise awareness specifically like breast cancer. But I want to do it all the time. You know, not just some of the time here and there. So I was able to find Pretty in Pink Foundation and we’re just in North Carolina, but we help breast cancer patients who are uninsured and underinsured pay for treatment.
[00:11:00] Adam Walker: Wow, that’s great.
[00:11:01] Tara Coppedge: So, so when I am the marketing and communications director, so I’m able to tell these stories of our champions and kind of, you know, who we help and why it’s important to support the organization. And so you know, it’s fulfilling and and I know I started working for the organization in 2020 and I know Rhonda was really, was really proud.
[00:11:21] Adam Walker: Mm. That’s so amazing and so important to be able to tell those stories and raise awareness in the way that you’re doing it. Such an important job. I really appreciate the work that you’re doing there. So you mentioned that you just had a baby. Mm-hmm. I’m curious, did Rhonda know that you were pregnant before she passed? And, and, and what was talking with her about that like?
[00:11:41] Tara Coppedge: Yeah, so I might get a little emotion talking about this. I, I’m going to blame it still on the most part of hormones. . Because that is a conversation that Ronda and I had a lot, was just having having children and. You know, she was always so excited for me and my husband and she kind of knew right after we got married.
She would always ask like, Is the baby time yet? Like, are you, I know you, because she knew how badly I wanted a kid and I would just adore her son Luke. We were always just really close and so I did not, and she did not know. I found out shortly before she passed and it was also like, I knew at that point she was in hospice and I kind of debated like, you know, do I tell her, you know it was kind of a hard situation, but I didn’t want to like, use up her energy.
Mm-hmm. , like, I wanted her to save her energy for her family and, and I didn’t want to like, distract from that. And And it was still early on in the pregnancy. I’ve just had just found out. And so, so she did not know, but yeah, I just had, just had my daughter on August 31st. And so I know Rhonda, I find comfort in knowing that Rhonda, I didn’t get to tell her in person, but I know she knows, you know, she’s looking over us and, and I had a daughter and so that also was kind of special to think, you know,
[00:13:00] Adam Walker: Yeah.
[00:13:01] Tara Coppedge: About that. Yeah.
[00:13:02] Adam Walker: And I’m, and I’m sure that your relationship with Rhonda has, you know, impacted you in such a way that to even make you an even better mother, Right. And to impact your daughter through her. And so that’s really amazing. So, last question. What advice do you have for our listeners that may have recently lost a loved one and are struggling?
[00:13:21] Tara Coppedge: I would just say just to try and find comfort. I know this is kind of cliche, but like find comfort in, in your memories with them and also think about the impact that they had on other people. I think that’s really helped me with, with losing Rhonda’s. Like I said, going, you know, to the common event and her funeral and just seeing even like posts on social media, I find comfort in reading some of those posts.
So maybe, you know, go on to social media. And that is, I guess, a benefit that can happen is people share, you know, what this person had meant to them. And reading those stories and posts were comforting because you know, I’ve learned things about Rhonda even after she passed that I didn’t know through other people’s stories. And so that was, that was very, very comforting.
[00:14:05] Adam Walker: That’s fantastic. And you know, Rhonda sounds like such a, a special person, and it sounds like you had such a special friendship, and I just really appreciate you taking the time to, to share that with us and give us that, that, that insight into who she was and, and the impact she’s had on you. And just thank you for joining us on the show today.
[00:14:21] Tara Coppedge: Yeah, absolutely. The anything I can do to continue talking about Rhonda to make sure her legacy lives on.
[00:14:27] Adam Walker: That’s right. That’s right.
All funds donated to Komen this week will be dedicated to funding the cutting edge research to one day end MBC. People living with MBC are desperately waiting for new treatments to extend and improve their quality of life. Visit Komen.org/supportMBC to donate.
Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen. For more episodes, visit RealPink.com. For more on breast cancer, visit Komen.org. Make sure to check out at Susan G Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam, you can find me on Twitter @AJWalker or on my blog, AdamJWalker.com.