For this Webster walker, the future looks bright

  • Sonja Lang with her daughter, Penni, and her husband, Ryan, in the family dining room of her Webster home. Lang has faced 16 rounds of IV chemotherapy, 35 rounds of radiation and two surgeries for breast and lung cancer. But on Sunday, Lang and her family will lead the Making Strides Survivor Walk. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Sonja Lang sits in the dining room of her Webster home on Thursday, October 17, 2019. Lang has faced 16 rounds of IV chemotherapy, 35 rounds of radiation and two surgeries for breast and lung cancer. But on Sunday, Lang and her family will lead the Making Strides Survivor Walk. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Sonja Lang with her husband, Ryan in their home in Webster on Thursday, October 17, 2019 where they just celebrated their ninth wedding anniversary. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Sonja Lang gets a kiss from her daughter, Penni in the family dining room of her Webster home along with her husband, Ryan on Thursday, October 17, 2019. Lang has faced 16 rounds of IV chemotherapy, 35 rounds of radiation and two surgeries for breast and lung cancer. But on Sunday, Lang and her family will lead the Making Strides Survivor Walk. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 10/19/2019 4:29:10 PM

The cream she spread on her burned skin after 20 rounds of radiation did little to soothe the pain.

At the time, nothing was certain for Sonja Lang, a 36-year-old former healthcare worker from Webster. Her physical pain was a problem. The fatigue, the chest and kidney pain, that burned skin.

She desperately sought relief from that pain, but also from the emotional pain. The pain she felt over the possibility she would leave her husband – Lang’s high school sweetheart at Concord High – and their 4-year-old daughter, Penni, behind.

“I remember laying on the radiation table telling myself I have to do this to be a mom to Penni,” Lang said, recalling her fight against breast cancer. “That’s what got me through it.”

Today, things look good. Lang is a little weak these days, but that won’t stop her from walking in the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer on Sunday.

The annual event, its 27th version, starts at Memorial Field at 11 a.m. There’s a five-mile walk and a 2.5-mile walk, to raise money and awareness, to celebrate those who have fought the disease and those who continue to fight it.

At this moment, Lang is sort of in-between fighting her illness and conquering it, inching closer to the latter as her final treatment approaches three days after this event.

Officially, her cancer is in remission. She won’t be labeled cancer-free until her regular six-month checkups end in five years.

But with that final day of treatment right around the corner, and with 70 team members backing her and about $4,000 raised in just two weeks, Lang knows that no matter how tired she gets, the clogged streets outside Memorial Field will fill her fuel tank.

She’ll walk in the 2.5-mile event, which is still a feat. “I walk for 10 minutes and get short of breath from the chemo,” she said. “I’ll stop and rest for five minutes.”

Concord has turned this walk into a regular chance to shine. The city is always among the leaders nationally in walkers per capita, regularly attracting eye-popping numbers when compared to the overall population, makes this day in which the city pops its buttons with pride.

For Lang, chest and kidney pain in the summer of 2018 tipped her off that something was wrong.

Her doctor sent her to a cardiologist. After several tests, she was told the problem was her heart, not her lungs. She tried to focus on her job caring for patients at Concord Hospital. She gave a strong hint of what’s inside her, saying hospice was “the most rewarding kind of nursing for me.”

Eventually, she had to look in the mirror, at her own mortality, after three spots were discovered on her right lung. She was very ill.

Lang walked in last year’s event, shortly after the diagnosis that she had invasive breast cancer. Patients, it seems, know the exact date when the C-word becomes real, and Lang was no different.

“September 27, 2018.”

“(The doctor) told me it was an aggressive form of cancer and it appeared to spread to a lymph node in my axillary area,” Lang said. “He explained to me that the masses broke through my breast wall and were headed for my right lung. I felt lifeless.”

Co-workers rallied around her, something that Lang said was most helpful.

“It was so hard telling my family that night,” Lang said. “It was then that I knew I needed to pick myself up and attack this full fledge.

“I attended a chemo class with my husband and parents,” Lang continued, “and found out I needed a lot of treatments to live.”

That meant 16 rounds of intravenous chemotherapy and the loss of her hair, which began falling out in clumps before her husband, Ryan, an automotive technician, shaved the rest.

It meant a menu of drugs that no one outside the medical community could pronounce. There were three surgeries, 35 rounds of radiation, 16 rounds of chemotherapy, the removal of her ovaries, just to make sure the cancer doesn’t strike there.

After her final visit on the 23rd, she’ll ring a bell at Concord Hospital, with family and friends and staff on hand, signifying that her treatment, finally, is done.

Meanwhile, she continues to manage pain, in more ways than one. She no longer works at Concord Hospital, saying she was let go after the protection she had received under the Family and Medical Leave Act expired.

She said she was told her job, a medical assistant at Family Tree Health Care, needed to be filled, but she could return in another capacity when ready.

“I’m sad about that and confused,” Lang told me. “I was there for 10 years, and that’s where I received my treatment. But when one door closes, another big door opens. That’s my favorite saying.”

A big door opens here, on the 20th. A door to community spirit, recovery and optimism.

To celebrate the upcoming end of her treatment, Lang was chosen to lead a group of hundreds of survivors at the start of the walk. She’ll be out front, with Ryan and Penni by her side.

Her skin no longer burns.

“Last year I was a warrior,” Lang told me. “This year, I’m a survivor.”




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