St. Rose man fighting brain cancer

‘I’m not going to lose my husband. He’s gonna beat this.’

Though she tears up when recalling the day of Aug. 8, when her husband Ronnie was suddenly diagnosed with brain cancer, Crystal Baker says she knows he will win this fight.

“From the beginning, I’ve felt confident,” she said. “I’m not going to lose my husband. He’s gonna beat this.”The St. Rose couple have been together for 17 years, married the past 16. And while Ronnie’s battle has not been easy, she said she’s handling things well and doing what he needs to do to win.

“He’s been off of radiation and chemo for three weeks now, and we’re going to go (for an examination) to see where he’s at,” she said. “They’ll order an MRI. But he’s doing well. We’ve had a lot of great support from so many people through prayers, visits … people are bringing us food and have made trips to the grocery to help out.

“And it’s helped a lot.”

Crystal has also been proactive in this fight, and not just through her direct support of her husband at home. She recently formed “Team Ronnie,” which participated in the Kelsey Bradley Favrot Race on Nov. 5. Proceeds from the race benefit the LSU Neurosurgery Brain Tumor Center.

Twelve members of Team Ronnie took the course that day, with others who joined but couldn’t make the race itself offering additional support. Team members wore gray shirts with “Team Ronnie” emblazoned on them, the color gray chosen as it is the official color of brain cancer awareness.

It was the first race of any kind Crystal had been a part of, but she notes it will not be her last. She and her husband became aware of the event when they stopped at a River Ridge McDonald’s before he was to undergo radiation for the first time.

“We were in the drive thru and we saw the license plate of the car in front of us had ‘wear gray’ on it, and that’s the color for brain cancer,” Baker said. “We saw magnets that said ‘wear gray, beat cancer.’ I was going to take a picture of it, but I thought I better ask (the driver) first.”

She got out of her car and approached that driver, Mona Leingang, who said her own husband had passed away from brain cancer at the age of 55 in 2010.

Leingang also invited Baker to participate in the race. “I said sure, although I had never done a race before in my life. She gave me all the information,” Crystal said. “Our daughter went online and created Team Ronnie shirts to try and raise money for our family, since I’m the sole provider right now.”

She didn’t regret signing up.

“It was wonderful,” she said. “People were sharing stories and everyone got along so well. For all of us (on Team Ronnie), it was our first race. My aunt is 73 and she’s an 18-year breast cancer survivor. She ran the race and came in first in her age division. So, that was pretty cool.”

She said she plans on doing more races in the future, be it those linked to the fight against brain cancer or even other causes, “because it was just so fun.”

It was a welcome break from bearing the weight of her family’s troubles. She said the Aug. 8 diagnosis date will “be burned in my mind forever” not only because of the gravity of the situation, but also because that day was also her daughter’s birthday.

“We didn’t want to tell her,” Crystal said. “We just didn’t want her special day to be linked to that, and we tried keeping it from her. But she knew something was going on.”

It all happened suddenly, with problems arising after the family returned home from a trip to Disney World. Crystal said Ronnie was withdrawn and was not ready to return to work, and that as the days went on he began to do other things uncharacteristic of him.

“He started doing strange things,” she said. “He got in the car to drive one day, to go to the grocery, and left the door open. We have a fenced in yard with dogs, and he’d come home and leave the gate open. My husband didn’t do things like that. He was walking differently and talking differently.”

He also had a ringing in his ears, prompting a doctor’s visit. Initially, he was diagnosed with depression, but Crystal was unconvinced.

“I knew something was wrong. My husband was not depressed, it was something else,” she said. “I told her of all these strange things. She ordered an MRI Tuesday. We did it on Thursday, and on Friday, they called us in and told us to get there as soon as possible.”

Ronnie, 58, had brain tumors and immediate attention was needed. Within 10 days, he underwent surgery.

Crystal noted his symptoms were not the typical kind most think of for this kind of illness—he did not have headaches, nor blurred vision. Nor was he someone that seemed especially susceptible to cancer, Crystal pointing out he was a fit man who worked out three to five times a week and who watched what he ate.

“It’s something that you’d hope people can be aware of,” she said. “When we got this news … everyone has cancer cells, but you still don’t understand how this can happen. You don’t want it to happen to anyone, but when it hits your life, it’s truly devastating.”

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