By: Jennifer Hoffman
For better or for worse, in sickness and in health. Those were vows that Rich and Colleen Ronchi promised each other 45 years ago. It wasn’t until January of 2019 when that promise would be tested.
Never in a million years did Colleen think they would spend their 45th wedding anniversary and celebrate Rich’s 73rd birthday in a hospital room but here they were and they made the best of it.
“I’m not gonna trade you in Rich, I told you that from the start,” said Colleen.
The Scranton, PA couple first met when they were set up on a blind date by their friends. The rest is history.
The love that these two have for each other, was so noticeable and is what has helped them get through the hardest time of their lives and their marriage.
Rich Ronchi volunteers as a coach for their local high school football team. One day while driving home after a game, he had noticed his vision started to blur. He and his wife Colleen decided it was best to get this checked out so they headed to the hospital. While there, Rich underwent various tests. A blood test showed that his counts were dangerously low and the doctor recommended him to get a second opinion.
“The doctor recommended Jefferson because he studied there,” said Rich. It was at Jefferson University Hospital where he would get a bone marrow test, that led to a result that neither Rich or Colleen could have ever imagined. It was cancer, specifically MDS blood cancer.
“When you’re told that you have cancer, you’re like woah. But we’ve gotten through it” remarked Rich.
Upon learning of his shocking diagnosis, an influx of thoughts and questions raced through Colleen’s mind. Where would they stay? How would they do this? How did he even get cancer?
A social worker at Jefferson suggested Nick’s House to the Ronchi’s. Nick’s House would allow Colleen to stay with Rich while he undergoes treatment instead of her making daily trips down the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
“It’s a blessing to be here. We live almost three hours away so this was really convenient. It’s a home like atmosphere and that’s what we wanted.” said Colleen.
The couple packed their bags and headed for Swarthmore where they would spend the next 3 and a half months while Rich received cancer treatment at Jefferson. Both Rich and Colleen are retired so it was an extra blessing that neither of them had to worry about taking a leave from work, so it was one less stress during an already stressful situation.
“A cancer diagnosis hits every family hard so it should come as no wonder that my brother and I felt helpless, all we wanted to do was to help.” said Lindsay Ronchi.
Rich underwent 5 rounds of chemo but would need a bone marrow transplant. This was Lindsay’s opportunity to help her Dad. She was his match. Lindsay headed down from New York to Swarthmore where she would spend 8 days at Nick’s House while harvesting her bone marrow for the transplant.
“We are thankful everyday that I was a match and also so thankful to Nick’s House that we could be together during this time. We both live far away from treatment in Philly and you guys helped extend his life but also extended our family with Nicks House. The people we have met will be with us always.” remarked Lindsay.
Rich received his bone marrow transplant on August 8th, everything went well until they experienced a setback that would change the course of his treatment.
The next day Rich’s tongue swelled and cut off his airway. Colleen woke up to a phone call at 4:30am from a nurse telling her to get to Jefferson immediately; they had to intubate him. Rich was on a ventilator for 4 weeks.
The entire month of August is a blur for him, he has no memory of it. Colleen sat by his side every single day, praying that he would bounce back. Cheryl Colleluori knew exactly how Colleen felt seeing her husband on a ventilator, knowing the exact emotions she felt. Scared, anxious, worried.. “Cheryl said he’s going to be ok. She’s seen this before, it’s reassuring. She lost her son Nick and that’s why we are able to sit here today.” said Colleen.
Rich isn’t the most patient man, so playing the waiting game with cancer hasn’t been the easiest thing for him. “The hardest thing of this whole ordeal has been setbacks. You’re told what’s going to happen but until you actually realize the reality of it, it isn’t always as planned.” said Rich.
On September 5th, Rich was able to switch from a tube to a trach and the first thing he said to his wife was “Hey babe”. For Colleen, it was such a relief and even though for the first few days he didn’t stop talking due to the steroids, she was glad she had her witty husband back.
“You read it in the books, they school you in classes and tell you what they’re going to do and what will happen. I know that this stuff can happen but it’s watching him actually go through this is what makes this so hard. You can’t give people a dose of reality, it’s like anything you just have to go through it.” Colleen said.
HEADstrong and Nick’s House has been a blessing for the Ronchi’s in more ways than one. Not only did Nick’s House allow the couple to stay together during treatment but Colleen has been taken care of as well. “I’m very comfortable here, whoever comes in you have this common link; someone you love is sick. Everyone handles it differently but they handle it with grace and humor. Nobody is like woe is me.” stated Colleen.
If all goes as planned, Rich has a few more appointments at Jefferson but should be discharged by the end of the month. Going through this whole ordeal has made Colleen more inclined to ask people how they’re doing. “This whole experience has taught me that most people who are dealing with cancer they want to talk about it” remarked Colleen.
45 years ago when Colleen and Rich made those vows to each other, they never thought they would be in the position that they found themselves in this year. But they stood by each others side in sickness and in health and truly proved that with love, you can overcome anything, even a cancer diagnosis.