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Teen regains life after bout with brain tumor

February 3, 2010

Raley Mae and her horse Harry

Raley Mae Radomske was all set to begin a new chapter in her life the summer of 2009 when the unthinkable happened.

A national rodeo champion, Radomske, 18, experienced a seizure as she was readying for her move from her hometown of Ellensburg, Wash. to Las Cruces, New Mexico to start college.      

Days after settling into her new home in New Mexico, an MRI revealed a startling blow.

I found out I had a brain tumor,” recalls Raley Mae, “That (news) will change your life forever.”

“We were crushed and very scared,” says her father Harland. “It (the tumor) was the size of a golf ball.”


 Horses have always been a huge part of Raley Mae Radomske’s world. Her parents Jody and Harland “Ske” Radomske own Venture Farms – Caribou Creek Ranch in Ellensburg where they raise and breed cutting, roping and barrel performance horses. 

 Following in her parents’ footsteps, Raley  Mae says she became enamored with horses at the tender age of three when her parents led her around on a little pony for the first time. She grew up learning horsemanship, cow cutting and rodeo from her parents who are both accomplished cutters.  Cutting is a competition that consists of a horse and rider and a herd of cows, where the rider (cutter) has to complete a specific amount of skills in a set amount of time.

                       Raley Mae went on to become a student leader and competitor in the sport of rodeo. In 2008, she was the National Student President of the National High School Rodeo Association (NHRSA) and was the organization’s National Student Vice President in 2007.  She earned four national rodeo championship titles including 2008 National High School All Around Champion Cowgirl.

             Her accomplishments earned her a full rodeo scholarship to attend New Mexico State University to major in Marketing.

             That was Raley Mae’s plan until she started experiencing seizures.

             “I had my first seizure in front of my Mom. I didn’t remember having a seizure. I just blacked out. I wouldn’t have known unless my Mom was there to witness it,” Raley Mae remembers.

             “It was really scary,” says Jody.  “I had never witnessed a seizure before and I just held her up so she did not hit the floor. I grabbed my phone and called 911.  Then she stopped and slowly started to respond to my questions to her. I was pretty panicked.”

             Raley Mae’s father said there were no telltale signs prior to the seizures that anything was wrong.  “She went to the national rodeo finals, attended conferences and ran meetings.  She competed in all her events,” says Harland who said he was worried his daughter might be epileptic when the seizures began.

             Harland said the family, which includes Raley Mae’s siblings Jason, 26, and Kyle, 20, wanted a second opinion.  Upon the suggestion of family friend Dr. Brian Chong, who is the Chair, Division of Vascular and Interventional Radiology at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona,  the Radomskes immediately travelled to Arizona to meet with Mayo Clinic surgeon Richard Zimmerman, M.D.


             Raley Mae’s tumor presented a strong challenge from the start. The tumor, characterized as a Choroid Plexus Papilloma, was large, accompanied by a large cyst and nestled deep in the left side of her brain.  Its location would eventually affect her speech and ability to understand both written and spoken language, explains Dr. Zimmerman, adding.  “That is especially troubling for a young woman starting college.” If left untreated, the tumor could have become life threatening.

             “This type of tumor is uncommon, and occurs in young children, but less so in adolescents,” says Dr. Zimmerman of this rare tumor for Raley Mae’s age group. He explained Raley Mae was able to function as long as she had because certain types of tumors initially grow slowly allowing the brain to adapt to its presence until a critical point is reached.   The Radomskes agreed Raley Mae’s surgery would be at Mayo Clinic.  “We arrived with the notion it (Mayo Clinic) was a superior facility.  We were impressed with the thoroughness,” says Harland.

             Dr. Zimmerman says he anticipated Raley Mae’s tumor to be benign, however a pathology report taken during her first surgery revealed her tumor was not typical.  “It appeared more cancerous than we thought,” Dr. Zimmerman recalls.

             Since the tumor was not benign as they had initially thought, Dr. Zimmerman says the game plan had to change.  Raley Mae and her family needed to know the risks involved with aggressively cutting deeper into the tumor and getting closer to the brain structures – risks that included stroke. 

                       Dr. Zimmerman said another MRI was taken to determine how much of the tumor was left and that the family opted to continue with an aggressive second surgery later that week to remove the rest of the tumor.

“Both Raley and her family were brave,” remembers Dr. Zimmerman. “They had faith in their religious beliefs and faith in Mayo Clinic”

During her next surgery, Raley Mae’s parents learned the tumor began to bleed heavily. 

 “My wife and I immediately asked for a pastor and we prayed with him (at Mayo Clinic) for five hours,” recalls Harland.

  “They (the staff) not only provided quality care, they really make you feel like they are interested. They are not just doing their jobs, they are really caring people.” 

 “Nora Vetto, the operating room nurse, was excellent in her job of reassuring us, letting us know what to expect, showing us compassion and helping us to maintain our confidence,” says Jody. “She genuinely cared. She was exceptional.”

 Upon waking from surgery Raley Mae wasn’t able to speak and was paralyzed on her right side.  “There were signs of hope the paralysis wouldn’t be permanent,” says Dr. Zimmerman.

A few days later, Raley Mae’s family and her team of Mayo Clinic caregivers experienced that  hope first hand.  After returning from dinner, Raley Mae’s parents and brother Jason saw her clench her right fist and raise her right leg in bed.

 “We walked into her ICU room and she showed us what she could do,” Jody remembers. “My husband and I started crying and praising the Lord. We were so overjoyed. It was such as happy moment. We felt like we were going to be alright now.”

 Raley Mae’s progress surprised even her doctors. 

 “There was no question we expected to see recovery, but to happen like this (so fast) was an uncommon phenomenon” says Dr. Zimmerman.


Raley Mae’s battle to regain her life as she knew it was only beginning.

 “She had a global deficit in function. She had difficulty with visual perception; she had difficulty communicating and needed help with self care and mobility,” recalls Carolyn Kinney, M.D., a specialist in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Mayo Clinic.

 “When I saw her the first day, she was in pain. She didn’t want to get up, she just wanted to sleep,” remembers Bernadette Luberda, a Mayo Clinic occupational therapist who was assigned to help Raley Mae with her daily rehabilitation.

 Raley Mae connected with Bernadette when she realized  they had something in common.  Bernadette overcame a brain tumor was she was 16 years old and could relate to the frustration Raley Mae was dealing with in having to re-learn basic life skills most people take for granted. 

 At the start of her treatment at Mayo Clinic’s inpatient rehabilitation unit, Raley Mae – a world class athlete – needed a walker to lean against to help her get around.  She needed to re-learn how to dress herself and complete once mundane tasks such as counting money, crafting an e-mail and applying the eyeliner she loved to wear.  What used to take mere minutes to do, now could take an hour or more.

 “Sometimes she would start crying. I would tell her it may take longer, but at least she was doing it herself. It was incredible to see her overcome the obstacles,” says Bernadette.

 Part of Raley Mae’s rehabilitation also included practicing her rodeo skills.  Her family brought her a roping dummy (fake calf) and lariat rope so she could practice roping and work on regaining her coordination. Raley Mae would practice her rodeo skills on a patio outside Mayo Clinic Hospital on the Phoenix campus.

 Bernadette says Raley Mae regularly shared her determination to help motivate Mayo Clinic’s other patients who were undergoing their own physical therapy.

 “We have a group called ‘the breakfast club’ of patients who need rehabilitation.  They would eat breakfast together every morning. Raley would sit at the middle of the table and talk to all the patients and encourage them.  She told them what she had been through and not to give up.  Everyone looked up to her,” says Bernadette.

 Raley Mae admits she is not positive all the time and still has moments when life’s daily struggles get her down.  But she says the heath scare has humbled her.  “It taught me be thankful for what I’ve got.”


 Raley Mae’s hard work in rehabilitation  paid off. After a month of living at Mayo Clinic, she was given the go ahead to return to New Mexico and resume her studies.

 “She is diligent and always had a hard work ethic She made a remarkable recovery and continues to make incredible progress,” says Dr. Kinney. 

 Since her tumor was characterized as  atypical (neither benign nor malignant) and  there is always a chance for recurrence, Dr. Zimmerman and the staff at Mayo Clinic are keeping a close watch on Raley Mae, requiring her to come in for regular check-ups every six months 

 Now 19, Raley Mae is in the midst of a busy semester at school, carrying a full courseload which she balances with the speech and physical therapy sessions that are provided to her at school.

 And she’s back in the saddle.  In fact, she’s even given Dr. Zimmerman a special tribute. Raley Mae re-named  her barrel horse “Dr. Z.”  after the doctor she credits with helping save her life.

 Raley Mae was cleared by her Mayo physicians last fall to ride Dr. Z and is working her way back up to being able to compete for her college rodeo team again.

 She says nothing was ever going to keep her away from riding.

 “It would be like trying to live without water,” says Raley Mae.

Please click on the following link to watch Raley Mae describe her care at Mayo Clinic.

Raley Mae’s story was submitted by Julie Janovsky-Mason a communications consultant at Mayo Clinic Arizona.

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Mayo Clinic Cancer Center team in Arizona completes whole human genome sequence on patient with blood cancer

November 25, 2009

The concept of personalized medical treatment based on a patient’s DNA is one small step closer to becoming a reality.

A Mayo Clinic Cancer Center team in Arizona recently completed its first whole human genome sequencing on a patient suffering from multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow.

In a matter of weeks, the Mayo Clinic team, led by hematologist Dr. Keith Stewart and Dr. Jan Egan, a post doctoral fellow, in conjunction with Dr. John Carpten and a team of researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in downtown Phoenix, completed multiple copies of a whole human genome sequence, capturing an entire snapshot of the patient’s bone marrow cancer cells through various stages of the disease.

“We were interested in establishing the reasons why cancer patients become resistant to chemotherapy drugs or alternatively, why they are sensitive to the drugs in the first place,” said Dr. Stewart, of the groundbreaking research project which sequenced approximately 60 billion different DNA bases in less than a month after the patient’s samples had been prepared. 

This genetic research project was a first for the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center and a key milestone on the way to individualized genome based cancer care.

While the practice of genomic sequencing has been around for nearly a decade, Dr. Stewart said this Mayo Clinic-led project was particularly unique in that genetic samples were gathered at four different time intervals over the course of about four years, ranging from the onset of the malignant cancer diagnosis to the patient’s third relapse of the disease.

“We think by studying the whole genome rather than one gene at a time, we’ll be able to pinpoint genetic mutations which make this cancer resistant to chemotherapy,” said Dr. Stewart, explaining this whole genome sequence has the potential to reveal clues which may help pave the way for the development of new cancer fighting drugs or circumvent resistance to current chemotherapy drugs.

Want to learn more? In the video below Dr. Stewart speaks about this groundbreaking project. 

This post was submitted by communications consultant

Julie Janovsky-Mason at Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

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Arizona Mom Recounts Battling Breast Cancer While Pregnant

October 19, 2009

Joan Dymand-Hintz was in her early 40’s when she became pregnant with her daughter. The happiness she and her husband Marc Hintz felt was short-lived. A week after learning she was pregnant, Joan, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based singer and mother of two sons, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Joan came to Mayo Clinic for a second opinion in hopes she would not have to terminate her pregnancy in order to treat the cancer.

Joan said her Mayo doctors, who included Dr. Donald Northfelt and Dr. Barbara Pockaj, gave her and her family hope. While pregnant, she had a mastectomy on her left breast and began chemotherapy. The Mayo Clinic team worked closely with Joan’s obstetrician from Scottsdale Healthcare.  Joan’s pregnancy was induced a month early so she could resume additional chemotherapy treatment.

The couple’s daughter , Elle Marie Faith, is now 17-months old and a happy and healthy child.

Joan still comes to the breast clinic at Mayo Clinic in Arizona for follow-up care and just started taking part in a clinical trial for a breast cancer vaccine.

Please click below to see Joan share her Mayo Clinic in Arizona experience.

This story was submitted by Julie Janovsky, Public Affairs communications consultant at Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

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Mayo fellow Zofia Nowicki, M.D., shares love of art with patients with exhibit at Mayo Clinic hospital

June 17, 2009


Dr. Zofia Nowicki has had a passion for art for as long as she can remember.

Growing up in an artistic and medical family in Florida (her mother is a professional artist and her father and brother are physicians), Dr. Nowicki, a fellow within Mayo Clinic’s radiology department completing a fellowship in Body MRI, has found many opportunities  to combine her love of art and science. (more…)

“Arctic Adventure” Coming to Mayo Clinic’s Scottsdale, Ariz campus March 27

March 16, 2009

Mayo Clinic’s Emeriti Association will kick off its 2009 Emeritus Adventure Series with a presentation on Antarctica, Friday, March 27.

Enjoy a virtual trip to this arctic continent with travelers Keith A. Kelly, M.D., David R. Sanderson, M.D. and Paul L. Schnur, M.D.

The lecture will take place from noon-1:00 p.m. at the Ashton B. Taylor auditorium at Mayo Clinic’s Scottsdale, Ariz campus. Mayo employees, patients and guests are welcome to bring their lunch.

Julie Janovsky is a Public Affairs Representative at Mayo Clinic.

New Marriott debuts at Mayo’s Phoenix, AZ campus

March 4, 2009


A 208-suite Residence Inn by Marriott recently made its debut at Mayo Clinic’s Phoenix campus. Located just west of Mayo Clinic Hospital, the Residence Inn Phoenix Desert View at Mayo Clinic was designed to be a “home away from home” for Mayo patients and their family members.   

The opening of this new Marriott hotel follows a Mayo Clinic tradition of having a Marriott hotel on each of its campuses for the convenience of patients.  There are Marriott hotels located at all three Mayo sites – Arizona, Rochester, Minn. and Jacksonville, Fla.  In addition to the newly opened hotel at Mayo’s Phoenix campus,  there is also a Courtyard by Marriott hotel located adjacent to the Mayo Clinic Building on Shea Boulevard in Scottsdale.

The new Residence Inn was developed and is owned by the Finvarb Group and will be managed and operated by Marriott International.

For additional information on the hotel’s full list of amenities, visit: this Web site or call (480) 563-1500.

Julie Janovsky is a Public Affairs representative at Mayo Clinic.

Helping Cancer Patients at Mayo Clinic Arizona

February 25, 2009

By Celeste “C.C.” Chervenka
My name is Celeste “C.C.” Chervenka and I am the American Cancer chervenka_celeste_m_6332_2x2Society Patient Navigator who supports Mayo Clinic Arizona patients who have cancer and their families. Through this partnership between the American Cancer Society and Mayo, I work one on one with cancer patients and their family members to provide information on American Cancer Society programs, wigs, prosthesis, local resources and answers to questions. All services offered through this site are provided at no charge.
Often times patients who have cancer become lost, as a result of their diagnosis and sometimes do not know where to turn. With programs onsite at the Mayo Clinic and resources readily available, patients have the opportunity to receive direct services by the direction of their healthcare provider.

I also work to provide the same services to patients who have cancer out of the Mayo Hospital. With the support of many dedicated volunteers, all patients can receive American Cancer Society services and support, free of charge.

The American Cancer Society welcomes all Mayo Clinic staff and patients to visit the Patient Navigation sites – at Mayo Clinic, located in the Patient Library on the concourse level near the gift shop and at the Mayo Hospital volunteer site located at the Mayo Clinic Specialty Building on the concourse level in the radiation/oncology area.

For more information about Patient Navigation at Mayo Clinic, please call me at 480-301-5990 or e-mail

Celeste Chervenka is an American Cancer Society Patient Navigator, based at Mayo Clinic Arizona.