Cry or cope? When cancer sent Peoria's Ronda Guyton into retirement, the choice was easy

PEORIA — Early retirement wasn’t something Ronda Guyton had planned on, but cancer has a way of changing plans.

A 28-year veteran of the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office, Guyton, 49, is retiring Aug. 31.

“My cancer is metastatic, and since there’s so much unknown and there’s no cure for cancer, I’ve decided I’m gonna spend whatever time I got left not working,” said Guyton.

A desire to help others

The superintendent of the Peoria County Jail for the last five years, Guyton worked her way up through the ranks, beginning as a corrections officer. When she was a deputy she did everything from field training to community policing, serving warrants and undercover work.

“I loved every minute of being here. Every job has its challenges, but this is what I’ve always wanted to do, since I was probably 12, 13 years old,” said Guyton, who grew up in south Peoria with a single mother suffering from mental illness. Guyton developed respect for the police when they intervened during periodic crises in her household.

“When the police showed up, everything seemed to be better. They solved whatever the issue was, even if it was temporary, that was a reprieve that I, at that young age, needed,” said Guyton. “I wanted to be that for someone else.”

Background:Chief jailer, deputy superintendent sworn in

Guyton has faced numerous difficulties in her life, but rather than letting them diminish her, she has risen above and used her experience to help others. As a law enforcement officer, Guyton’s experiences helped her connect with the people she served.

“I don’t know how much you know about me, but I was a teenaged mom, I got pregnant at 13,” said Guyton. “I have had so many life experiences, and those life experiences gave me the opportunity to have a different viewpoint when dealing and talking with people, whether it be the inflection in my voice, or the ability to share resources, because I knew the resources from volunteering in the community or being a benefactor of those resources.”

Breast cancer was another crisis which prompted Guyton to serve others. Shortly after being diagnosed in 2012, Guyton launched a non-profit organization called Living to Serve Foundation, Inc. to help connect women with health resources in the community. It’s an effort to change a startling statistic.

“Even today, with all that Komen and Cancer Care has done, we still have minority women dying of breast cancer at a higher rate than any other ethnic group,” said Guyton.

A relapse just short of 10 years cancer-free

Peoria Race for the Cure Chairperson Ronda Guyton dances her way up to the stage to speak before the race begins in Peoria on Saturday, May 7, 2016. (Photo: ANDY ABEYTA/JOURNAL STAR)

Cancer was the last thing on Guyton’s mind when she was diagnosed at the age of 39. She had no family history, and had lived a healthy lifestyle. Planning to don a bikini for her upcoming 40th birthday party in Miami, Guyton was scheduled to get a tummy tuck and breast enhancement. Her doctor suggested she get a mammogram before surgery. She was shocked when the test revealed ductal carcinoma in situ.

Guyton had a double mastectomy, and for many years her checkups came back clear. But last fall, just a few months short of her 10th year cancer-free, Guyton started feeling lumps in her reconstructed breasts.

“Initially my doctors thought it was fat necrosis … but they started getting bigger,” said Guyton.

Race for the Cure:Letters of love to Ronda Guyton from Graylin Guyton and Robert Donelson

An MRI revealed that the lumps were cancer, and a CT scan detected tumors in Guyton’s back.

Though Guyton has been very open about her cancer journey, the news of metastatic cancer took some time to digest. Initially, she only shared her diagnosis with her family and closest friends. In May, at the annual Race For the Cure event, Guyton was finally ready to share with a broader audience.

“I gave a very brief talk on the stage at Race for the Cure. That’s the first time I said it publicly, and then I posted it on my Facebook page,” said Guyton.

Making a difference

Having recently finished chemotherapy, Guyton is preparing for surgery in mid-August, and radiation a couple of months later. Guyton plans to address this next, difficult part of her journey in the same way she has dealt with previous struggles.

“We go through things for a lesson, and sometimes we figure out what it is, and sometimes we don’t,” she said. “And then the next thing is, what do you do with the information? You can either sit back and be depressed and cry about it, or you can make a difference. You can share the story; you can share your gifts and your talents to encourage and inspire someone else.”

Leslie Renken can be reached at (309) 370-5087 or lrenken@pjstar.com. Follow her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.

This article originally appeared on Journal Star: Cancer diagnosis leads to early retirement for Ronda Guyton of Peoria

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