Carson City woman buoyed through cancer by friends, community

Shannon Litz/Nevada Appeal

Shannon Litz/Nevada Appeal

Tiffani Barber-Bonaldi is starting to lose her hair. She knew it was coming since she started a more aggressive round of chemotherapy last month to battle the cancerous brain tumor doctors found in December.

And rather than just wait, she’s going to take control of it herself.

“Watching your hair fall out makes you feel sick,” she said. “So I’d rather just shave it.”

Though she’s been trying to prepare — telling herself it’s just vanity — it won’t be easy to lose her long, brown locks. But she won’t face alone.

About 11 friends and associates have volunteered to go under the razor with Tiffani on Sunday. Even more will cut their hair to donate to Locks of Love, an organization that makes wigs for children suffering from medical baldness.

“To have them beside me doing it out of the goodness of their heart is amazing,” she said. “I’m encouraged and inspired.”

Tiffani was diagnosed in December with giant cell glioblastoma, a rapidly growing malignant brain tumor, after suffering two mild seizures at work. By the time doctors found it, she was already in stage 4.

It took the 24-year-old athlete by complete surprise.

“It was kind of surreal, especially because I felt normal the day before,” she said.

A week later, she was in surgery, where a portion of her head had to be shaved. Then she started her first round of chemotherapy and radiation. After six weeks, she took a month off and now travels to Stanford’s Cancer Center every two weeks for intravenous chemotherapy.

While the treatments can make her tired and nauseated, especially at night, she keeps her life as normal as possible.

She continues to work three or four days a week styling hair at Salon Chocolat and teaches three classes a week at Carson City CrossFit.

The 2007 Carson High School graduate played softball and basketball in high school, as well as running. Not only does she instruct the high-intensity CrossFit workouts, she also participates in them.

“This is where my heart is,” she said. “I’d go crazy if I couldn’t come here. I’d rather be sick and be here than be sick and be at home. I’ve always been busy and active.”

Childhood friend and teammate Bethany Deacy will be shaving her head with Tiffani on Sunday.

“She’s been in my life forever,” Bethany said. “This is one thing I can do for her.”

Bethany said Tiffani deserves the support offered by her friends, family and community.

“She’s gorgeous physically, and inside she’s the most selfless person you could ever meet,” Bethany said. “While at Stanford’s Cancer Center receiving her radiation treatments, she spent her spare time uplifting the children who also have cancer. She brought them cards and made them friendship bracelets.

“She’s just beautiful.”

Those shaving their heads during the Bald is Beautiful fundraiser are collecting sponsors to donate toward Tiffani’s medical and travel funds. The event will be 2 p.m. Sunday at Salon Chocolat, 177 W. Proctor St. A bake sale, along with airbrush tattoos and other activities will also be available.

“It is such a blessing,” Tiffani said. “It will be more like a celebration.”

And, Bethany said, she will have a support group through it all.

“All of us baldies will hang out together,” she said.

Tiffani will continue to undergo treatments for a year and said the likelihood is high that tumors will return within the next 18 to 24 months. It will take five years tumor free, she said, before she will be considered recovered.

But she tries not to think that far ahead.

“If anything, it’s made me have more value on the life I do have,” she said. “I try to live in each moment. It’s a gift.”

And she hopes to inspire others to do the same.

“Just because you have a diagnosis, doesn’t mean you have to live it,” she said. “I have cancer, but I am not cancer. It doesn’t define me.”


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