Breast cancer survivor 'always game to go' hunting

Posted October 11, 2011 at 3:12 pm
Ronalee pheasant w Fritsches.psd

Ronalee and Chris Johnsen, left, and Lisa and Joe Fritzsche sit behind their pheasants shot during a past year’s opening weekend. Photo submitted


When Ronalee Johnsen, of rural Wessington, who is an avid and accomplished hunter, thinks of October, she thinks of the colorful changing of seasons, the harvest, pheasant huntingand, because she is a breast cancer survivorthe fact that it is also, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Ronalee was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly before the 2010 pheasant season began. After missing the last year’s entire hunting season, Ronalee is glad that life is getting back to normal for her and her family. She is also eager to get out there this coming weekend to experience the hunt. When there is a time that you cannot do something you enjoy, you really learn to appreciate it, said Ronalee.

Ronalee and her husband, Chris, always look forward to opening weekend of the pheasant season as a time for hunting in the Wessington area with friends. However, last year was a little different than most. I had surgery on October 13 and came home the night before opening day, said Ronalee. There were 19 people at our place.

Had she not been feeling so poorly, Ronalee may have been disappointed that she couldn’t hunt. She had very little energy and what she did have went to her kids and husband. Though Ronalee knew hunting would not be a high priority for some time, she did convince her doctor to locate her port, through which the chemo is administered, on the left side of her upper chest. She is right handed and did not want the port’s location to interfere with her ability to shoot. As it turns out, Ronalee was able to do some target practice over the winter months.

Ronalee came to understand the role proper rest plays in healing from cancer surgery and the effects of chemotherapy. I felt better when I was well rested, said Ronalee, so I tried to get 10-12 hours of sleep a night as often as I could.

Less than a year after her diagnosis, and only a couple of months after chemotherapy ended, Ronalee was able to go goose hunting with Chris and her son, Ryland. A couple of weeks ago, they also hunted antelope and turkey in the Black Hills. When you can’t do something, and then you can, it feels fabulous! enthused Ronalee.

Hunting has always been a part of Ronalee’s life. Raised in a family where both parents enjoyed hunting, she has many fond memories of coming to Wessington to hunt pheasants.

After taking a hunters’ safety course, Ronalee participated in her first hunt at age 12. From that time on, you could say she was hooked on hunting.

While hunting pheasant has always been fun for Ronalee, she found a certain attraction in going after bigger game. Having shot her first deer soon after graduating from high school, she has bagged deer in Montana, Minnesota, and South Dakota. Ronalee also hunted elk in Montana with her husband and son.

Ronalee has also got a bit of a penchant for going after the wild and dangerous. When she was five months pregnant with her youngest daughter, she and her husband went archery hunting bear in California. Ronalee also hunted bear in northern Minnesota, near Duluth, where she lived at the time.

Perhaps her biggest thrill-states side, anyway-is successfully hunting mountain lion in Nevada.

Ronalee and Chris have been hunting together since they met 14 years ago. Chris is even more of an avid hunter than I am, said Ronalee. Hunting is our quiet time together.

About five years ago, Ronalee was able to realize her dream to hunt in South Africa. Though Chris wasn’t interested in going to Africa, when the opportunity arose, he urged Ronalee to go.

The walls of their home are now adorned with the eight different exotic animals she shot during her two-week stay: gemsbok, kudu, black wildebeest, black springbok, common springbok, warthog, bushbuck, and impala.

The Johnsen family has spent a lot of memorable times together, combining camping and hunting in some of the most beautiful areas of the country. Hunting is a family thing, said Ronalee. All my hunting has been done with family, except for when I left them all home when I went to South Africa.

Spending the better part of a year battling cancer was not what Ronalee ever expected, because breast cancer doesn’t run in her family. She is glad she didn’t put off going to the doctor for her annual checkup, which included a mammogram.

Pin-point calcifications that would not have been felt during a regular breast exam were discovered, said Ronalee. I cannot over emphasize the importance of having a mammogram. Early detection is the key to successful treatment.

Ronalee recently went in for her first three-month post chemotherapy checkup, and was happy to receive a good report. She also had her port removed, signaling the end of chemotherapy. For the next three years, Ronalee will continue to be checked every three months to assure her good health is continuing.

Though Ronalee still gets fatigued quite easily, she can’t wait to come home from work, as in years past, grab her gun and the girls and get a little pheasant hunting in before supper. I am always game to go! said Ronalee.

While there are presently no plans in the works for a future hunting trip, Ronalee says she and Chris hope to go caribou hunting in Alaska some day.


CHRIS and Ronalee Johnsen hold up the head of a mule deer bagged in the Black Hills. Photo submitted


RONALEE JOHNSEN poses behind a zudu she shot in South Africa. Photo submitted