Chenowith is ready to get back to work

Councilwoman won't let leukemia keep her from serving others

June 11, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

One month after being rushed to the hospital after learning she had leukemia, Councilwoman Veronica "Roni" L. Chenowith recently returned home sporting a bald head and moving with a walker.

But as she talks about her plans for the future, she seems as vibrant and focused as ever.

Between grueling chemotherapy sessions, the Republican from Fallston answered constituent calls placed to her council office and chatted on the phone with fellow politicians.

"It was like a brick house fell on my head," Chenowith, 68, said of her diagnosis. "But I never said I wouldn't be back. I just don't give up that easily."

Just a week out of Johns Hopkins Hospital, Chenowith is ready to get back to business, starting with her anticipated attendance at this week's County Council meeting.

Perhaps more surprising, however, Chenowith, a Republican, said she plans to make another stop this week - at the county Board of Elections, where she will file to run for another four-year term.

"That's exactly what I would expect from Roni," said Council President Robert S. Wagner, who has served with Chenowith since she was first elected in 1994. "She's certainly a strong lady, no question about it."

On April 26, Chenowith visited her physician complaining of fatigue. Tests showed her white blood cell count was through the roof.

"He said, `We've got a problem, gal,'" she recalls the doctor telling her.

Additional blood work showed she had lymphocytic leukemia, a blood and bone marrow disease in which a large number of stem cells develop into a type of white blood cell that is not able to fight infection well.

In political circles, word circulated that the diagnosis was bleak - some worried she might not make it through the month. Then, Chenowith issued a news release declaring she would return the week of May 18, the start of budget deliberations.

The budget vote came and went, with the council barely mustering a quorum due to the absences three members, including Chenowith, and speculation intensified about her condition.

When asked about that ambitious return date, Chenowith said she can't remember making such a vow.

"That might've been one of those days I was loopy" from treatment, she said jokingly.

Meanwhile, Chenowith was trying to get back to business even while she was in the hospital. She was taking more visitors and lined "Get Well" cards and Beanie Babies - she has a collection of more than 600 - on a windowsill.

But she couldn't do everything from a hospital bed. For the first time in 11 years, she was unable to give a commencement address at Fallston High School.

She also had to miss a ceremony for the recipient of a memorial Eagle Scout scholarship established in memory of her son, Jeffrey, who was killed in an arson in 1994.

Family factor

Back then, Chenowith ran a home-building business with her husband and had decided to make her first run for office. Her son was killed two weeks before the election.

The pain Jeffrey's death caused the family - which has played a major factor in her work with youngsters - weighed heavily in her mind during her treatment, she said.

"That was the biggest thing that made me determined to fight this. I know what that did to the three of us, and I didn't want to see it happen again," she said of her husband, Joseph, 70, and son, Joseph Jr., 40. "I've been to hell and back - this is a cakewalk, I said to myself. Nothing life can throw at me can hurt as much as losing my son."

Aspirations

But running for another four-year term has raised some eyebrows.

There is no cure for the disease, and she is vague when talking about her prospects. She travels to Baltimore three times a week for chemotherapy.

"I believe in the power of prayer. The mind is a giant healing mechanism. That's half the battle," she said. "Doctors can only do so much. I'm right where they want me to be, but there are no guarantees."

There are still things she wants to accomplish as a politician, she said. In the kitchen of her Fallston home, she beams while talking about Eagle Scouts and her work with parks and recreation.

She smiles as she recalls the young doctor who visited her as she recovered - a girl who eight years earlier had told Chenowith of her dreams of becoming a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"The cancer didn't destroy my brain. I didn't destroy my ability to work my mouth, to talk to people and to solve problems," Chenowith said. "Should I sit in a chair and wallow in self-pity?"

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.