"I had a grand mal seizure at 5 a.m. in the morning," she said last week. "My husband tried to stop the kicking I was doing in bed. Six EMS technicians were trying to restrain me while I was having a seizure. I was having a dream that I was being attacked violently."
The dream could have epitomized what for many people is a nightmare. Ronan, once a practicing attorney who was a resident of Holmdel and a native of Jersey City, woke up in a hospital where a doctor misdiagnosed her seizure as the result of a sinus infection.
"My husband was skeptical about the diagnosis and he consulted our dentist, who referred us to another doctor," said Ronan. The other doctor turned out to be Dr. Jeffrey Bruce, a neurosurgeon at the New York Presbyterian Hospital.
Bruce discovered that her seizure was the result of a brain tumor and went on to perform surgery to treat the tumor.
A brain tumor is a mass of cancerous cells that form on the brain. The symptoms of a brain tumor include seizures, headaches, nausea, vomiting and unbalanced coordination.
According to the National Brain Tumor Foundation in San Francisco, brain tumors are the leading causes of solid tumor death in children under age 20, now surpassing acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), and are the third leading cause of death from cancer in young adults ages 20 to 39.
Famous figures who have died as a result of a brain tumor include legendary composer George Gershwin, reggae superstar Bob Marley, and French film director Francois Truffaut.
Ronan was fine for several years until she suffered another seizure in 2001. This year, while undergoing a checkup for cancerous activity, another tumor was found.
The most recent discovery spurred Ronan to start the BRAIN (Brain Research and Innovations Now) Foundation out of her home in Holmdel.
"Lots of foundations are not by the survivors, but by relatives and friends," she said. "Most of them are dedicated to raising money for the treatments and education, while others are for support."
At least $8,000 has been raised by the foundation since it was created in March, which Ronan called "ironic" since it was a month before the latest discovery of a tumor.
Ronan said that she will receive more money from donors once she receives a letter from the IRS that will designate the foundation as a 501©3 organization.
To further the efforts toward fundraising and exposure for the foundation, Ronan and fellow Jersey City native Pat Lamb have organized a benefit comedy show that will take place on Oct. 10 at 2 p.m. on the campus of Hunter College, located in New York City on 68th Street between Lexington and Park avenues.
The brains behind the benefit event
The comedy show will spotlight not only local comedic talent but also bring attention to a dire medical issue. The performers will include Dr. Mark Allen Hertzberg, an ophthalmologist, comedian and author who will be the MC of the show, Chip Ambrogio, a contributor to the Daily Show and writer for top comics, Johnny Watson, who has appeared on Good Morning America and BET Comic View, Andy Hayward, a comic who performs on the college circuit, and Patrick Justin Fahey, a performer on the club and college circuit.
Lamb, a stand-up comic and cartoonist, is one of the organizers of the comedy event. A Bloomfield resident and Jersey City native, Lamb recalled his initial meeting with Ronan.
"Dale Hochstein, a real estate agent in Jersey City, is a friend of mine," he said. "Dale has been battling a brain tumor for 10 years. He knew Veronica through friends, and I went with Dale to Monmouth Park race track in July to meet Veronica. I didn't even know what Veronica looked like and Dale stepped away from me for 45 minutes. I had to try to find her amongst 12,000 people."
Lamb said that in the short time that he has known Ronan, he has been of awe of her.
"For someone who is going through chemo, she has handled it very well," he said. "I think that's really good when you're dealing with a life and death situation." Lamb cited her sense of humor as a trait that he appreciates.
Lamb also said that observing her inspired him to work with her to organize the comedy event.
The event will also have personal meaning for Lamb, as one of his older brothers was recently diagnosed with a benign brain tumor that was treated, but the incident still shocked Lamb.
"[My brother] is 55 years old, and my father died at the age of 54 from lung cancer," Lamb said. "My family has a history of it, so it's not a good feeling."
Ronan referred to Lamb as "a sweet guy" who has worked constantly on organizing the benefit show. She also looks forward to this event that is almost sold out, but there are a few tickets remaining.
All the proceeds will go to help research the work that is being done by her doctor to create a vaccine that that will treat the tumor directly.
"The vaccine is two years away from happening, but I will probably one of the first test cases," said Ronan.
For now, Ronan is undergoing chemotherapy for her recent bout with a brain tumor, and is talking pills that have only been available on the market recently. The side effects, however, have been problems with her gastro-intestinal system. But she doesn't take much pity on herself.
"Many of those who have bad brain tumors have not been as fortunate," she said. "I have to tell you I have a wonderful husband, my parents, they are supportive, and my sister has been constantly helping me. I have friends who are single who [have to be] their own advocate."
Ronan also had these words of advice for those like herself dealing with a brain tumor.
"No matter what any doctor tells you, if you need to get another opinion, pursue it further," she said. "I was always taught to trust doctors, but you have to address this aggressively because time is of the essence."
For more information, call Pat Lamb at (973) 943-0551 or Veronica Ronan at (732) 275-0324.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com