Longtime PRCA rodeo secretary Judy Ackley is back home again, working rodeos in the Columbia River Circuit after successfully undergoing brain cancer surgery and chemotherapy during the past seven months.
"Things are going great," said Ackley from the secretary's trailer at the Farm-City Pro Rodeo in Hermiston, Ore., on Aug. 14. "I feel really good. All my tests since have come back negative."
Ackley, 62, of Prineville, Ore., was diagnosed in October 2003 with an almond-sized tumor on her brain.
"I started getting some headaches, which I never used to get, and I was starting to forget some simple things," Ackley said. "I knew something was wrong. I went to my general doctor and told him that either I'm getting dementia or Alzheimer's. They did a CT scan and the next day told me to go directly to the hospital because they'd found a tumor on the brain, which was quite startling at the time."
Ackley underwent surgery during the third week of November. She then began chemotherapy, which took its toll on her mentally and physically.
The rodeo community, as it routinely does, responded. The Kitsap County Fair and Stampede in Bremerton, Wash., (a rodeo that Ackley has worked for more than two decades) held a benefit on May 22 and raised more than $40,000 for her growing medical bills.
"When Judy came to the benefit, she scared us pretty bad," said announcer Randy Corley, who with the rodeo committee helped organize the benefit. "But I tell you what, she looks 100 percent better now than I ever expected she would. She had a good time at the benefit, but the best time is getting to see Judy looking as good as she is."
The benefit meant a lot to Ackley, who is a fixture in the Columbia River Circuit.
"I got to see people I haven't seen for years," said Ackley, who used to live about 20 miles from Bremerton. "They did an awesome job."
Ackley returned to the arena exactly one month after her last chemotherapy treatment when she worked the rodeo in Stonyford, Calif., in early May.
Looking back now, Ackley said she's fortunate that things went so well with the surgery.
"I didn't realize that when they did the surgery that it could have affected my motor skills and speech," Ackley said. "I was very fortunate because it didn't."
Now, Ackley is back to her old self, having fun and giving friends like Corley a hard time.
"[My doctor] said 'Go on and live life now,'" she said.
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