Memphis-area Race For The Cure participant Tonya Lyons breaks her three-year silence about the ‘untold story’ of breast cancer


Dr. Tonya Lyons, owner of New Image Family Dentistry in Southeast Memphis, was declared cancer-free exactly four months after she had been diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2009. She is a fixture in the Susan G. Komen 5K Race For The Cure that will take place Saturday morning at Saddle Creek in East Memphis. (Photo by Erica Coleman)

Two weeks ago, Dr. Tonya Lyons attended a seminar on Breast Cancer Awareness at a nearby church in Southaven, Miss. Considering she is a longtime health professional, she sensed it would be just another informative session in which she would acquire some additional knowledge to share with others who are perhaps fighting the dreaded disease.

But what she and others discovered during the brief session was something Lyons admittedly will remember for the rest of her life.

A breast cancer patient stood up and spoke about how her husband, who isn’t experiencing any form of cancer, would routinely convince doctors to allow him to sign a release form and join his wife in the radiation machine whenever she went in for treatment.

Lyons, clinging to the edge of her seat, was in awe as the woman continued to share what apparently was an emotional story with the audience.

“That blessed me,” Lyons said. “But my situation was not like that. “You’re like, ‘What was so wrong with me that my situation didn’t turn out like that?’”

That the woman felt it was the appropriate setting to break her silence about a seemingly personal situation that left a majority of the attendees fighting back tears, Lyons sensed it was time that she break hers.

Sitting in a conference room Monday afternoon at her New Image Family Dentistry facility in Southeast Memphis on what would have been her thirteenth wedding anniversary, Lyons told MemphiSport Magazine during its salute of Breast Cancer Awareness how her husband, former pastor Bill Anderson, abandoned their marriage within months of their tenth anniversary. Lyons, who has two children with Anderson, found it difficult to come to grips with what had transpired, in part because doctors had declared her cancer free at the time.

“He said, ‘We’re going to beat it,’” said Lyons, when asked what was her husband’s initial reaction after learning she had been stricken by breast cancer. “And he said we’ve got to tell the church. And then he preached on, ‘This Battle Is Not Yours, It’s The Lord’s.’”

Lyons said she even recalls days after she had been diagnosed how she and her husband were locked “arm in arm” as they paced back and forth across the pulpit, as if to say that they would persevere during her battle with the disease. Five months later, however, Lyons’ husband chose to go his separate way, leaving his wife to care after their two children who, at the time, were two and six years old.

Anderson eventually resigned as pastor of the East Memphis church he and his wife had established along with 40 individuals in June 2002.

“I thought I knew what I had,” Lyons said as she prepares to participate in the Susan G. Komen 5K Race For The Cure at Saddle Creek Saturday at 8 a.m. “He had been a good husband for almost 10 years. So getting sick was the last thing I thought would have caused that. Not only did I feel deceived, but the church felt deceived.”

Lyons, in fact, said that while speaking publicly for the first time about her broken marriage — the divorce is pending and is expected to be final by month’s end — is not an attempt to bring about criticism to her estranged husband, she stressed she is only revealing what she describes as the “untold story” surrounding married women who become breast cancer victims.

Things are holding up well nowadays for Lyons, although she battled breast cancer and faced divorce simultaneously in 2009. During last year’s Race For The Cure event, Lyons posed for a photo with several members of the University of Memphis women’s basketball team. (Photo by Kelli Nicole Anderson)

“I actually did some (online) studies,” Lyons explains.

What she discovered, she said, was that seven out of 10 married women who become diagnosed with breast cancer ultimately witness their marriage end in divorce.

“I guess spiritually, you look at it like, ‘Wow!’ Especially with him being a pastor. “I had, really, almost two trials, two tragedies going on at the same time. In the midst of my sickness, my spouse couldn’t deal with me being sick. In his mind, he had written me off.”

Lyons, who is a native of Cairo, Ill. and has been practicing dentistry in Memphis for the past 18 years since graduating from Jackson State University, learned she had been diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2009 when she decided she needed to lose weight. While in the shower one morning, she discovered a lump on her breast, which prompted her to schedule a visit with her physician.

Oddly, she had an annual exam performed by her primary specialist 17 days prior to meeting with a physician. But according to her, her doctor “missed the lump.” Fortunately for Lyons, she managed to reduce her weight by 35 pounds over three months through dieting and regular exercise. That’s because doctors informed her had she not lost weight, it would have been difficult to detect the lump, which could have potentially increased the risk of her entering Stage 4 of breast cancer.

In other words, the cancer could have spread throughout other areas of her body, most notably the bones, brains, lungs, and liver.

After doctors located the lump, Lyons was at Stage 2, a slightly more advanced form of breast cancer, although the cancer customarily had not spread to a distant part of the body. Lyons sensed her diagnosis had stemmed from having four miscarriages between 1999 and 2006 or from giving birth during what she deems a late stage in her life.

She gave birth to her first child when she was 35, her second when she was 40.


Despite an array of hardships in recent years, Lyons said she is as happy as she has been is some time. “Life is good now, even after divorce, even after breast cancer,” she said. (Photo by Kelli Nicole Anderson)

“They were like, ‘Come back in two weeks for your biopsy,’” Lyons said. “The radiologist knew what he was looking at when he asked me did anyone drive with me to have the mammogram. Being a health professional, I knew that he knew it was cancer. It was a tremendous amount of fear. When you hear the word cancer, you automatically think that you’re going to die. I called one of my distant cousins in Jackson (Miss.), who is an 11-year (breast cancer) survivor, and she told me to relax, breath, and that it’s not a death sentence.”

Still, Lyons’ husband, whose mother died of colon cancer in January 2000, wasn’t convinced that his wife would survive what undoubtedly was the biggest crisis during their marriage. The couple, in fact, attempted to salvage their union, traveling as far as to Los Angeles for counseling.

In reality, the flight to L. A. was a huge time-waster, of sorts.

“He started crying when the doctors said I was cancer free,” Lyons said. “He told the (marriage) counselor he stayed those months because he was waiting for me to die.”

Anderson, one of Memphis’ most successful young pastors at the time, abandoned his family roughly one month after his wife had taken her final round of chemotherapy. Prior to his marriage to Lyons, he had been married three previous times.

Consequently, Lyons’ mother, Martha Sanders, became her primary care-giver. And, with the support of fellow church members, other family members, and close acquaintances, she ultimately weathered the storm of arguably the most tumultuous moments of her life.

Surely, the healing process seemed downright unbearable at times, Lyons admits. But just like her four-month battle with breast cancer, she overcame it.

Never mind that she and her husband would have celebrated 13 years of marriage on Monday.

“I’m thinking more so about how God is,” Lyons said as she sat back in her chair, wiping away tears. “When God said He wanted me to be a spokesperson for something, I thought it was going to be for miscarriages. Life is good for me now even after divorce, even after cancer. I’m just loving life.”

Loving life, as she quickly pointed out, certainly isn’t a time-waster.

Not by a long shot.

Andre Johnson is a regular  contributor for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.


  1. Beautiful story. Thanks for telling it so well. kudos to Dr. Lyons for surviving, thriving and having the courage to share a very personal story,

  2. Thank God she survived cancer, however, this is a sports column and not a woe its me, there are always 2 sides to every story and for thus dentist to be able to bash her husband and him not to be able to defend himself is simply unfair, what goes around comes right back around, be careful the seeds you continue to sow! IF you are right about it God will take care of the matter, but poor lady sounds like she is mourning the marriage and not celebrating the victory of being cancer free.

  3. Very well written story! Many people don’t realize that people who struggle with cancer also have other struggles right along with it. This is a great story about faith. I know of several couples who struggled in their marriages and the battle with cancer brought them closer. I understand how her husband may have felt too; it’s similar to how some couples drift apart when they lose a child. I don’t think people should view this as her bashing her husband. I am sure he has a testimony too. I think this will help many women see that no matter what situation they have to face, God will see them through. Thanks for sharing this.

  4. Yes, I agree T Young! I think that was very distasteful tangela but I guess all are
    entitled to their opinion no matter how warped! It is a very inspiring account of what one woman survived and overcame! I applaud Dr Lyons for her participation in the Susan G Komen 5k race in support of all survivors! (I would say that’s WHY it is on the sports page) and the only woe I heard in this article is the black eye the devil sustained in trying to
    this woman of God! I hear VICTORY for Dr Lyons and so many others that are battling cancer with or without spousal support! :)

  5. Rosalee jones says:

    My heart goes out to this lady for her survival. However, there appears to be alot more focus on the husband vs the survival of cancer. As a divorcee, my husband left me and it was like a death. Yet as the mother of his children and him being the man I loved tremendously for a number of years, I would have never thought to drag his name through the mud like this! I agree with Tangela. What is gained by such repulsive remarks about the details of the husband’s mother, previous marriages or counseling sessions. It appears she’s still grieving about the marriage and we didn’t get to see the true survivor. The under lining main idea appears to be bitterness” I pray she finds the peace she seeks.

    • Tee Jones says:

      noobody dragging Bill name through the mud. I wish y’all would stfu! its more than an excerpt on breast cancer its “the untold story”. her marriage had alot to do with this battle. shes at peace so shut the hell up

  6. tonita derrickson says:

    In sprite of the situation, Dr.Lyons you will have a greater testimony you are a survivor millions did not make it..pray for healing of the heart and my the lord’s peace rest on you.

  7. I Corinthians 10:13 says there has no temptation taken you, such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will with the temptation make ye a way of escape that ye may be able to bear it. This verse simply says “not trial has come upon you, that some other hasnt faced”, but God is faithful and will not place more on you than you can bare, but take that trial, bless you to endure that trial then bring you out. The Lord Jesus is the way and the only way of escape. Be blessed ladies. Be encouraged and lets pray for our men because they will have to answer to GOD! May God have mercy.

  8. S. Stevenson says:

    Just came across this story, it’s a testimony for my friend! I have been in love with this lady for 19 years! I pray that God bless her and keep her forever. You will never be alone! Your friend S.S.

  9. Penny Thomas says:

    It is always great to hear a story of survival, yet details of her marriage shouldn’t have been shared. Especially since this supposedly “untold story” is fragmented. She is still bitter about how good ol’ Pastor Bill ran through her money and the women in the church!!! Once being healed from breast cancer why dwell on a deadbeat husband that seems to be the “true cancer” that is still plaguing Lyons today!!! Every time I’ve heard her say anything as it relates to her having breast cancer Bill name and how he left her is mentioned. Tangela, Rosalee….I, too agree!

  10. Karen Thomas says:

    This story started out very well written and with the reader truly being engaged. However, it takes a sad turn when the husband name is mentioned and who he is. To the author had you ever considered getting the husband’s side of this story? Or did you base everything on Ms Lyons? We have all fallen short in some area of life….have we not? And true believers and survivors know that we must often leave some things at the alter…in particular those who have hurt us or those that we feel have abandoned us. You have children by this man and when they read this in years to come….how will it leave them feeling? Let love have its way in your heart Ms Lyons and hopefully since this was written in 2012, your outlook has changed. But maybe not since you are still directing people to this article.

  11. Where is the comment I posted regarding this article? Why isn’t it posted. Thank you.

  12. Adrienne Wells says:

    She is still bitter in 2014. You can tell my her facebook posts. LOL

  13. All the women taking Bill’s side are probably the side pieces

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