Donna Rodenberg of Bangor is no stranger to cancer.

Late last winter, just two days after Christmas, the 71-year-old grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. The discovery was first made a month earlier when during a routine mammogram a spot on her breast was found.

“When they told me, I didn’t think anything of it,” she said.

Donna said it was her third mammogram to turn up something suspicious, but it had never turned out to be cancer.

She was referred to Gundersen Health System in La Crosse where an ultrasound revealed another spot. The biopsy that followed revealed she had breast cancer.

“I was shocked,” Donna said. “I didn’t sleep the first night.”

The doctor ordered another MRI and biopsy. The good news, they’d caught it before it had spread to her lymph nodes; the bad, she might lose her breast.

Donna had hoped the doctors would be able to remove the cancerous tissue, but as her doctor came into the office, she could tell that wasn’t it wasn’t going to be that simple.

“I have some bad news,” were her doctor’s first words to her, Donna recalled. She was going to lose her breast.

Donna’s husband Duane, who attended every appointment with her, said it was hard going through this a second time, but it was something that had to be done.

“It turns your world upside down,” he said. “It’s kind of a rude awakening.”

Donna said she found strength from her daughter, Cheryl Kievel, who 20 years earlier was diagnosed a rare form of leukemia which affects her today.

The disease left her daughter unable to work and with little energy.

“The day she lost her hair was just tragic,” Donna said.

After two decades, her daughter continues to fight for her life, despite nearly daily injections and life-altering side effects.

“‘If she can keep going, you can keep going,’” Donna told herself over and over.

Donna said her daughter’s strength made it easy for her to move forward with the operation to remove her breast.

“She’s my rock. All I have to do is look at her and I have strength,” Donna said.

The procedure was a success; she wouldn’t have to endure the chemotherapy or radiation she’d watched daughter go through.

“I thought she did really well on handling it,” Duane said. “It’s not easy for anyone to deal with.”

Upon returning home, she got a visit from a few members of Sunshine on the Trail, a local cancer support group that helps families affected by cancer.

They brought her a blanket and talked with her for hours.

“They’ll sit and talk to you all that you need to talk,” she said. “Anything they can help you with they will.”

Donna had first been introduced to the group after her daughter was diagnosed and had come to love and support what the group stood for.

“They were so good,” she said. “They gave her (Kievel) anything she needed,” Donna said.

She said when the American Cancer Society calls she calmly informs them that she has her own support group here in Bangor.

“Everyone needs help,” Donna said.

This year, Donna has put together a Green Bay Packer’s basket which will be raffled off during the 10th annual Sunshine on the Trail fundraiser, Oct. 14.

Unfortunately for Donna, knee surgery a week before the fundraiser will prevent her from making her annual walk in support of the program.

In her place, her daughter and two of her grandchildren would make the walk.

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Tobias Mann is a reporter with the River Valley Media Group. He can be reached at tobias.mann@lee.net or at 608-791-8216.

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