Donna moved from Iowa to Montana to attend Rocky Mountain College in Billings 17 years ago, anticipating a college degree and a career. But when her funds ran out, she left school to go to work. She hopped from job to job until 2014, when she found her passion for customer service working at Walgreens. Her duties ranged from cashiering to covering the photo counter and serving as a pharmacy cashier. Her very visual memory also endeared her to both customers and management because she knew where everything was!
Donna had it all. She was loving her job, moving up the corporate ladder and perfecting her culinary skills. But, in March 2018, her world changed when an MRI showed a golf-ball-sized tumor on her brain. Surgery removed most of the tumor and Donna was diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma – a rare malignant brain tumor. Donna recovered and was able to resume her work. One year later, in October 2019, she required a second brain surgery, and, while the tumor was successfully removed, complications including untangling the ocular nerves caused a stroke, leaving Donna paralyzed on her left side and unable to speak.
One week after surgery, she was transferred to The Rehabilitation Hospital of Montana. This time she was prepared. Following her first brain surgery, Donna created her own medical library, supplementing borrowed books from the Billings Public Library with purchased books. While recuperating from her second surgery, Donna pored over these books, convinced she could heal faster by using her body as a healing tool. For the next two months she worked on rehabilitation. She recovered her speech by reading aloud to a speech therapist every recipe from a cookbook she was compiling for publication. Because she is left-handed, Donna taught herself to write with her right hand. And along with a therapist working to regain the use of her legs, Donna, initiated a grueling laps regime around the hospital.
On November 17, 2019, Donna was released. One month later, a third tumor was discovered. This time, Donna was given chemo pills designed to target a genetic marker within the tumor itself, stabilizing the cancer. To date, the marker has been a success.
Brain cancer has given Donna a new perspective on life, “Before surgery,” she said, “life was good, but since my surgeries, every sunrise reminds me there is so much life to be had.”
Donna added this advice for others dealing with disabilities: “It is all just life. We either learn from it and share so others learn, or we run scared our entire lives by refusing to grow.” Donna lives by her words, and it is clear she is not running anywhere. She is too busy handing out smiles.