by LAURA HAYES
On this particular Saturday afternoon, the sun is bright and warm, shining over West Ninth Street. In the driveway of Bruce and June Malenke’s home there is a large white tent, with music and laughter pouring from inside as friends and family gather for a special celebration.
June was diagnosed with stage-four liver cancer last June. Her oncologist gave her six months to live if she didn’t seek chemotherapy treatment. Between aggressive chemotherapy treatments every three weeks and the support of her family, June is here and able to celebrate still being here with her family and friends one year later.
She’s been able to spend time with her grandchildren, and see her son get married — in fact, in the very same place her family held a block party in June’s honor.
June and her three siblings were raised by their grandmother on a farm near Albert Lea.
For 25 and a half years, June worked at Winona’s TRW Automotive on the assembly line.
June and Bruce have been married for 42 years, and the pair had daughter, Heather Fini, and son, Travis, Malenke. “[Fini] made me a grandma at 41 or 42,” June jokes.
Since the birth of Fini’s daughter, the Malenke clan grew by five grandchildren.
In 2006, June was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her cancer wasn’t fast growing, and June didn’t seek chemotherapy or radiation. Several years later, cancer appeared in her other breast. “I didn’t want to do chemo, but [the doctors] suggested that I do,” June said.
In the end, June decided not to undergo chemotherapy. She had had a friend who was diagnosed with cancer and underwent chemotherapy for two years who ended up still passing away, Bruce said. Also, doctors had told June that if she didn’t undergo chemotherapy that there would be only a 10 percent chance that the cancer would return. “If it had been a 50 or 60 percent chance, she would have done it then,” Fini added.
Fast forward three years later, in April, Bruce retired and several days later Fini’s family took the pair to Paris for seven days for their anniversary. “That’s what [Fini] said six months before the trip when she was planning [it]. She goes, ‘Me and [her husband] had been over to Paris a few times and we’ve always wanted to take you and mom. If something ever happened to the two of you, I would regret not taking you.'"
Bruce and June spent two months visiting Fini and her family in California. The couple returned on June 3. “On the fifth, June got a pain in her side,” Bruce said.
“I couldn’t even lay down,” June recalled. Bruce explained that they thought it was gallstone.
“She went to the ER, and they did a CAT scan and said they needed to do a biopsy and said that she had stage-four liver cancer and 14 tumors on her liver,” Bruce said. June asked her doctor how long she had to live. Without chemotherapy, the doctor gave her six months. “She said, ‘You wouldn’t see Christmas,’” Bruce said. The doctor estimated that with chemotherapy, June could have around two years more with her family.
She made the decision to undergo chemotherapy. One year later, June is still here and sits with her family beneath a tent in the driveway of their family home while her grandkids run back and forth under the hot summer sun and friends and neighbors intermingle as a band tunes instruments for a benefit celebration in her honor. After a recent CAT scan, June and her family learned that the tumors are still shrinking after chemotherapy — a cocktail of three different bags, two of which target June’s cancer specifically and a third that lowers her white blood cell count.
After getting pneumonia, her oncologist decided to forego the third bag, which June said made her sick, unable to taste food and had her living on oranges and yogurt. “I’m just really glad to be here. I’m glad I can taste food. I’m glad I can be here. It’s going to be nice to see all of my friends from work,” June said.
Every treatment that she gets shrinks the tumors more. “The people that I know that have had cancer and experienced this said that when you feel the pain, that’s the cancer dying on me,” June said.
According to Fini, even with her tumors shrinking, the oncologist projects that June could have six to 18 more months to live. “I do want to see California again, though. That’s one more dream of mine,” June said.
Team Junebug is seeking donations to help pay for June’s medical bills. To donate, visit www.myevent.com/teamjunebugbenefit.