By Jennifer L.W. Fink
It was almost Christmas 2011 when Kate Liebenow found the lump in her breast.
Everyone told her the lump was probably nothing. After all, she was a healthy 32-year-old mother of two. Breast cancer wasn’t part of her family tree. The lump, everyone said, was probably nothing — a cyst, maybe — and the odds supported their assumption. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a 30-year-old woman has a 1 in 227 chance of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years. Statistically-speaking, Liebenow was more likely to match 4 numbers in Wisconsin’s Supercash Lottery than to develop breast cancer.
But on January 6, 2012, a doctor entered the room where Kate and her husband, Jason, waited and changed their lives forever.
“’I didn’t expect to tell you this,’ he said, ‘but it’s cancer,’” recalls Liebenow. “From the look on his face, you could tell he was shocked. He didn’t expect it either.”
Cancer on the Side
Liebenow was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive and often difficult to treat form of the disease. The only good news: it hadn’t yet spread beyond her breast.
Liebenow underwent a double mastectomy and reconstruction in February 2012. The cancer was confined to her left breast, but she opted to have her right breast removed prophylactically. “I just wanted to get rid of it all,” Liebenow says.
The healing & reconstruction process was painful, but Liebenow didn’t dwell on the pain. “Don’t get me wrong, it hurt,” she says. “Through the whole thing, my attitude was that this was what I needed to do. This is just what we need to do to move on with life.”
Days after her surgery, Liebenow, manager of Main Street Mayville, was downtown again. In fact, she worked at Main Street Mayville and Wings Over Wisconsin throughout her cancer treatment. “I didn’t want to just sit home and think ‘I have cancer,’” Liebenow says. “I’d rather come to work and do something versus sitting home and wallowing in my own pity.”
Besides, life doesn’t stop for a busy mom of two. Liebenow’s daughter, Shelby, was nine; her son, Jake, six. “My kids still wanted to run and have fun and do fun things,” Liebenow says. “When I told Shelby about my diagnosis, she worried I wouldn’t be able to come to her basketball games. I told her I would be there, and I was at every one of her games except one Saturday game when I was not feeling well.
“I had to be strong for them because they were emotional and a little scared. I had to be strong because I didn’t want them to see it. When I had chemo, even when I wasn’t feeling well, I’d get them off to school and then go back to bed.”
Liebenow focused on life; cancer became her side gig. “It was almost like, ‘oh yeah, tomorrow is chemo. I won’t be able to make it in to work tomorrow,’” she says, while noting that her employers were extremely accommodating, allowing her to work whenever she felt healthy and strong enough to do so.
Liebenow’s Luscious Ladies
Liebenow reached out to others even as she was battling cancer.
“When I was diagnosed, my two best friends, Kim Giese and Danielle Wiedmeyer, didn’t know what to do. They wanted to help, but they didn’t know what to do. So together we came up with the idea of making money to donate for cancer research, so our kids don’t have to deal with this in the future.”
The three friends formed Liebenow’s Luscious Ladies in March 2012, barely a month after Liebenow’s surgery. Together, they decided to create a team, raise funds and walk in the Susan G. Komen Race for a Cure in Madison later that year.
“We started fundraising in March for the walk in June, and raised $18,000 in a short amount of time,” Liebenow says. On race day – just one day after Liebenow completed her final round of chemotherapy – approximately 75 people joined Liebenow’s Luscious Ladies for the 5K Race for a Cure. “We had the largest team there,” Liebenow says.
Since then, Liebenow’s Luscious Ladies and its sister organization, Liebenow’s Little Ladies, coordinated by Liebenow’s daughter, Shelby, have hosted clay bird shoots, rummage sales, lemonade stands, candy bar sales, raffles and a tattoo fundraiser. Altogether, they’re raised nearly $30,000 – and all of it, except for a small portion that the Liebenow family used to meet their medical deductible, has been donated to charity. The bulk of the money goes to the Susan G. Komen foundation, an organization that supports breast health education, screening and cancer research. The rest goes to the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation.
Liebenow is currently healthy and grateful for the support the community has given her. “Everybody talks about living in a small town and says that everybody knows your business, but you know what? When it comes to cancer, it’s not so bad for everybody to know your business because you get a lot of help,” Liebenow says. “I love Mayville. I was born and raised here. That’s why I have so many people come to my events – they know me. That kind of support is huge.”
Help Liebenow’s Luscious Ladies Raise Money for Breast Cancer
Where: Budahn’s Bar, Main St., Mayville
When: Sat. Oct. 26 8 pm – midnight
Details: $10 at the door gets you tap beer from 8 pm to midnight. A 50/50 raffle and side raffles will raise funds to support breast cancer awareness and research.