COTTAGE GROVE, Wis. -

For nearly a decade, Donna Blair Kortsch has been the smiling face that greets customers and co-workers at the Ace Hardware in Cottage Grove.

“She’s probably the one that most customers know as being outgoing and friendly,” said Sharon Lochner, co-owner of the store.

Eighteen months ago, the care that Donna showed to others was returned when co-workers noticed that something was wrong.

“Something was not right with Donna. So I talked to her and noticed her eyes were going in opposite directions and she was just not herself,” Lochner said.

At Lochner’s insistence, Donna’s husband, Lewis, took her to UW Hospital.

“They took her to the emergency room and that night Lewis called me at 9:30 and said it was brain cancer,” Lochner said.

Doctors determined the brain tumor was actually metastasized lung cancer.

Dr. Nathan Brooks, a neurosurgeon, was able to remove the brain tumor, but the tumors in her lungs could not be removed.

Her oncologists, Dr. Ticiana Leal and Dr. Anwaar Saeed, asked her if she would consider taking part in a clinical trial. Kortsch found hope in the clinical trial.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen if you don’t try,” Kortsch said.

For the last 15 months she has received infusions of pembrolizumab, an immunotherapy drug. She receives a treatment every three weeks.

“I have a scan every three months, and they started seeing the tumors slowly shrinking,” Kortsch said. “The spots on my lung are gone and the tumor in my head has not come back.”

Leal said recent reports on the national trial show that patients receiving the immunotherapy drug have improved survival rates over those receiving standard chemotherapy.

“This study may change how we treat lung cancer,” Leal said.

Kortsch is now back working at the Ace Hardware, but the important role the cancer research and Carbone Cancer Center has played is not lost on her.

On Oct. 1, she will lead Team Donna in Carbone’s Race for Research. Her friend and store owner, Sharon Lochner, will be walking with her.

More information about Carbone’s Race for Research can be found online.