BUHL — Deb Bachel has helped plan more than 30 benefits for others — the majority to assist people battling cancer.
She cared for her daughter, Kelly, who was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 2, until the young woman’s death at age 18 in 1999.
And Bachel, of Kinney, frequently prays the rosary, using a treasured rosary ring. She prays not only for blessings for strength as she fights her own battle, “but for other cancer people, too.”
“I pray for all you guys,” she says on a recent day. A couple friends who also know the cruelty of cancer and have also been instrumental with the annual Sand Lake Shuffle fundraiser that assists cancer patients — Bonnie Altobelli, a breast cancer survivor, and Anita Lantz, who lost both her parents to cancer — sit nearby, surrounding Bachel in the love she provides so freely to others.
But this time, it’s Bachel’s turn to be the recipient of the community’s kindness.
Bachel’s longtime friends — sisters Donna Maki and Vicky Lopac, together with other volunteers — are holding a spaghetti feed benefit for Bachel, who is receiving treatment for Stage 4 endometrial cancer.
“She is such a good person,” Lopac said by phone of Bachel. “She will give you the shirt off her back.” And Bachel has virtually come pretty close to doing so, Lopac said.
“She’s so good-hearted,” Maki said of her friend. “Even with her cancer, she has a positive outlook.”
Bachel, Lopac said, has “been in charge of tons of benefits over the years. It’s her due she gets one, too.”
That will take place from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday at the Buhl-Kinney Senior Center at 302 Frantz St., in Buhl. Cost is $10 per person; free for ages 5 and younger. Takeouts are available.
The benefit will include a number of raffles and a bake sale.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Bachel, a longtime clerk for her hometown of Kinney, said of the upcoming gathering.
“I’m used to giving instead of receiving” — filling “my little notebook” with memos for upcoming fundraisers and events.
But, unfortunately, cancer has been a recurrent interloper in Bachel’s life.
Daughter Kelly battled the disease for 16 years. “She had a hell of a life.” And “being a caregiver is just as bad, especially when it’s a child,” Bachel said. “You want to take their pain away.”
Her other daughter’s husband, Bobby Kintner, died at age 54 in October 2017 after a grueling 24-month fight with colon cancer.
And in 2015, Bachel herself was diagnosed with uterine cancer.
While she survived and eventually appeared to be cancer-free, Bachel was again diagnosed with cancer, this time endometrial, more than a year ago. The 66-year-old currently has several tumors in her abdomen.
Every 21 days she travels to St. Luke’s Cancer Center in Duluth for chemotherapy treatments and undergoes frequent CT scans.
“The first week after chemo is rough,” Bachel said. “Every bone hurts. I lay there and scream. Then it’s like a light bulb goes off,” with the following two weeks being bearable. “Then it’s time for chemo again.”
Bachel’s husband, Donald, died in 2014, and daughter Karla Kintner often accompanies her mom to treatments.
“Her and my dad worked hard all their lives to give my sister the best they could,” Kintner said. “We have gone without many times, but always found the positives with what we have.”
Bachel said the chemotherapy seems to be doing its job lately, along with some “help from heavenward.” The tumors have not grown, and some have even “shrunk,” which Bachel considers “a miracle.”
But she also knows the reality of cancer all too well. “This is the most awful disease. I’m Stage 4. I could die tomorrow,” she said tearfully.
She continued with resolve: “To fight this disease, you have to be a fighter.”
That’s just what Bachel plans to continue doing.
While “I hate hospitals; I hate doctors; I can’t stand the sight of needles; I choke on pills” — and “like with battling any disease, you wonder where is the next dollar coming from” — Bachel said she still has much to live for and much to accomplish.
After all, the No. 1 fan and “Grandma B” for the Mountain Iron-Buhl Rangers football team has goals — like sticking around as long as she can for her “awesome” daughter and grandsons, Casey and Riley Kintner, and seeing her youngest grandson graduate this year from MI-B.
And taking that promised pontoon boat ride this summer.
“She’s gone through a lot of tragedy, but she’s a very strong-willed person,” Maki said of her friend. “She’s been involved in so many organizations through the years. She’s a go-getter. She’s not one to sit around and do nothing. … She still works for the city, doing what she can do.”
Bachel has spent years making sure Kinney’s functions run smoothly, such as its annual Fourth of July celebration. She’s made sure “as long as we have one kid in Kinney” the children’s Halloween and Christmas gatherings continue. She has helped with assuring elderly and disabled people in town receive food during the holidays.
She is also a longtime secretary for the Sturgeon River Chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.
“I have to be the person who keeps things going. I have to be hands-on,” Bachel said.
But she is most proud of her work for the Sand Lake Shuffle, which she has been involved with since Kelly was battling cancer.
“That was always my baby,” she said of the Shuffle, adding that sadly she was too ill this past summer “to do what I wanted to do” with planning the event.
“She still contributed … even when she wasn’t feeling well,” Altobelli said, smiling at her friend. Bachel may not have put up the tents herself, but she placed the calls to find them.
And Bachel still made it to the fundraiser, to be with her Shuffle family and spend time with the many others who are cancer survivors and who have also lost loved ones to the disease.
“Support from my family and friends is what keeps me going,” Bachel said, offering a special “shout out” to her brother and sister-in-law, Denny and Sharon Marks of Buhl.
“When Vicky and Donna said they wanted to put on a benefit, I was proud and humbled,” Bachel added.
“I am grateful to the people who are putting the benefit on for her and all those who are giving their time and donating,” Kintner said. “Since I lost my husband 15 months ago, I have been trying to work a full-time job and two part-times,” along with helping her mom “take care of her house, health, and financials.”
Kintner said her mother “has been struggling financially for the last year to afford her medications. She has had to go without on several different occasions just to have the pills she needs.”
And while “she has found a better prescription plan, so she won’t have to pay $568 for her prescription blood thinners, this benefit will help to alleviate some of her debt.”
Kintner added, “my uncle and aunt, Denny and Sharon Marks, have helped out in many ways and have taken a little bit of the burden off of me. She also has many neighbors who have taken her to get medication and groceries, CT scans and blood tests.”
Others have assisted with snow removal and rides to Bachel’s grandson’s basketball games, Kintner said.
Bachel has always lived her life with a positive attitude and a giving heart. “I think that is why so many people want to help her out,” said her daughter. “She has tried to do whatever she could for others. Now they wish to help out and pay it back.”
“I learned from my parents” the importance of giving to other people, Bachel said. “They instilled that in us.”
And Bachel has passed down that tradition. “Even our little Kelly” enjoyed helping others, she said.
As for all the benefits Bachel planned for cancer “fighters” through the years — “I might not have helped them with their chemo … but I helped them mentally and with financial woes.”
That is something for which Bachel can be most proud.
“What goes around comes around,” she said. “I’m very humbled” to be on the receiving end of a benefit. In fact, “I’m speechless. And for me to be speechless…”
Bachel concedes that she will have to resign herself to doing what benefit organizers and friends have requested: “You just show up.”
Altobelli grins and embraces her longtime friend. “We want you to feel the support,” she says.
Donations to help Deb Bachel may also be made by contacting Donna Maki at 218-258-3485 or Vicky Lopac at 218-969-3260.