Cancer Saved My Life

Ever since she was a little girl, Donnell Rank knew that she wanted to be a businesswoman. She started her very own business at just nine years old, selling snacks and bait at the end of a dock on her parents’ fishing resort. A few months later, she had earned enough money to buy her first horse. “At the end of that summer, I knew that business was my calling,” she said.

After graduating from college, Donnell began her swift climb up the corporate ladder, holding several sales leadership roles while also starting her own consulting company. She also hosted on-air for a national television home shopping network. Fully immersed in the business world, Donnell could not deny that the glass ceiling was a reality for businesswomen trying to make it to the top. And she knew that she had to do something about it.

Pageantry provided the perfect platform for Donnell to represent and counsel women in business. She was crowned Mrs. Minnesota International in 2007 and in 2010, she took on the title of Ms. Corporate America. These roles allowed her to reach thousands of women on a national level. “My life’s purpose is to help women achieve their goals,” Donnell said.

While working full time and serving in her pageantry roles, Donnell also became involved in Smile Network International, a nonprofit organization that provides reconstructive surgeries to impoverished children and young adults in developing countries.

With all of her speaking engagements, long hours at work and traveling, Donnell rarely found time to take care of herself. Exhaustion tapped Donnell on the shoulder, but she kept the same hurried pace for years. Unfortunately, that tap on the shoulder turned into what Donnell calls, “a punch in the face.”

In 2012, Donnell found a small lump in her left breast. She begrudgingly scheduled an appointment with her general practitioner to have it examined. When her doctor referred her for a mammogram, Donnell felt frustrated that she would have to take time out of her busy schedule to have the test performed. Looking back, Donnell can’t believe how little regard she had for her health and body. “You’re not even going to take 20 minutes out of your life for a mammogram?” she said.

The mammographer suggested that Donnell have an ultrasound, which elevated her frustration level even further. After reviewing the ultrasound, her doctor said she needed to have a biopsy performed. Donnell was given the option of surgery with anesthesia or a very painful, yet quick, punch biopsy done right in the office – and Donnell chose the quick route so she could get back to work. “The pain was irrelevant at that time,” she said.

Just two days later, Donnell received news that rocked her to her very core: she had metastatic breast cancer. “I knew in that moment that it was self-created cancer,” Donnell said. “I had been running really hard, not eating well and not getting enough sleep for two years straight.”

It was then Donnell knew that she either had to make a change or she was going to die. She quit her job and moved home to focus on nursing herself back to health after six surgeries and many life-threatening complications. Her high medical bills and inability to work left her with no other option but to apply for welfare, food stamps and assistance from a local breast cancer organization. “The humility of going from the top to the bottom is exactly what my ego needed,” Donnell said.

Despite losing everything she owned Donnell believes she has received an amazing gift through this process. “It gave me life-changing awareness,” she said. “I’m so grateful for cancer. It saved my life.” Donnell continues to counsel women in all areas of their lives, including those who are facing breast cancer, working closely with the pageantry.

While Donnell is currently battling stage 3 breast cancer, she does it with a smile on her face and gratitude in her heart. “I am not a survivor, I am a conqueror,” she said. “Each day when I lay my head on my pillow, I thank God for the amazing day – because I had one.”

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