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Two students in the Augusta school district are battling cancer

One school district, two students and two different battles with cancer.

Kadi Klein, who recently finished fourth grade at Augusta Elementary School, was diagnosed with osteoscarcoma, the most common type of bone cancer, at the end of March.

Tenley Walker, a senior who recently graduated from Augusta High School, was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a cancerous brain tumor, weeks later.

News that two students in the Augusta school district are battling cancer at the same time has surprised many in the city in southeastern Eau Claire County.

“In my 20 years in the district, we have not had one student with cancer, let alone, two,” said Nicole Steinmetz, elementary principal, via email.

Since learning about the girls’ illnesses, staff and students have come together to cope by providing support, pooling resources and offering words of strength and encouragement to Kadi and Tenley via cards;, which allows people facing various medical conditions to communicate with family and friends; and Facebook posts, she said.

“These girls are not just students in our district; they are family members,” Steinmetz wrote. “We take care of each other. We embrace them as if they were our own children. We are behind them 100 percent and will do whatever it takes to help them get through this difficult time.”

In the U.S. this year, an estimated 11,060 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed among children from birth to 14 years, according to the National Cancer Institute, and about 1,190 children are expected to die from the disease.

“No child should have to deal with this,” said Sarah Klein, Kadi’s mother, who has been keeping family, friends and others updated on her daughter’s cancer journey on the social media site Facebook.

Kadi’s story

On March 28, Sarah took 10-year-old Kadi to Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater, Minn., for leg pain, and an X-ray revealed a mass on her left fibula — one of two bones in the lower leg. It was Kadi’s second visit to a medical provider because of leg pain.

Mother and daughter were sent to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, where tests were run, and Sarah learned her only child had high-grade osteosarcoma, meaning that the cancer was aggressive and would spread rapidly without chemotherapy.

“It was never anything I imagined,” said Sarah, a little more than two months after their lives were put on hold indefinitely while Kadi receives treatment.

“To Kadi, cancer is a sickness; it’s not a life-threatening disease, but I know better,” said Sarah, who has had to put her emotions in check for her daughter’s sake.

Kadi began chemotherapy on April 4, and she is scheduled to have her fibula removed on June 21.

Two weeks after her fibula is removed, Kadi is expected to start chemo again.

“They consider (osteosarcoma) to be the dandelion cancer,” Sarah said. “It can pop up at any time, anywhere.”

But she is trying to not to think about that.

“The doctors say everyone has their own story, their own outcome, so I need to put that stuff out of my mind,” Sarah said.

Even though there have been dark days, a shining light through Kadi’s fight has been the people who have stepped up to show their support and to help financially.

“If I lived in a larger area, I can’t imagine people going to the lengths they are going to here to help,” said Sarah, who moved to Augusta from Colorado six years ago to be closer to family. “I think God knew exactly where we needed to be.”

Kadi and Tenley haven’t met yet, but they are aware of each other’s illness, said Sarah and Tenley’s older sister, Mayzie Walker.

Tenley’s story

This spring, 18-year-old Tenley was thinking about graduating and continuing her education at Chippewa Valley Technical College, pursuing a degree in criminal justice.

However, less than four weeks before graduation, Tenley was rushed to the emergency room for the third time in a week because of intense pain in her head, nausea, sweating and vomiting.

“What we thought (were) just ‘cough headaches’ turned out to be a large mass at the base of her brain,” Mayzie shared via a fundraiser she set up for her sister using (Prior to Tenley’s diagnosis, both sisters were attending school and working.)

Tenley was flown to St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minn., where she had additional testing. On May 1, she underwent surgery, and most of the mass from the left side of her brain was removed, but the tumor remained on the right side.

Days later, Mayzie shared an update on the treatment plan. “Ten’s tumor is intermediate,” she wrote on Tenley’s site. “However because of the amount of tissue (tumor) left in her brain, her treatment is high risk. For her treatment they are hitting the tumor hard and fast.”

Before treatment started, Tenley was able to return to school for a couple of weeks. “Whoever thought she’d be excited for school?” Mayzie wrote in a May 9 post.

Tenley began chemo and radiation treatment May 30. That regimen will end around July 11 or 12, and Tenley will get a break before 24 additional weeks of chemotherapy.

“Before this, Tenley hadn’t had any surgeries or overnight stays in a hospital,” Mayzie said. “Through it all, she has been very optimistic.”

The sisters have been amazed by the outpouring of support from the school district and community.

“This is a hard time for us, and it’s really helped a lot,” Mayzie said.

Our 'Miss Victory'

Eighteen-year-old Winifred “Winnie” Rubenzer didn’t run a rivet gun like “Rosie.” Instead she and her co-workers at the Eau Claire Ordnance Plant — many of them sisters, wives or sweethearts of U.S. service members — served our country by making ammunition during World War II.

Winnie is 94, and she goes by Freddie Glass Jensen now. Evidence of her patriotism is scattered around her lovely home, built for her by her second husband, Wayne Jensen. She shows me a portrait of herself as “Miss Victory,” featured in a poster to promote the war effort: she stands in her drab munitions-worker coveralls, rifle grenade raised over her head and 35mm shell clutched in her arm. On another wall I spot an award for her 17 years of service to the Chippewa County Historical Society near a framed invitation to President Obama’s inauguration.

She eagerly shares her scrapbooks of photos, news articles, letters and her own stories. Freddie prepared for our meeting by calling her friend in Cleveland, Lillian, 95, who worked with her at two munitions plants. Freddie offers me a list with dates. August, 1942: U.S. Rubber is bought by the government and converted to an ammunition factory, Eau Claire Ordnance Plant (now Banbury Place). Freddie’s father worked there as an electrician and commuted from their Tilden farm. July, 1943: Young Winnie, a recent graduate of McDonell Memorial High School in Chippewa Falls, meets Lillian in a long line to apply at the ordnance plant. The two of them are hired as “inspectresses” in the Bullet Visual department and become fast friends. Soon Lillian changes her name to “Irish.”

“Because she was from Ireland?” I ask.

“No,” Freddie chuckles, “because she liked it.” Lillian/Irish inspired her. Freddie always hated the name “Winnie,” and not long after she befriended Irish, she met her first husband, George Glass, an Air Force cadet at the Eau Claire State Teachers College. That night Winifred decided to not so much change her name, but, as she says: “just use the rear end of it.” She’s been “Freddie” ever since.

“The plant was open around the clock,” she tells me. “I worked all hours.” She and Irish rented a room on Main Street and walked to the plant on Wisconsin Street. They worked side by side, inspecting trays of bullets for dents, eight hours a day or whatever was needed.

When the plant closed in December of 1943 (and returned to producing rubber), the two women set off on their next adventure: a transfer to the Green River Ordnance Plant. In January Freddie and Irish rode the bus to Dixon, Ill., where for almost a year they slept in barracks and ate in a mess hall. “Just like soldiers,” she says. At first they admired the other women’s “brilliantly red hair,” but after using shared showers they realized that red hair was all over. Soon Freddie and Irish also had red hues, she suspects from the chemicals. “We wondered what it did to our insides,” she says with a laugh.

They worked in a large bay, filling rifle grenades with liquid pentolite. Freddie describes how she stood at the assembly line and pulled a rope so a spout overhead opened up and oozed hot pentolite — similar to TNT — into waiting rifle grenades. Conditions were sweltering. Freddie recalls one woman blew herself up when she crammed a shell into the line too forcefully. According to the National Park Service, factories were so dangerous that between the 1941 Pearl Harbor bombing and the 1944 D-Day invasion there were more industrial deaths than military casualties.

“I can’t even imagine what the world was like then,” I tell Freddie.

She says, “I don’t remember being unhappy.” After all, she tells me later, “Illinois had many popular dance halls.”

Freddie and Irish worked at the plant until they married their sweethearts just as the war ended. Second Lt. George Glass earned his wings, then he and Freddie lived in Pennsylvania, George’s home state, before moving back to the Chippewa Valley in 1946. George died in 1989.

“Between husbands,” Freddie tells me, she traveled the world on her own: China, Russia and Europe. She married Wayne when they were both 72, and they enjoyed seven years together before his death.

Freddie is still an artist and sometimes writer, a gardener and genealogist. For the past 30 years she’s done tri-weekly water exercise at the YMCA, her key to good health. Her driver’s license is valid until her 100th birthday.

I ooh over the stunning teenaged Freddie as “Miss Victory.” Her photo appeared on posters around town and in newspapers throughout Illinois: “Bring those sons and sweethearts home . . . . get out the ammunition at Green River Ordnance Plant.”

Freddie says, “Josie got a lot more copy than I did.”

“Rosie,” I correct.

First came the song, “Rosie the Riveter,” released in January 1943: “She’s making history/working for victory.” Five months later Norman Rockwell’s “The Saturday Evening Post” cover illustrated to more than three million subscribers his rendition of a muscular bomber factory worker with red painted nails and “R-O-S-I-E” chalked on her black lunch pail, her loafer squashing a copy of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.”

Rosie was propaganda; Freddie is reality. She worked in difficult circumstances to help win the war, married and raised five children, thrived as an executive secretary at Northwestern Bank, cared for her aging parents, volunteered in her community, added to the beauty of the world with her flowers and paintings, offered a hug when a person needed one, and always looked forward to her next challenge.

Ironically the most recognizable “Rosie” today was little-known in 1943. The “We Can Do It” poster was an internal campaign at Westinghouse Electric featuring a worker with her hair pulled up in a red polka dot kerchief, fist raised and bicep flexed. In the 1980’s this Rosie became an iconic image of the women’s movement, particularly for “working women” and some unions. In 1999 she appeared on a postage stamp.

Syndicated journalist Alice Hughes wrote on July 14, 1943: “Probably the most popular pet name around the country for a woman factory worker is Rosie the Riveter.” Seventy-six years later, Freddie shows me her commendation from her supervisor on Eau Claire Ordnance Plant letterhead: “We have found her very efficient, courteous, and commandable.” These are admirable qualities for a woman entering the workforce, but many of these “Rosies,” like Freddie, evolved into so much more throughout their long careers: leaders, trailblazers and mentors.

Since 2017, National Rosie the Riveter Day — March 21 — celebrates the 16 million women who joined the workforce during World War II.

Today, any woman working outside of her home can thank those teen-through-middle-age assembly line workers for leading the way. Each of them forever represents a small part of something big.

“Well,” Freddie says now, “somebody had to do it.”

Next Saturday: Nickolas Butler learns to love the dark.

Trump calls for talks with Iran

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday blamed Iran for attacks on oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, but he also held out hope that implicit U.S. threats to use force will yield talks with the Islamic Republic as the Pentagon considers beefing up defenses in the Persian Gulf area.

A day after explosions blew holes in two oil tankers just outside Iran’s territorial waters, rattling international oil markets, the administration seemed caught between pressure to punish Iran and reassure Washington’s Gulf Arab allies without drawing the U.S. closer to war.

“Iran did it,” Trump said on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends.” He didn’t offer evidence, but the U.S. military released video it said showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded mine from one of the oil tankers targeted near the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting Tehran wanted to cover its tracks.

By pointing the finger at Iran, Trump was keeping a public spotlight on an adversary he accuses of terrorism but also has invited to negotiate. The approach is similar to his diplomacy with North Korea, which has quieted talk of war but not yet achieved his goal of nuclear disarmament.

Iran has shown little sign of backing down, creating uncertainty about how far the Trump administration can go with its campaign of increasing pressure through sanctions.

Iran denied any involvement in the attacks and accused Washington of waging an “Iranophobic campaign” of economic warfare.

A U.S. Navy team on Friday was aboard one of the tankers, the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, collecting forensic evidence, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive operation.

Apparently alluding to the U.S. video, Trump said Iran’s culpability had been “exposed.” He did not say what he intended to do about it but suggested “very tough” U.S. sanctions, including efforts to strangle Iranian oil revenues, would have the desired effect.

“They’ve been told in very strong terms we want to get them back to the table,” Trump said. Just a day earlier, the president took the opposite view, tweeting that it was “too soon to even think about making a deal” with Iran’s leaders. “They are not ready, and neither are we!”

Trump last year withdrew the United States from an international agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program that was signed in 2015 under his predecessor, President Barack Obama. He has since then re-instated economic sanctions aimed at compelling the Iranians to return to the negotiating table. Just last month the U.S. ended waivers that allowed some countries to continue buying Iranian oil, a move that is starving Iran of oil income and that coincided with what U.S. officials called a surge in intelligence pointing to Iranian preparations for attacks against U.S. forces and interests in the Gulf region.

In response to those intelligence warnings, the U.S. on May 5 announced it was accelerating the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier battle group to the Gulf region. It also sent four nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to Qatar and has beefed up its defenses in the region by deploying more Patriot air defense systems.

Officials said that Pentagon deliberations about possibly sending more military resources to the region, including more Patriot missile batteries, could be accelerated by Thursday’s dramatic attack on the oil tankers.

At the Pentagon, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Iran is not just a U.S. problem. He said the U.S. goal is to “build international consensus to this international problem,” and to ensure that U.S. military commanders in the region get the resources and support they need.

In remarks to reporters later, Shanahan noted the commercial and strategic importance of the Strait of Hormuz, through which passes about 20 percent of the world’s oil.

“So, we obviously need to make contingency plans should the situation deteriorate,” he said.

Other administration officials said the U.S. is re-evaluating its presence in the region and will discuss the matter with allies before making decisions. The officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said Thursday the U.S. is looking at all options to ensure that maritime traffic in the region is safe and that international commerce, particularly through the Strait of Hormuz, is not disrupted. One option, they said, is for U.S. and allied ships to accompany vessels through the strait, noting that this tactic has been used in the past. They said there is no timeline for any decisions.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., said that providing naval escorts through the Strait of Hormuz is an option, but, “I don’t think it’s a sustainable option because of the amount of traffic.” She said tanker warfare in the Persian Gulf has historically been a problem, and she wouldn’t be opposed to the U.S. having a more visible presence in the region.

Slotkin, a former senior policy adviser at the Pentagon, said she is concerned that the Trump administration does not have a clear strategy on Iran. She said it’s difficult to deter Iran without provoking additional violence, adding, “I don’t believe this administration is capable of walking such a deft, fine line.”

In ticking off a list of Iranian acts of “unprovoked aggression,” including Thursday’s oil tanker attacks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added a surprise accusation. He asserted on Thursday that a late May car bombing of a U.S. convoy in Kabul, Afghanistan, was among a series of threats or attacks by Iran and its proxies against American and allies interests. At the time, the Taliban claimed credit for the attack, with no public word of Iranian involvement.

Pompeo’s inclusion of the Afghanistan attack in his list of six Iranian incidents has raised eyebrows in Congress, where he and other U.S. officials have suggested that the administration would be legally justified in taking military action against Iran under the 2001 Authorization of Military Force, or AUMF. In that law, Congress gave then-President George W. Bush authority to retaliate against al-Qaida and the Taliban for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It has subsequently been used to allow military force against extremists elsewhere, from the Philippines to Syria.

As the world awaited Washington’s next move, analysts said it was difficult to sort out the conflicting claims.

“There are few actors in the world that have less credibility than Donald Trump and the Iranian regime, so even U.S. allies at the moment are confused about what happened,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He said the “tremendous mistrust” of both Trump and Iran has made “the biggest priority for most countries to simply avoid conflict or further escalation.”

At the same time, Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is in a difficult position, Sadjadpour said. “If he didn’t respond to Trump’s provocations, he would risk looking like a paper tiger and projecting weakness. But if he responds overly aggressive to Trump he potentially destabilizes his own rule and his own regime. That’s why we’ve seen Iran calibrate its escalation.”