A story of survival: One woman's fight against a rare cancer diagnosis

OCONOMOWOC (WITI) -- You hear a lot of stories these days about survivors, particularly people who survive cancer. But for every cancer survivor out there, there's someone who didn't make it. And no one knows that better than a survivor from Oconomowoc.

"You know, she was just a wonderful person," said Deb Geary.

It's said there's no bond, like on between sisters. The evidence is Deb Geary's emotion.

"When you go through that with somebody so young," said Deb.

Six and a half years after her sisters passing...

"She was so young, and so vibrant," said Deb.

To understand Deb, you have to know Abby Jill. Abby was her team's loudest cheerleader at a 2006 walk against breast cancer.

"There can be a cure and I'm holding out for that cure. I'm waiting for that cure," said Abby Brauhn, in an Abby Brauhn memorial video.

Abby's breast cancer was so rare, doctors at 5 hospitals couldn't pinpoint the source. And without knowing the source, the cancer was hard to fight.

The woman who went on mission trips to Mexico, and dreamed of opening an orphanage -- died at the age of 43.

"She understood that God was calling her home," said Deb.

After caring for her sister in her final years, Deb Geary continued her work -- caring for patients as a nurse at Children's Hospital. That is, until her own rare diagnosis.

"It's just like no, not again," said Deb.

It started with a case of appendicitis in the spring. When a doctor spotted a tumor on her liver.

"She said don't worry about it, it's probably benign," Deb said.

But when Geary suffered a gallbladder attack in the fall, doctors took a second look.

Doctor Clark Gamblin showed FOX6 News Deb's perivascuar tumor.

"You can think of it as a softball size tumor," said Deb.

Like her sister, the source of Deb's cancer was hard to find.

"Probably about 100 of those have been reported in the world. I think about 20 liver tumors like this have been reported," said Dr. Gamblin.

Most liver tumors are the result of colon cancer, hepatitis, or alcohol abuse -- Deb had none of that.

"Deb had no reason to believe that she would ever have a problem like this," said Dr. Gamblin.

Doctor Gamblin did a minimally invasive surgery at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin. Using a heated tool, he cut through the liver to remove the tumor. Deb's liver would regenerate after surgery.

"As best I know, there's not been a case done like this in the United States," said Dr. Gamblin.

Now back home and fully recovered, Deb the caregiver has some new lives to care for. A recent empty nester, Deb now spends a lot of time caring for a new nest -- nine chickens and two ducks.

"You know what? We love it," said Deb.

Her experience is a reminder that life is a balance of joy and sadness, and for every cancer survival story -- there's a story of loss. But throughout her battle, Deb says her sister was by her side.

"I always feel her presence or protection. I just feel that with her," said Deb.

Dr. Gamblin says Deb's scans since the surgery look great. He has no reason to believe this is going to be a problem for her in the future.