She never faced back problems before, but one day a severe pain pierced her.
At first a physician’s assistant thought Joann Duvall just had a back sprain.
Joann knew it was worse than that.
After tests three years ago, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer that affects the bones.
She soon will undergo a stem-cell transplant at the Nebraska Medical Center and likely will spend Thanksgiving in the hospital.
Her husband, Rodger, will be by her side.
He’s joined her at chemotherapy treatments twice a week for three years. He’s sat with her for all of her dozens of doctor appointments.
He’s tapped on the computer for hours, researching the best treatments, the best doctors, even the best foods for fighting her cancer.
“She put up with me for all these years,” Rodger says. “I’ve to be there for her.”
He was 20 and stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue when he met Joann in summer 1958 at a base carnival.
She was 19, grew up as Joann Wieduwilt in south Omaha and worked at the old Tip Top factory near downtown Omaha.
Joann attended the carnival with friends, and Rodger was there with other airmen.
They started dating that summer and began falling in love.
They’d drive downtown in his 1958 Chevy and catch movies. They dined at the Bohemian Cafe. They loved getting outdoors and would jump in the Chevy for fishing trips.
That fall Rodger, who was from Maryland, was transferred to a base in Shreveport, La. They kept up their romance and a set a wedding date in Omaha for Jan. 10, 1959.
Rodger drove up from Louisiana in a snowstorm for the wedding. He slid off the road near St. Joseph, Mo., and blew a tire. But he made it back in time to marry Joann.
For the next 17 years, Joann followed Rodger across the country and the world with the Air Force. First it was a base in Guam. Then back to Offutt. By then they had five kids, a count that eventually would grow to six.
The whole family moved to England in 1967 for three years while Rodger was stationed there. Then they returned to Offutt.
In 1971, Rodger was transferred to Korea for a year and Joann stayed back in Omaha with the kids.
He retired from the Air Force in 1976, and the couple decided to retire in the Omaha area because so many members of Joann’s family lived here.
In January, they will celebrate their 54th wedding anniversary. Their six children have blessed them with 14 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Rodger, 74, says doctors are hopeful that the stem-cell transplant will improve Joann’s long-term outlook. But it’s too soon to know for sure.
He and Joann, 73, are relying on prayers and their Catholic faith to keep them strong.
As the couple has faced the cancer together, Rodger thinks of his wedding vows, of his promise to love her in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.
She has never left his side over these past five decades, and he will not leave hers.
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