HAVERHILL — When it comes to fighting cancer, Donna Carbone takes a literal approach.

Carbone has used more than radiation and chemotherapy during the more than two decades she has battled cancer. In more recent years, she added boxing gloves to her cache of weapons. She also dons boxing gloves and uses boxing drills to rebuild upper body strength she lost from the treatments she's received over the years. 

Like a real amateur or professional boxer, she throws combinations of punches at pads held by a therapist.

"I have a left jab and a right cross that will knock your socks off," she said.

Donna Carbone was diagnosed with cancer 21 years ago, and the life-saving chemotherapy treatments she has received since are painful and debilitating.

They have caused osteoporosis and Parkinson’s disease, which are making her suffer in different ways and have prompted visits to several rehabilitation centers since she broke her left leg in February.

Carbone said her goal, beyond continuing to extend her life, is to help other cancer victims avoid the kind of suffering she has experienced from treatments.

"What I do know is that research money has made the chemo treatments today much less harsh so survivors 21 years from now will not have to deal with such life changing conditions,'' Carbone said as she begins rallying people to participate in this year's Relay for Life of Haverhill to raise money for cancer research. 

"I am asking for your support and want everyone to realize that the donations you make today can help someone else 20 years down the road,'' she said. 

Donna and her husband, Peter Carbone, raise an average of $10,000 a year for the American Cancer Society and for the past 20 years have lead the Pentucket Kiwanis Donna's Team. 

"Some years we've gone as high as $15,000 and so far this year, we're up to $5,000," she said. 

This year will be the team's 21st year at Haverhill's Relay for Life. 

"Hopefully, Donna will be able to be physically present with us, but if she's not able to, the show will go on as the need is too important for us not to be there for her and all the other cancer survivors," Peter Carbone said.

The Carbones said they've handed the torch of co-captains to their daughter Carolyn Leverett of Haverhill, and their niece Anna Carbone of Haverhill.

"I'm giving them some tips, but they are very organized as both of them have been team members for years," Donna Carbone said.

Donna Carbone has been to several different rehabilitation centers since Feb. 2, when she underwent surgery for a cracked femur.

"They installed a rod and pins, which fell apart several days later, although new bone is growing over it and it continues to heal," she said. "Everything I have now is side effects from the chemo, including osteoporosis. I'm learning to walk again using a walker and i'm really trying as hard as I can to be in this year's relay."

Along the way, she's been surrounded by an "army of support" that includes neighbors, family and friends.

"I have the most visitors than anybody in this place," she said about her current stay at the Prescott House in North Andover. "It's unbelievable how many people have been coming to see me. I'm very lucky."

Those visitors have included their daughter Drea, who has flown in from Washington, D.C., to visit with her mother in rehab, and who also has participated in Haverhill's Relay many times over the years.

In addition to Parkinson's, Donna Carbone is also being tested for numbness in her fingers and legs, a condition that is pending a diagnosis.

"I'm finally walking a little, a few steps at a time, and whatever this new thing is they have to figure that out," she said. "I'm still here, with side effects, but if it wasn't for chemo and radiation, I'd be gone. I got 21 more years and counting."

She said her therapy also includes "Rock Steady Boxing," which is helping to redevelop her upper body strength.

"The therapist holds mitts and I put on my boxing gloves - which I love," she said. 

Held on the track at Northern Essex Community College, this year's Relay for Life of Haverhill will begin at 3 p.m. on June 7 and will conclude at 3 p.m. the following day.

Last yearʼs event featured 41 teams and 325 participants who circled the NECC track for 24 hours to help raise money, support those fighting cancer and remember loved ones who were lost to cancer over the years.

The Haverhill Relay for Life is one of only a few events that still run for 24 hours.

To donate to Pentucket Kiwanis Donna's Team, visit online at relayforlife.org/HaverhillMA and click on "donate" then enter the team's name.

To donate by check, please send a check, made out to American Cancer Society, to Peter Carbone, 48 Colby St., Bradford, MA 01835.