University City

Prayer, friends helped with cancer recovery, Y staffer says

Even before she heard the news from a medical professional, Bonnie Strobel knew deep down that she had breast cancer.

Both her parents had died of cancer, and she just had a gut feeling. The problem was that she did not have health insurance.

She thought, "Oh, my God, what do I do?"

Working part time as a member services representative at the University City YMCA, Bonnie did not have medical benefits. Her husband had recently lost his job. They could not afford to buy their own health insurance. Co-workers at the YMCA noticed a change in Bonnie and asked what was wrong.

Bonnie told her manager at the time that she had cancer. Her manager asked whether a physician had confirmed it. Bonnie replied, "I just know."

Co-workers helped get her to a hospital emergency room. Someone there gave Bonnie the name of a surgeon who helps people with no health insurance. The surgeon removed half her breast, including a tumor the size of a grapefruit, Strobel said. It was diagnosed as Stage 4 breast cancer.

The successful mastectomy revealed, however, that the cancer was completely contained. Doctors said Bonnie did not need chemotherapy or radiation.

Six years later, Bonnie shared her story with me through tears of joy.

"I truly believe in the power of prayer," she said. "My family, my YMCA family, and people praying for me have kept me going."

Bonnie explained how YMCA staff members had T-shirts made with "Pray for Bonnie" printed on them. They sold the T-shirts to YMCA members to raise money for her medical bills and other expenses. Some YMCA members made gave money and showed their love and concern in a variety of other ways.

One person used one of the T-shirts to make a quilt for Bonnie to use during her recovery.

"I feel personally connected to the members, and some of them still wear the T-shirts," said Bonnie.

During her recovery, friends and relatives supplied meals for her and her family. Finances were a major worry the entire time.

Bonnie and her husband have a teenage daughter. They moved to Charlotte in 1998 from Fredonia, N.Y. She still has four brothers there.

Because she is thankful for her own blessings, Bonnie has a message for all women.

"I tell everybody, you have to be an advocate for your own health," she said. "I will literally hunt people down to remind them to get a mammogram."

She said she also uses Facebook to encourage people to monitor their health. She is a strong advocate of early detection and encourages people to Google "cancer" to learn about all the organizations that can be helpful.

"I feel really good now, and I'm staying healthy," Bonnie said. "The Y has been a big part of my recovery, and that is so nice."

She still works part time at the Y and enjoys reading, gardening, sewing and her cocker spaniel, Pennie. She walks to work from her Baucom Ridge neighborhood in University City. Her husband worked for a while but is now looking for a job with benefits.

Lisa Venancio, who used to work at the University City Y as active older adult coordinator, knew Bonnie's situation well.

"You felt the presence of a miracle throughout that entire experience," she said. "I am certain that it was the power of prayer."

This story includes a lot of people who reached out to Bonnie with life-changing and life-saving acts of kindness. It's a great example of "faith works" in action.

These stories are all around us every day. We just don't hear about them every day.