Vicki Bode and her husband did everything together.
They dated in high school and ran with the same crowd. They shared the same hopes and dreams for their
But Vicki Bode ultimately would fight the most important battles of her life as a widow — battles that brought her back from depression and made her a stronger person.
Short one breast but looking spry at age 69, Vicki recalled those trying years of the late 1980s.
The Bodes had an old-fashioned relationship. Butch, a jack of all trades, worked long hours at his job. Vicki, originally from Seymour, stayed home with their two daughters.
The daily dynamic continued until doctors diagnosed Butch with skin cancer in 1984. Three years later, he was dead, the cancer having spread into his brain.
Occupation: Volunteers at Joint and Spine Center on Marr Road
Diagnosed: Breast cancer in August 1989
Treatment: Right breast removed; four lymph nodes taken out beneath right arm; six months of chemotherapy
What cancer taught me: You do value life and family more and you think more about other people going through the same thing.
How cancer changed me: It made me stronger in my life by facing God. I had to have faith in him and in human nature.
What I would tell someone just diagnosed with cancer: Never give up hope, because there’s always a chance. They have different medicines and things like that. Lean on somebody who can help you through. Rely on God.
Bode didn’t know what to do.
She owed thousands in medical bills and needed a job with benefits. She was depressed and needed counseling. She even had a skin cancer scare of her own after having gone to tanning beds about three times a week. She was sure it would lead to a death every bit as terrible as the one her husband experienced.
She beat skin cancer, despite her own admission that she wasn’t a very strong person. But less than two years later doctors diagnosed cancer in her right breast, rekindling feelings of fear and
“I was devastated and just crying,” she said. “My youngest daughter told me everything would be OK. She said they’d get me a new breast, and it would all be OK.”
Bode said she couldn’t have done it without her friends and family. And although she didn’t see it at the time, she realizes now that God really did have a plan through every painful moment.
Picking herself up out of bed was a chore in itself in the weeks and months after her husband died. She knew in the back of her mind that she needed a job. So when a friend came by the house to offer her one in a factory, Vicki knew she had to take it.
The assembly-line position paid $5 an hour. Later she found out that the friend who had hired her had paid Bode’s medical insurance, because that friend and his wife knew she couldn’t.
“Those are the kinds of friends I have,” Bode said. “If you knew these people, you wouldn’t have been surprised. God has put these people in my life for a reason.”
Bode worked for 1½ years at the factory before accepting a job as a teller at the former Union Bank and Trust. So when she got the breast-cancer diagnosis, she at least had insurance, something she didn’t have earlier when she fought skin cancer.
Still, the news was devastating.
The breast had to go.
But even that wasn’t the end of her battle. Bode found out a short time later that the cancer had spread to lymph nodes under her right arm and had to be removed.
Bode, who didn’t need chemotherapy when she had skin cancer, remembered being “sick as a dog” during the latter part of her chemotherapy for breast cancer.
“I just wished God would let me die,” she said.
Carol Azbell, who has been best friends with Bode since they were neighbors in North Vernon, remembers how difficult it was for Bode, especially after the death of her husband.
She said Bode has a heart of gold who would do anything for anyone in need. But it was how Bode fought against adversity that impressed on Azbell her friend’s inner strength.
“She wasn’t always such a strong person, but now she is,” Azbell said.
Bode has been cancer-free now for more than 20 years. She was employed for 25 years at Aisin Chemical Manufacturing in Jackson County, where she worked 12 hours a day before leaving the paid workforce and volunteering at a pain clinic in Columbus.
Ironically, it was during a drive home from work that she had another brush with death.
Bode was traveling north on Interstate 65 when she became stuck in traffic because of a wreck. She remembers having her foot on the brake when a semitrailer she never saw coming slammed into the back of her small silver car. She had to be airlifted in serious condition to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
“The good Lord has seen me through so much,” said Bode, who volunteers today at a Columbus joint pain center in an effort to support others with health problems.
“I’m still here.”