Four-time cancer survivor beats COVID-19

Published 8:08 pm Monday, October 11, 2021

Bonnie Coleman is a survivor, having beaten breast cancer more than three decades ago, along with three bouts of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the past 10 years.

The 74-year-old’s latest victory was over COVID-19 in September. She spent 12 days at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, with four of those days on a ventilator. After waking up from the intubation, she said Dr. Shane Lee greeted her as his miracle.

“He said I should not be alive,” Coleman said.

A native of Church Point, Coleman eventually moved to Moss Bluff and now lives in Sulphur. Thirty-six years earlier, she found out she had breast cancer and was given six months to live. Treatments at the time weren’t as evolved as they are today.

“Basically, I was a guinea pig,” she said. “I was given chemotherapy and radiation at the same time, plus other drugs that were used to treat the cancer.”

Despite the physical toll of the treatment, she was eventually declared cancer-free. Coleman had one breast removed, along with her right lymph node. Her left lymph node was later removed as a precaution, she said.

Coleman went years with the cancer not returning. However, she found out 10 years ago that she had Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma near her stomach. She beat that cancer, only for it to return three years later, which she would again recover from. The cancer came back a third time near her small intestine. Today, she’s once again cancer-free.

“It’s been three years since my last chemotherapy,” Coleman said.

Coleman credited Charlene Richard with helping her heal from the various cancers. She and Richard grew up in Church Point and were classmates. Richard was 12 when she died of leukemia after being diagnosed less than two weeks earlier. Her grave in the small community of Richard has since been regularly visited by people and religious leaders worldwide. Since then, people, including Coleman, have referred to Richard as their “little Cajun saint.”

“I think it’s because of her I’m still here,” she said.

Coleman said recently she fell ill and was sleeping constantly. A family friend went to her house and did a breathing treatment check and monitored her vitals. Her oxygen level was supposed to be 96 percent, but it had dropped to 77 percent, a crucial stage.

“I didn’t realize how sick I was until I got to the hospital,” Coleman said.

Coleman was admitted to Lake Charles Memorial Hospital Sept. 1. Her daughter, Michelle, was the only one allowed to visit and would keep other family members updated on her condition. She said Michelle placed Richard’s prayer cloths all over her body while she was hospitalized.

Coleman said the power of prayer and the COVID-19 vaccine kept her alive. She said the hospital staff were celebrating her recovery because many COVID-19 patients that end up on ventilators don’t have the same outcome.

“They were doing the happy dance when I was able to go home,” she said.

Coleman said she has used Memorial Hospital for the last 40 years, even during her cancer treatments. She said the care she received while being treated for COVID-19 was amazing. She recalled being fed by a nurse after being taken off the ventilator because her hand was shaking so badly.

“It renewed my hope in mankind,” she said. “The nurses, doctors and hospital staff were unbelievable. The public doesn’t know what these nurses go through.”

Since being released from the hospital, Coleman continues to face challenges after having COVID-19. She said she is using a walker to get around and remains on an oxygen tank, sometimes going 15-20 minutes a day without it. Coleman said COVID-19 has also affected her sight, and she still has some issues with memory.

Despite being told more than 30 years ago that she wouldn’t survive breast cancer, followed by a COVID-19 recovery that was considered against the odds, Coleman said she continues to be a fighter.

“I’ve already got two miracles; I’m shooting for three,” she said.