Gilda had no idea that the women that had just asked her to be her massage therapist that day in the hair salon would end up being one of the most important people in her lives. That Bonnie DeCrona would not only become her friend, but a person that would be able to relate in a way that most people couldn’t and at a time when she would need not only a confidant, but a person that represented hope. Neither of them could have ever fathomed that they would be in a photography session as survivors and best friends more than 13 years later.
This image represents the remarkable friendship of two survivors. Bonnie DeCrona and Gilda Olsen have been friends for the past 13 years. This photograph tells of how two women, both survived and beat breast cancer. How Bonnie supported Gilda through her darkest times, yet at the same time, found herself healing emotionally as well. “Bonnie represented a survivor. Every time I talked with her or looked at her, I knew I could , and would make it through this” says Gilda. “Bonnie was my inspiration and my hope.”
Bonnie DeCrona was first diagnosed in 1972 at the age of 43 after a routine mammogram. After undergoing a mastectomy on her right side, there had been no sign of cancer for thirteen years. . Then in 1985, she found the cancer was back now attacking her left side. Again, after an aggressive treatment program, the cancer was held at bay for seven years until in November of 1992, the decision was made to remove her left breast as well. At the age of 70, Bonnie’s husband wanted to represent the fact that she was alive and that he didn’t lose her. He had a very special necklace made celebrating not only her age, but the year they were married.
In 1993, Bonnie met Gilda while in search of a good massage therapist. Bonnie explains, “I was at my hair salon and I overheard this women talking about massage. It happened to be exactly what I was needing and I went up to Gilda and said could I make an appointment with you?” For two years they developed a basic friendship and business relationship together. Most of that time, the subject of breast cancer and what Bonnie had been through really never came up to much.
In 1995, Gilda Olsen was performing a routine self examination when she noticed a lump. “ I have always had fiber cystic breast .(breast with lumps) What I learned to do was to journal my self examinations. I draw two circles and then mark where I feel any lumps. If they go away, I know there is not a problem, but if there is one that stays in the same spot, I am able to do a closer exam and find out if there may be“. says Gilda. “This particular time the lump did not go away.” After visiting with her Doctor, a specialist was referred and Gilda underwent a biopsy. It was during the office visit that the Doctor came in and said “Sweetheart I’m gonna give it to you straight, you have breast cancer, but I think we can get it all”
Gilda states “During those first few days, everyone around me such as family and friends were so depressed and thinking the worst. I would talk to Bonnie and she would tell me, you can beat this. Of course, I was able to look her in the eye and here she was, she had beaten it. She was a survivor. I immediately told my friends and family this was a “bump” in the road in my life and that they needed to get on board with me in having a positive attitude. I was going to beat this and I was going to live. Attitude is everything.”
The hardest part for me was waiting to find out if there was cancer in my Lymph nodes which would have meant I would need a mastectomy. I remember visiting the Doctor’s office for the news. He came in and was teary eyed and said my nodes were clear! All the nurses, the doctors, everybody were so happy for me. We were all crying tears of joy!”
A treatment process was started and five years later, a clean bill of health was given. Now , eleven years after Gilda’s diagnosis, both Bonnie and Gilda remain cancer free. Not only that, they remain the closest of friends. Sharing so much of life and fun.
Both Bonnie and Gilda want to make it very clear that early detection is what saved their lives. Taking the time to do a self examination, learning how to do it right, and having routine mammograms can save your life. It saved theirs.