Bad bones can’t keep Becca off the court
PLYMOUTH — Rebecca Bunkowfst, a former North Judson – San Pierre High School student, loves competition and God.
“I am very competitive and I strive to be the best in all I can do through what God has planned for me. I practiced many hours for track and basket-ball. When I wasn’t doing one, I was doing the other,” she said.
Being an athlete meant making many sacrifices. But for Bunkowfst, being an athlete defines her, which makes any sacrifice worth it.
“I never had time for friends or anything of the sort because of this, but I didn’t mind. It was what I loved. I would have to say basketball is my favorite. It’s a game that can be played seriously, physically, and with all out heart and to me, that describes me down to the bone,” she said.
After high school, Bunkowfst decided to attend a local college — a decision that not only included her passion for basketball, but also made it possible for her to stay close to home.
“Ancilla was close for me. Yes, it was a little distance from my parent’s house, but it was still close enough to spit on. OK, that is a little exaggeration; but you know what I am getting at. My parents aren’t really too young, but they are hard workers. And I know they will do things until it is done or they will work themselves to death. My parents have given me so much and God has blessed our family so much that I just thought it would be good to be around and be able to help with whatever I could when I came home, which is a lot,” Bunkowfst said.
Playing ball at the college level is a lot different for this former Knox resident than playing at North Judson High School.
“I am only involved in basketball at Ancilla. Believe me, one sport in college is like taking six credits hours in the classroom. It is a lot of hard work and dedication. I might also add, it takes a lot of self discipline,” she said.
Dream takes a detour
With anticipation, Bunkowfst entered college eager to live out her dream of playing basketball at the next level. Unfortunately, her dream took a temporary detour.
“On Oct. 17, 2009, I was playing in the alumni game (at Ancilla) and I tore the ACL in my left knee,” she said.
Bunkowfst’s injury took her out of the game for her first col-lege basketball season.
“I am a sophomore at Ancilla academically, but a freshman in basketball since I was red-shirt-ed my first year there,” she said.
Despite the setback, Bunkowfst was determined to do what she had to in order to get back out on the court. Little did she know the ACL was just the beginning of her problems.
Arm snaps in 3 spots
“I was supposed to have surgery on it (ACL) the last week of October, but things suddenly changed. Before I could have surgery at the end of that week, I was outside throw-ing a baseball with my boyfriend; and as I threw the ball, I heard my arm snap three times. I went into immediate shock. I grabbed my arm; and I ran into the house where my parents and their friends were. I didn’t want to look at my arm because I knew what I did and I didn’t want to see,” Bunkowfst said.
Once the shock wore off, Bunkowfst was in excruciating pain and her parents made the decision to take her to the hospital.
“As seconds and minutes passed, the pain started to kick in and the arm started swelling really bad. My mom started crying; she just felt like she was losing her mind. And my dad didn’t believe this was happening. They rushed me to the Knox Hospital. On the way there, the pain was horrible. Every little bump on the road seemed to be hit that night. And when we’d hit a bump, it would jar the broken bones in my arm and cause them to grind on each other,” she said.
Bunkowfst and her parents were not prepared for what the doctors discovered.
“While I was in the ER, we found out the news that I had a tumor in my arm; the tumor was located in the mid-section of my humerus, which is the upper arm. They said that from what they could see, I could have bone cancer because bones just don’t break like that. They also added that if they were right, the cancer was fast moving and growing rapidly.
“My mother was screaming and crying and my family start-ed to come to the hospital to be with me. I didn’t know what to do. All I could think was ‘Please, Lord, whatever it is you have for me to do, let it be used for a testimony.’ I also thought, ‘why me?’ But as I began to cry, God gave me peace, so I knew either way, He had his hand on me,” Bunkowfst said.
Bunkowfst’s family is very rooted in their faith. And not long after hearing Bunkowfst’s possible diagnosis, the family began turning the problem over to God.
Prayer chains launched
“Every church possible was called and a prayer chain was started. The next morning, the hospital lined up a specialist in Michigan City for me to go to. We went to the clinic there and they stabilized my arm and also gave us the good news that the tumor looked benign (meaning not cancerous). The doctor wasn’t 100 percent positive, so he sent us straight from Michigan City to the Indianapolis Medical Center. Down there, they took X-rays and a team of specialists examined it. The tumor was benign. Our prayers were answered,” Bunkowfst said.
While Bunkowfst and her family celebrated the good news, she knew her battle was far from over.
“I said ‘Thank you, God,’ but this wasn’t the end. They sent us back home and scheduled the surgery for Monday because they don’t really do surgeries on the weekends. So that Monday, they took the tumor out and they put frozen bone where my bone was missing from the tumor and they also added a 10-inch-stainless-steel plate with ten screws that goes from my shoulder to my elbow,” she said.
The procedure and after care were very painful for Bunkowfst. In addition to the trauma she had just endured from her arm, Bunkowfst still had to go in to get her knee repaired.
“The pain was excruciating. I started physical therapy a few weeks later. And once I got to where I could bend my arm, I had my knee surgery (for the torn ACL) — this just added more to do in therapy. Besides being at home and doing arm therapy, I also had to be on a knee machine and keep my knee moving. I went to actual physical therapy three times a week for three hours a day for my arm and my knee together at the same time. I did this for almost five months. I was final-ly released around May of this year to get going back to where I was which was hard — but look at me play today,” Bunkowfst said.
After Bunkowfst made it through the physical therapy from both her arm and her knee, she began the process of reclaiming her life. However, it wasn’t long before she was caught off guard again.
Yet another scare
“Recently, we had another scare. They (doctors) found another tumor on my right breast which was the same side of the arm that was previously affected by a tumor. The doctors ran tests to make sure that the tumors didn’t link together and to make sure that it wasn’t malignant. After the test results came back, the tumor was benign in my breast and there was nothing to link it. I had surgery Tuesday, Nov. 16 to have it removed; and I started practicing Monday, Nov. 22. And I played in the game on the twenty-third in Illinois against Moraine Valley,” she said.
Despite having a fairly size-able hole in her chest, Bunkowfst continued doing what she had been denied for so long: Playing basketball.
“All I did was put a pad in there to protect the fresh wound — I wasn’t going to let this stop me. I had come too far. Now I am back on the floor and fulfilling my dream of playing college basketball,” she said.
Returning to basketball is something that didn’t happen overnight. But Bunkowfst was determined to do whatever it took to be able to play again.
“I was out of sports for a while. It took a lot of physical therapy and my own self disci-pline and hard work to get back into action. I am back; and I’m loving it. Stepping on the court feels amazing and I feel so blessed,” Bunkowfst said.
She WILL play ball
Regardless of what lies ahead for this college sophomore, Bunkowfst said one thing she knows with certainty is that she plans to play ball.
“I will continue playing regardless of what happens. I strongly believe in the scripture Philippians 4:13: ‘I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me.’ I am an athlete and love being active and will continue doing what I love until the good Lord takes me from this world. I will continue to keep pressing and pursuing my purpose in life,” she said.
Bunkowfst knows that everything that has happened is part of God’s plan for her. And she is thankful to have others in her life that not only care for her well being but who also share her unwavering faith.
“My parents, family, and church family at the Gospel Lighthouse have been there through it all. God uses each of them to help me; and God uses me to help them. We inspire each other. God has a purpose for me in life — I am not going to give up because of a few speed bumps on my path,” Bunkowfst said.
While playing sports will always be Bunkowfst’s passion, she said her illness has shown her that there is a whole lot more to living than sinking a three-point bucket.
“My life hasn’t changed, but my health issues have changed the way I look at life. Things can happen in the blink of an eye. There are always what-ifs — so love each other and get along because you just never know. The tumors have made me realize there are more than just sports in life,” she said.
Bunkowfst said while she knows things can change in an instant, she plans to live each day to the fullest. And if the worst should happen, she will once again turn her problem over to God — because she knows firsthand what the power of prayer can do.
“NEVER GIVE UP. Look for your answers from above, open a Bible. You ask and pray to God about what He wants you to do and maybe even plead with Him. Jesus Christ is my Savior and He has brought my family and me through many obstacles. He can do the same for you. The Lord will carry you. God bless everyone in the community who prayed for me and helped my family through our difficult time,” Bunkowfst said.