Those who have faced cancer and survived often attribute their survival to one factor or another, with an attitude of perseverance taking the lead in many cases. While that’s certainly true for Charlene “Chuckie” Strang of Culver, in her case it was her faith, and the voluminous amount of prayerful support from the Culver community that got her through.
“Of course faith in God is number one,” says Strang, a 63-year Culver resident who grew up in Chicago. “(Cancer) can be very discouraging, but your friends and family help you through it, and our pastor helped also. Visits by them, their running errands for me, transportation to and from my treatments — I went to Michiana Hematology and Oncology in Plymouth for chemo and radiation treatments. The doctors and nurses there were just great, I would recommend them to anybody.”
Chuckie Strang met her husband Ted when they worked next door to each other on North Main Street, she for “Wilbur Taylor at his dime store,” she says, and Ted at the A&P grocery next door. “We had a great time!” she recalls.
In the years since, practically everyone in the community has come to know her. She spent 30 years as the hostess for Culver’s Welcome Wagon, served in a variety of community positions ranging from secretary of the Culver Chamber of Commerce to the library board, co-chaired the local Bloodmobile for 30 years, and taught Sunday School at Wesley United Methodist Church for three decades as well, besides assisting Kay Mallory in teaching at Wesley’s preschool for five or so years in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
More recently she assisted with Wesley’s United Methodist Women’s thrift store in Culver, until she became ill last late November, and that illness now seemed Providential: it led doctors to discover the intestinal cancer with which she was diagnosed in December. Following surgery in January, she began in February eight months of radiation and chemo therapy.
“In 1992 I had breast cancer,” recalls Strang, “and got over that ok. I didn’t have to have treatments for that; it was just the very beginning (and it was caught) early, so that was lucky.”
When she heard her diagnosis last December, she says, “Since I had already had it once, I just kind of thought, ‘Well, here we go!’ I knew there would probably be treatments of some kind. I made up my mind I was going to get over it. It’s always a shock...but I thought, ‘Well, we can handle this.’”
And so she did, as the song goes, with a little help from her friends (and family). Her two sons came to Culver and took turns staying with Strang until August, and Culver friends from church, from the VFW Ladies Auxiliary (in which she’s also been active) and virtually across the board flooded her with calls offering to help, visits, cards, messages, and prayers.
“That gets you through it all: your friends,” says Strang. “So many people volunteered that I couldn’t call on all of them during that time. That meant a lot to me. So many said, ‘Let me know; I’ll help you.’ They wouldn’t just say, ‘Call me.’ They would call and say, ‘What can I do?’”
Ladies at the thrift store, she adds, heard she’d lost weight from her treatments and began bringing in clothes to accommodate (she adds happily that she’s gaining the weight back and plans to return the items to the store!).
Strang’s last tests, at the end of September, showed she was officially ‘cancer-free.’
“When I told people the cancer was gone, they cried over the phone they were so happy to hear it,” she says.
Asked if she has any advice for those facing a battle with the disease, Chuckie Strang says, “Keep your courage up. And: you can do this! The doctors and nurses are so helpful; they will explain everything to you. You know what you have to deal with, and they tell you that you can do this, and I believed them.
“There were times when it wasn’t much fun,” she adds. “(But) I just hope people will remember this can be done.”
Strang puts in a joke derived from her particular situation: “It just takes a little intestinal fortitude!”
She says she plans to return to involvement in things as before, specifically the thrift store, VFW Ladies Auxiliary, and activities at Wesley church. Meantime, she has the well-wishes of a supportive community to keep her moving forward.
“You can’t find finer people than in Culver. I’m sure where I grew up in Chicago, you wouldn’t see that...it’s really overwhelming the outpouring and offers of help I got from people.
“People have just been wonderful to me, and I won’t forget them.”