A Legacy of Faith | A Story of Hope

Written By: Luann Haskins


August 9, 2023

Married for 55 years, the commonalities that brought Bill and Marilyn Bossenberger together have also sustained their marriage during the good times and the hard times. Their early foundation of Christian values and the importance of family has bound them to their three children and ten grandchildren. The couple was married in 1967, and their ultimate goal was to one day enjoy the freedom of their retirement years by traveling and spending time in ministry. However, in 1998, those plans were waylaid with heartbreaking news.

When Marilyn was 55, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Believing the cancer was successfully removed surgically, she and Bill were startled again six months later when a second lump appeared, a more aggressive form of breast cancer.

“Walking toward our car and then sitting on a park bench, I can hardly talk about it. People walking by; we’re just crying in each other’s arms, who cares who is seeing us. Just the emotion of the whole thing, the second time in six months, what hope is there?” Bill shared.

After another surgery, Marilyn remained in remission for the next six years. Then a noticeable hip pain developed. A bone scan and a CAT scan revealed the cancer had spread to numerous sites in her body. This time, it was Stage IV metastatic cancer.

“The doctor put his hand on my knee and said, ‘I’m so sorry. We’ll try to keep you comfortable, but you have cancer.’ The cancer was in my bones, my hip, my spine, my lungs, my liver. He really didn’t give me much hope,” Marilyn said.

That evening, Bill and Marilyn’s children and their spouses appeared at their door, wanting to spend time in earnest prayer for their mother. That was about the time of Bill and Marilyn’s 40th wedding anniversary. A celebration was soon held for the couple who believed it might be their last year together.

In the meantime, at the recommendation of their son, Marilyn went to the Karmanos Cancer Institute for a second opinion. This resulted in an intensive round of radiation and 17 months of chemotherapy treatments.

Throughout her arduous journey, Marilyn saw God at work. “I could see how things just fell into place. I could just see God working in every detail. A verse I hadn’t thought about in years came to my mind: ‘You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me’” (Psalm 139:5).

As members of Woodside Troy, their continued involvement in church activities has remained a priority. Marilyn served within the Stephen Ministries. Bill plays trumpet in the orchestra during the first Sunday morning service. They also stay active in their Life Group and the class, Faithful Friends.

For many years, Bill had been afflicted with the life-altering Acute Restless Leg Syndrome, until a recent treatment eliminated his symptoms. His priority has been to stand by Marilyn throughout her health journey.

“There was a period of shock, the plans for retirement, and then the fear of being by myself the rest of my life. Then came gradual acceptance. The marriage vow ‘in sickness and in health’ reminded me that this is truly where the rubber meets the road. My job was that of a caregiver,” Bill said.

Even though Marilyn has undergone chemotherapy treatments every few weeks since 2005, her cancer would reappear over the next several years. In 2009, she was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor and returning cancer in her liver. In 2016 and 2017, she underwent brain operations. Currently, her condition is stable.

Marilyn credits God and her Karmanos medical team for her miraculous survival. In response, she became an active member of a Karmanos cancer support group. Marilyn knows her life is in God’s hands. “Right now, it’s a God thing,” she said.

Bill has seen firsthand the impact of Marilyn’s journey on others. “God can use something like cancer to minister to other people. I think of the people that she has had contact with who are struggling. The first thing you want to do is call Marilyn because they know her story,” Bill said.

Marilyn keeps two pieces of paper in her Bible that hold the names of cancer patients that she has prayed for over the years. Many of those have not survived, yet she keeps their names tucked in her Book. She often asks herself, “Why am I still here? I have no idea.”

While Marilyn may have moments of questioning, she finds reading other people’s stories of suffering and overcoming inspiring. “I have learned that people who have gone through hard things are people you really relate to. And I always say I need to be in a group with people who have gone through hard things.”

On Easter Sunday, 2023, Marilyn commemorated a monumental birthday with family and friends. “Celebrating my 80th together with our children and grandchildren was overwhelming and filled me with so much joy,” Marilyn shared.

God has used Bill and Marilyn throughout their cancer journey, and there is still more to their relationship. They enjoy being with one another, reading the Bible, and praying together. During COVID, Bill and Marilyn found pleasure in cooking together, listening to Christian podcasts, and doing puzzles.

“When you go through hard things, those things can make your marriage stronger or it can make it weaker. I have seen a lot of marriages fall apart because of hard things. I don’t think you stay the same. We have been fortunate to be able to grow closer, to be more patient,” Marilyn said.

For their family at large, seeing Bill and Marilyn cope through the “hard things” has been a testimony of God’s grace.

“Commitment to God’s commands and trusting in His promises is what equips my parents to persevere in hard times,” their daughter, Kara, said. “The foundation they have in Christ is what has enabled them to stand firm through all the storms. Seeing them live out their faith has shown their kids and grandkids what faith is all about.”