KINGMAN - Carol Busha is one of those people who easily makes friends. Cheerful and positive by nature, she's got one of those down-home styles that immediately puts people at ease.
Carol and her husband Lennie moved from Denver to the first fairway on the Valle Vista golf course around 10 years ago. She has spent the last six or so years enjoying her job as a greeter at the Cracker Barrel restaurant on Stockton Hill Road. He enjoyed his retirement out on the golf course. Life was good.
In January, Carol was at a Chinese restaurant in Lake Havasu City when she cracked open a fortune cookie that said her luck was about to change. And it did, with the Bushas experiencing more misfortune in 11 months than most do in a lifetime.
Their son Keith committed suicide two days before his 42nd birthday, about a month after Lennie's best friend and fishing buddy collapsed in front of Lennie and died. Carol went to see her doctor for her anxiety in August when a physical exam detected a lump on her mid-section. She was diagnosed the day after Labor Day with stage 3 ovarian cancer.
Complications from her first surgery to remove the mass led to a second, while Lennie himself became a patient after experiencing chest pains from the stress. It's been a trying time for the couple for sure, but one they say has a silver lining.
"I didn't know I had this many friends," Carol said, her eyes welling with tears while surrounded by friends and co-workers.
Carol was back at the Cracker Barrel Wednesday for the first time since her diagnosis. Regular customers came in and out throughout the afternoon to share cake, laughs and blessings, which seem to have hit their mark.
Just 10 minutes after sharing a prayer with a dozen or so Sunday-regulars that afternoon, Carol's kidney doctor called to say that her kidneys may be functioning normally and that a blood test would confirm if further dialysis was necessary.
"I just take it a day at a time, and the very fact that I'm still here," Carol said before being interrupted by another person excited to see her back after her absence.
Carol wasn't given good odds after complications arose from a surgery at Sunrise Medical Center in Las Vegas in September. She developed a fever two days after returning to Kingman and was admitted to Kingman Regional Medical Center. She was hospitalized for a staph infection for 25 days, 13 of which were spent in the Intensive Care Unit after her kidneys shut down.
"Just as they gave up hope, I woke up," she said.
Those 13 days are a blur for Carol. There were no bright lights, she said, and no enlightened moments. She felt no pain and had no idea she was in a hospital. In her confused state, she thought she and her husband were living in the McDonald's on Andy Devine Avenue. "Why are we living here?" she said she remembers thinking.
The Bushas were roommates of sorts after Lennie was admitted to the same floor of the hospital during his wife's stay.
Lennie had been having chest pains and ended up having three heart stints inserted. He said he's inspired by his wife, who he met in an Illinois nightclub some 40 years ago.
"She don't ever see the bad side," he said. "She's got a great attitude, and for cancer, I think that's half the battle."
Carol recently began chemotherapy. She's not sure how her body will respond to the treatment, but she knows she won't be able to see her friends at Cracker Barrel for some time.
"I improve all the time in different areas, but then there's another obstacle," she said.
But if the uncertainty about her future troubles her, she doesn't let on. Her life has always been full of light-heartedness, like the day before her surgery when she poured dressing on her salad and the herbs in the Paul Newman blend made a smiley face she interpreted as a good sign.
"She's got an attitude that won't quit," said Mary Embree, one of Carol's many regulars. Her co-worker, Cari Bergman, said Carol makes such an impression on her customers that they always ask about her, such as the group of ladies on their way back to California last month who stopped in looking for their favorite employee.
"It's about caring about each other versus the almighty dollar," Bergman said.
"That's how you get groups of friends like these."