72-year-old cancer survivor Vernie learns to swim for first time - ABC FOX Montana Local News, Weather, Sports KTMF | KWYB

72-year-old cancer survivor Vernie learns to swim for first time

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 "Oh I do I love to play bingo," said Vernie Burkett.

Every Wednesday afternoon at the Brookdale Senior Living facility, Vernie Burkett can be found at her corner table, three cards in hand, playing bingo.

"And then when we win, we get a gift certificate to the local store that we have here," said Vernie. 

As you can tell, Vernie has a pretty happy-go-lucky personality.

"Just very social, always out and about just everywhere talking to all the residents," said Brookdale Executive Director Alyssa Hobbs.

But five years ago when Vernie got to Brookdale, things were different.

"When she came to us she was wheelchair-bound. She could maybe walk a foot or two at a time," said Hobbs.

Five years ago, Vernie was diagnosed with breast cancer. A week after finding out, doctors removed both of her breasts.

"Had no choice in it, I had to have them removed," said Vernie.

Cancer picked the wrong woman to mess with, she said.

"And I outgrew the fear of it," said Vernie. 

Vernie is now in remission. She conquered cancer. And because of that it gave her the courage to face her biggest fear: Water.

So after 72 years Vernie came her to the local YMCA to learn how to swim, thanks to Wish of a Lifetime. 

"Whats the hardest part?" I asked.  "Not going to the bottom," said Vernie. 

After just four lessons Vernie was on her way to becoming the next Michael Phelps.

"She is a lot more comfortable than she used to be. She hops in her own and can do all the workouts without me being in there," said her swim instructor Melodi. 

Beating cancer gave Vernie the courage to face her fear of swimming. Now that she's done that, well, she thinks she can do anything.

"i learned I'm stronger than I thought I was, and it's wonderful to be able to do things that you never figured,"aid Vernie.

Despite her cancer, despite her lifelong fear of water, Vernie has never quit. And it's inspired others. There's now a group of residents that have now requested to join Vernie to give swimming a try, too.

"We have a whole group that is wanting to do that together to go over and do lessons or some sort of exercise," said Hobbs.

"You can't just sit in a chair. You are wasting your life if you sit there in the chair and can't do nothing. And the world profits from your experiences," said Vernie.

Perhaps we can profit from the strength and courage shown by Vernie Burkett.

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