Bonnie’s Bus Mobile Mammography Program, provided through WVU Cancer Institute, travels across the state to provide mammograms to women in rural areas. The bus was founded in 2009, in memory of Bonnie Wells Wilson, who passed away in 1992 from breast cancer. S. Stewart photos

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

A tour bus painted with royal blue mountains and pink flowers pulls into the parking lots at Community Care of West Virginia’s Marlinton and Green Bank offices every year in June and August and spends one to two days onsite.

Not your typical bus – Bonnie’s Bus is a mobile mammography unit which travels around West Virginia to offer mammogram screenings to women in rural counties.

Last week, the bus was in Marlinton for two days and Green Bank for one. At Green Bank, the nurses and staff provided something extra for the patients who signed up for a screening.

In addition to learning about the Bonnie’s Bus, they were treated to snacks and given a chance to win a gift basket.

Nurse Anita Taylor explained that it is important for women to get screenings and Bonnie’s Bus is a big draw for many reasons.

“It’s just so much more convenient,” she said. “Normally, we have a list of patients and we call them and tell them about the bus. If they don’t have insurance, we can sign them up for the Breast and Cervical Cancer Program, and it pays for it. They will also help pay for people whose insurance doesn’t cover the cost.”

A plaque dedicated to the memory of Bonnie Wells Wilson is on display in the waiting area of Bonnie’s Bus.

Bonnie’s Bus was founded by Jo Statler, daughter of Bonnie Wells Wilson, who passed away in 1992 from breast cancer. Bonnie lived in a remote area of West Virginia and did not have access to mammography screenings.

Jo and her husband, Ben, wanted to ensure that all women in West Virginia were given the opportunity to receive screenings and made a donation to the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center in 2009. Through that donation, the Bonnie Wells Wilson Mobile Mammography Program – or Bonnie’s Bus – was founded and continues to operate through the WVU Cancer Institute.

Since its inception in 2009, Bonnie’s Bus has provided more than 16,500 mammograms and has detected at least 75 cases of breast cancer.

The bus went through an upgrade process in 2017 and is now fitted with a 3D digital mammography machine with satellite capabilities.

WVU Cancer Institute mammographer Kristie Park stands with the 3D digital mammography machine in Bonnie’s Bus. Park is one of three mammographers who travels with Bonnie’s Bus.

Mammographer Kristie Park explained that the new machine is more accurate and less constraining to the patients.

“There are fewer call backs for biopsies because it picks up more,” she said. “It knows when something is cancerous or not. It also has less pressure to it. We also have a wheelchair lift. It’s very convenient for someone who is handicapped. We just have them in the wheelchair and they don’t have to stand. The machine can be lowered to them.”

With satellite capabilities, the screening films can be sent to the patient’s doctor immediately and the results arrive through mail in two to three weeks to the patient.

Park is one of three mammographers with Bonnie’s Bus and each takes their turn traveling to nearly all 55 counties in West Virginia.

“We’ll travel two weeks out of the month,” she said. “So one week, you’re traveling, and the next week you’re in the office. In the winter months, we don’t go because the bus is two-wheel drive. It’s shut down from the last two weeks of December until March 1.”

The upgraded bus also includes a waiting area, restroom and two changing rooms for privacy.

Bus driver Rick Maczko sits in the seat he uses to both drive the bus and register patients. Maczko is one of three drivers employed with Bonnie’s Bus.

Bus driver Rick Maczko is eager to give tours of the new bus and throws in a joke or two along the way. He is the first to point out the flat screen TV with a screensaver of fish in an aquarium, followed with the quip, “They’re the easiest fish to take care of; you never have to feed them.”

Maczko also registers patients and tries to make the experience as pleasant as possible by popping in DVDs of classic Bewitched episodes to help pass the time.

Bonnie’s Bus will return to Marlinton August 28 and 29, and Green Bank, August 30. For more information on the program, contact Community Care of West Virginia Marlinton office at 304-799-4404 and Green Bank office at 304-456-5115 or visit wvucancer.org/cancer-prevention-control/bonnies-bus/

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com