Community rallies behind longtime ‘loving’ New Milford bus driver diagnosed with cancer

NEW MILFORD — For more than 25 years, resident Lisa Yachulke has seen children of all ages daily, as the driver of the 44 bus in town.

She also helped with work where needed, such as refueling and cleaning buses and doing snow removal.

“She did it all,” said her daughter, Alicia Atwood, 28, of Woodbury.

Atwood is unsure when her mother will be able to return to work as Yachulke, who is 58, was recently diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. The cancer has spread to other parts of her body.

Yachulke’s family is raising money for his medical bills through a GoFundMe page. By Saturday afternoon, the page had raised around $4,200.

“Difficulty pronouncing words”

Atwood said her mother woke up on April 26 and couldn’t move her arm.

“She was trying to put her hair up and she ended up forgetting how to use a hair tie and had trouble saying words,” the girl said, reliving the day she said her family’s nightmare had begun.

Yachulke immediately went to the emergency room. An x-ray revealed a marble-sized tumor in his brain and a huge mass surrounding it.

“The tumor was reducing his ability to speak,” Atwood said. “It stopped all function in her right arm, so she couldn’t move it.”

Yachulke, a New Milford resident and grandmother of five, had brain surgery and while the tumor was removed she learned she had more health issues.

“They ended up doing MRIs and CT scans of her whole body and they found it was cancerous, Atwood said.

Yachulke’s cancer has spread to his brain, back and bones.

Prior to Yachulke’s diagnosis, she appeared healthy, Atwood said.

“There were no symptoms. It just happened very, very quickly.

Since her operation, her daughters drive her to her doctor’s appointments, such as speech therapy. “Her speech is still affected from where the tumor was located. It messed up that part of her brain, so she’s retraining to speak again,” Atwood said.

She said her mother’s oncologist will meet with the family to discuss the next steps in her care.

Atwood, who has her own family, said she and her two sisters are trying to process the news while being available for their mother.

“My sister has two granddaughters and I also have three grandchildren myself. So it’s hard. We’re trying to juggle it all and, you know, we have to be strong for them and try to be strong for her at the same time. But we have our moments when we break,” Atwood said.

Atwood, who said her mother sees all of her grandchildren regularly, said it would be difficult to explain their grandmother’s condition to them.

“We didn’t sit them down and tell them everything,” she said. “So we kind of try to stay neutral. But she can talk to them on the phone and see their faces.

Atwood added that all of the children on her bus route miss her mother very much.

“It’s very hard for her. She can’t drive at all right now and we don’t know for how long. They (her doctors) definitely want her to wait a few weeks,” Atwood said. “She’s going to need radiation and then they’ll want to start some kind of chemo. So it’s going to be a tough road and she’s out of work right now.

Yachulke’s longtime friend, New Milford resident Rachel Horwath, has known her for 12 years.

“She was one of the few people who reached out and welcomed me,” said Horwath, who is also a bus driver. “She was just very supportive. When I failed my first (bus) driving test, she was there. And we just became close friends.

She said they had shared many experiences together over the years, both on and off the job.

“We always protect each other,” she said.

Horwath, who is also 58, said they both grew up watching the hit TV series ‘I Love Lucy’.

“She’s Lucy and I’m Ethel. We have magnets on our buses and we say “My Lucy” and “My Ethel”.

Horwath said she considers Yachulke one of her best friends. “She is non-judgmental. She is an unconditional and loving friend,” Horwath said. “I just love her. I love lucy.”

“One day at a time”

Atwood said her family is staying positive and taking things one day at a time.

Yachulke is now home from the hospital and is resting.

She also receives many phone calls.

“A lot of parents of the kids on his bus from years ago reached out to us and it was great,” Atwood said.

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