DuBOIS — A local man recently stood outside of Penn Highlands DuBois to surprise his wife, who suffered from stage four colon cancer, on their 33rd anniversary – the last anniversary the two would have together.

Bessie Zmitravich, who was originally diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016 when a polyp was removed, died peacefully in her sleep early Thursday morning, said her sister-in-law Lori McMahon. The cancer resurfaced in fall 2018 when she had some back and leg pain, and scans were done some time after Christmas that year.

A biopsy in January 2019 showed colon cancer, which McMahon said was already in stage four at the time.

Bessie was part of a clinical trial at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, where she was undergoing treatments, McMahon said. She encountered other health issues, but started to show progress during chemotherapy.

Bessie and her husband, James “Jim” Zmitravich, were to celebrate spending more than three decades together in March, McMahon said.

“For the past month or so, she was planning their anniversary and wedding vow renewal,” she said.

The couple was to have a ceremony and a dinner and dance at the Polaski Club with friends and family in DuBois March 20, but it closed down due to the coronavirus pandemic, McMahon said. Bessie ended up being admitted to Penn Highlands DuBois on March 16.

The Zmitravichs’ anniversary happened to fall during the time when the hospital was closed to all visitors, McMahon said, so her brother stood outside the building, where Bessie could see him, with a “Happy Anniversary” sign and flowers that Friday.

“I called her afterward, and she was happy to see that,” McMahon said.

Shortly after, doctors began allowing those receiving end-of-life care to have two visitors at a time, so Jim and family were able to be with her during her final days.

She was a volunteer at DuBois Nursing Home for 10 years, McMahon added, and was always sweet, selfless and willing to help others.

Bessie could have chosen to have more chemotherapy treatments, McMahon said, but it would’ve caused more damage and side effects than she had already endured.

“She preferred to have her quality of life,” she said.

Even uncertain of how long she had left, Bessie continued to be an inspiration to those who knew her, McMahon said. Family and friends are grateful she is no longer in pain.

“She was always positive,” McMahon said. “She never complained about her pain. She was very faithful and spiritual, and she trusted God the whole way.”

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