Cancer changed Sue Gatley in a positive way
ROME — “Don’t take your life for granted.”
That was the message learned and one still passed on today by Sue Gatley, of Westernville, a 25-year survivor of breast cancer.
Gatley was 39 when she was diagnosed and was just beginning the third stage of cancer.
“My treatment was a mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy with several years of medication,” Gatley remembered. “There was no history of breast cancer in my family. Fortunately, I found the lump myself as mammograms were not generally performed on persons my age.”
Gatley recalled the changes she faced when first diagnosed and throughout her treatment. Her children were ages 7, 12 and 14 at the time, and it was difficult for them to understand their mother’s battle.
“They did not understand, all they knew was their routine was disrupted. I tried to put on a brave face to spare my family,” Gatley recalled. “I don’t really regret that decision. However, I did not take into account that a mother wants to emotionally support her children. In retrospect, my intent to spare them heartache caused heartache by shutting them out. I truly believe that no one can really understand unless they personally share the same experience.”
As Gatley was fighting her own diagnosis, her father-in-law was also struggling with lung cancer, which would ultimately take his life. But the two formed a special bond during this difficult time, and Gatley said the people she met during her chemotherapy treatments helped to lift her spirits and gave her hope.
“The people I met while receiving chemotherapy remain in my heart forever,” Gatley said. “I specifically remember a woman, Gloria. She gave me rosary beads and prayed for me. I still tear up when I think of her. She will never know how her strength and compassion helped me through that time.”
And Gatley said it actually took several years for her to really get back to “life” after cancer.
“I struggled with infections that were never really resolved, but now managed,” she said. “It was my husband, Paul, who brought me back to ‘life.’ He understood what motivated me. He played to my stubborn nature and challenged me. I love him and thank him for staying by me for the last 43 years of marriage.”
But with all the struggles and challenges, Gatley said cancer actually changed her in a positive way.
“I tell the true story — prior to cancer, I came across a woman crying in the ladies room. I did not know what to say, and I walked away,” Gatley remembered. “After cancer, I came across a woman crying in the bathroom. I hugged her and asked what happened, and how I could help. Having cancer, and surviving, has blessed me with a greater awareness for people, nature and religion.”
For women out there who have just received their breast cancer diagnosis, Gatley has a few words of wisdom and advice.
“My immediate message: I am still here to tell my story. This enemy can be beat,” Gatley said. “Second, it is scary, but don’t bury your head in the sand. The sooner you seek medical attention, the better. Stare cancer in the eye and don’t blink.”
As for how others may react to your diagnosis, “Some friends may initially avoid you, but don’t judge harshly. They don’t understand and they don’t know what to say or do,” she advised.
To those who may not understand or know what to say, “There is so much stress and uncertainty in the inflicted person’s life as they are going through diagnosis and treatment. We crave normalcy,” the survivor said. “Do those things you did before your friend or loved one was diagnosed with cancer. If they physically cannot, find other avenues — play games, watch movies, take a stroll, watch a sunrise or sunset.”
And most important of all, Gatley said those diagnosed with cancer, their caregivers, friends and loved ones should learn to enjoy the time they have with each other.
“Enjoy your time, ultimately none of us know when our time on Earth will end and by which means,” she said. “Do not take your life or anyone else’s for granted.”
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