Gayle W. has been a Support Volunteer with CHN for 15 years. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer as a young adult, and is passionate about helping others dealing with a cancer diagnosis, especially at a young age. Gayle is actively involved with many cancer organizations and recently spoke at American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in West Caldwell, NJ. Below is a transcript of the speech she gave at the event. She also got to be the ribbon-cutter that got the race started! (See pictures below )
I am proud to be here tonight on the invitation of my niece Hannah, who was inspired by my story to participate in Relay for Life. She was just 2-months old in 1996 when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 26yrs old. It is very rare to get that news in your mid-20s, and while it was tough to hear, I am very lucky to have found out; as I had no symptoms at the time of my diagnosis. Receiving the proper treatments and care to beat cancer, I would go on to travel the world, watch Hannah, and my other nieces and nephews grow up, cheer the Yankees on to several World Series victories and agonizing defeats, craft up a storm and now, join you here tonight!
My diagnosis started a few years earlier during a routine gynecological exam when, what were thought originally to be cysts were found. Due to my mom’s wise advice of my follow up care being with a gynecological/oncologist and not just a gynecologist, eventually doctors determined they were in fact tumors. What was next? Chemotherapy, hair loss, fatigue, gastro issues, support groups, juggling work and social activities along with the emotional ups and downs that come with the physical challenges.
That’s what makes a night like tonight so important, for the valuable research funds raised, but possibly more impactful is the community we are creating. As a cancer patient, it’s incredibly powerful and comforting to know there are groups like this cheering you on, in addition to your family and friends. I also participated in the American Cancer Society’s “Look Good, Feel Better” program, where experts show you how to use make up and wigs while you are going through treatment. With their guidance and style tips, I was provided with lots of free makeup and ways to make sure I looked like the sassiest 20something walking up and down the streets of Manhattan. Relay for Life raises money for programs likes this as well as research, education, advocacy and patients services and programs.
With all these people behind me, I walked into my treatments with a sense of confidence and spunk as I knew I had teams of people rooting for me. And as you can see the treatments worked. I take great pride in giving back now that I’m healthy and am often a resource to friends and colleagues who have faced similar cancer battles. One of the biggest pieces of advice I love to give is to gather your cheerleaders and utilize their support and help. It’s just as important as the medicine, so I think it’s fantastic all of you are here today to do just that! Let’s celebrate the people who are dealing with cancer and remember those who fought but lost the battle.
You need to keep up with your own routine medical exams. I did not have any symptoms and it was only upon examination that this was found. Always listen to your body, regardless of what a doctor might say. I can’t stress this enough. You know how you feel, so when something doesn’t seem right, take action and follow up even if that means getting second or third opinions. Many cancers are curable when detected early, PLUS eating healthy, exercising, yearly physicals and tests at the appropriate age put you ahead of the game in prevention.
This past September marked 16 years since my diagnosis, and it is really touching to see my niece Hannah and her sister Rachael, who are now teens, raising money and participating in this event. They may not know it, but when they were learning to crawl, walk and explore life they were among my biggest inspirations, as there was no way I was going to let a little thing like cancer stop me from missing out on their incredible lives.
I am so glad that you are all able to join us tonight in celebration of survivorship, in memory of those we have lost and to raise money so that one day we do not have to run, bake, walk, jump, fundraise and research for a cure. Remember this is only the beginning; you can still email people or hold more fundraisers to continue supporting Relay for Life and American Cancer Society. Let this be a night of hope, fun and solidarity that inspires you to continue to contribute – however you can this year – and bring healing vibes to those in the cancer community.