In honor of celebrating my 6th year of surviving breast cancer, I reached out to other survivors and asked them to share their unique stories to motivate and inspire other survivors.
This interview is with 11-year Army veteran, and mother of four, Gail Matthews. When I first spoke with Gail I was touched by her sense of compassion and gentleness.
When I heard her story, I was moved by her honesty, and I thought that hearing about how she dealt with fear and how she stood up for herself during breast cancer treatment is something that other survivors could understand and identify with.
More than anything else though, I love the way Gail has come through treatment with an even bigger heart that is open to seeing and connecting to the needs of others with a belief that we need to be good to ourselves and give more hugs!
I know you'll enjoy listening to this lovely woman.
Read Full Transcript Below:
This is Laura Lummer, the breast cancer recovery coach. I'm a healthy lifestyle coach, a clinical or innovative specialist, a personal trainer, and I'm also a breast cancer survivor. In this podcast, we talk about healthy thinking and mindfulness practices, eating well, moving your body for health and longevity. And we'll also hear from other breast cancer survivors who have re engaged with life and have incredible stories to share. This podcast is your go to resource for getting back to life after breast cancer.
Welcome back to episode nine of the breast cancer recovery coach. I am Laura Lummer. And I'm thrilled to be bringing episode nine to you because if you follow me on any social media channels, you know that this is a very special month for me. The month of July is the month that I was diagnosed with breast cancer July 11, to be specific, and this year 2017. I'm celebrating six years of survivorship. I do have a tradition that I normally do when it is my survivor anniversary. I have a tattoo on the back of my shoulder, which was done for me by my son who's a tattoo artist. It's a stenzel by an artist that I really admired named Banksy. And it's a little girl floating away on holding onto a bundle of balloons and floating away. And my son does this tattoo for me and we've changed some of the balloon colors to pink. They're originally black, and every year of my survivorship, my son adds a new pink balloon onto that tattoo. So that's been my tradition for several years now. And this year, as I started to think about six years, you know, you pass that five year mark and something just seems to change. It's kind of like having your learner's permit and then having your driver's license and I wanted to make it an even bigger celebration. So I put the word out on last week's podcast on all my social media channels. And I asked for other survivors, to send me their stories of survival, because it's so much better to celebrate when you have a party right when you have a bunch of people celebrating with you. And I have been just overwhelmed and in a wonderful way, by the response to this call in receiving stories, amazing stories from survivors. And I asked that if you would like to be on my podcast, in addition to submitting your story, to let me know and I would love to have guests on my podcast. And that was one of the reasons when I started this podcast was not only to bring survivors, information on nutrition and mindfulness practices and stress reduction and exercise, but also to share voices of other survivors. And the incredible thing they’ve done. And I don't mean just in, you know, getting finished with breast cancer treatment and then starting a nonprofit or writing a book. And even though some people have done that, and you are going to hear from some of them in upcoming interviews, but I mean, just incredible in the way that they become even more compassionate people than maybe they were originally. That's something in their experience of having cancer and surviving cancer. It just changed them in some way where they feel more empathetic or more compassionate or just view life a little differently than what they did before. And we're going to hear one of those stories today from an incredible woman. Gail Matthews lives in Illinois. She is this will be three years of survival with her actually this month, July. And I really wanted to highlight her story this week because it's Fourth of July week and Gail was a little Seven Year Army veteran. And that is just an amazing and courageous accomplishment in itself. So I thought this was a perfect week to celebrate her story. And what I love about Gail, when we talked is just she's just so gentle and so sweet. And you'll hear that in her story, and just a very compassionate human being. And she also went through a lot of struggles and had as anyone who goes through cancer, some rough times and some bumpy roads, but she really preserved beard and she found solutions to a lot of things that came up. And you're going to hear all about that in just a couple of minutes. So if you're interested in submitting a survivor story, I encourage you to get in touch with me on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, or go to my website, Laura Lummer calm and you'll find up in the top right hand corner it says survivor stories and if you click on that, it'll also say submit your story and there's a form that you can submit your story Because even though I will highlight a story for each podcast episode in July, going forward, I'll also be doing that once a month. So the more stories, the better, so keep them coming. That being said, I'm going to move right on to the interview. So Gail, I just want to welcome you to this show. I thank you so much for making the time to be here today. And to share your story with us a lot of the details of a cancer survival story of cancer experience are really personal. And it's very meaningful to have someone be able to share from that part of themselves, that part of their heart, that part of their soul and what they went through. And I know that you're doing it so that other women who may have had similar experiences to you or other women who might be struggling to find their way after breast cancer treatment can maybe have some inspiration from your story. So I want to welcome you and I want to start off Gail with just having you share your story through your own voice. Let's start off with talking about when you were diagnosed, what your diagnosis was, how old you at the time and just how this all came about when you found out that you had breast cancer.
When I was diagnosed, it was in July of 2014. And I was 55 years old at that time, and I was one Sunday morning, I was just doing my normal brakes exam. And I felt something that felt like a marble there my arm and I was like, okay, where Did you come from? And it moved around and did everything. So I knew it was nothing that was normal. And I went back Monday, I called my doctor and they scheduled me for a mammogram to which I was scheduled for a month after because it would have been 12 months of the time that I had my previous mammogram and I go for my examination. They say that they were long there were long. So I had to I had one in the front of my right wrist, and I left no under my arm. And that was in July 2014.
And so what was your diagnosis? What stage were you when they discover?
Okay, so, later on in July, they scheduled me for an ultrasound along with the mammogram. I had already had my mammogram, and they did an ultrasound and everything. And then I went in for a biopsy, after the ultrasound, and they took tissue they sent it off, and two days later, I was contacted by my doctor and she told me that it was cancer. But she didn't know the stage right because she was only my medical factor pain reply back Her with the results. And once the game the results they assigned me on a college. And once I was done the analysis he called me and he talked to me about the cancer and he that's when I found out it was stage three. He said that with this form of cancer, he gave me a chemo plan. And he told me that I would go through chemo and I would do like three months. I would do September, October, November, every two weeks, I would have treatments treatment. And then I will go to winkley from November to January. And he said that it was stage three a, but the thing about this chemo, it could cause my cancer to spread or it could either remove the lawn. So he said if I have two treatments The locks don't shrink at all. They will stop and automatically go ahead and remove them and then start chemo again. So he measured each time.
Okay, great. And so you had how large was your tumor?
It was about the size of a marble. Okay.
In under my lip, no,
I have one
there and I had one in the front of my breath. So they had two areas that they were working on it he was mentioned on. So after my second chemo treatment, it has struck the one that was at my breakfast shrunk half the size of the mind on the left, no head went down. And he said, Well, it was reacting to the chemo. So they would keep up go ahead and continue that came out since it was, you know, responded to it. In a way we're shrinking in it.
Yeah. What was your frame of mind during your treatment? Where were you? What are you thinking? I you told me a story about a nurse that was really wonderful with you. We talked the other day. But let's talk a little bit about where your head was at once you found this was going to happen to you and you're going to go through this treatment, how was it affecting you?
I was really very fearful. But I was afraid to show that pain because I didn't want to seem like I was weak. And I didn't want to tell anybody. So I was also working from my chemo, I would go to came on on a Thursday, and I would have one day to go to work, which was on Friday, and I would have the whole weekend off. So I was, you know, really afraid because I was wondering, you know what, it's not a sprint because he told me that he was reacting to the chemo. Also, I was wondering where does it go? You know, when it shrinks, how does it leave your body? And he really explained it to me, he said that it could, it would leave out through when you went to the bathroom and different things like that. But I was actually wondering, okay, if it's going through my body could it
go, you know,
commit to other areas. Every time I had the chemo treatment, I was really afraid, but I was afraid to show my fear. You know, because I didn't know it. One day after my third treatment, I combed my hair and it started to come out. And I was really in a depressing state at that time, because I heard that my hair would come out, but it actually just started I looked at myself and I could see my scalp and I was saying to myself, well, now what am I going to do cuz I had never worn weeks at all, and I didn't even know how to bye week and those were things that you know, I didn't know, I really didn't know what to do and I didn't know what kind of with the mind me, cuz I was thinking it's gonna make me look so different and everybody's going to stare at me. I was really heartbroken and I was afraid to cry about it because I was just feel so hurt like, Hello, what am I gonna do? I can't ask the person Well, how do you pick a weakness for you? Because I you know, really, though, I didn't want to look like I was like, I'm just gonna say it. How can you let somebody know? I didn't have anybody that I felt that I could fail.
Well, you have a really special situation right there. As soon as you were diagnosed, you were just a few days out from a big family event, right? So talk about that a little bit and why you felt like you did. Come out until your kids in your family.
Well, my son was engaged to be married in New York. And we chose to drive because it was quite a few of us. So we just rented trip by the way. I didn't want to tell anybody about my cancer, because I knew what's what's for the wedding. And I found out and my sister and all of them came here for the Fourth of July. And at that time,
I had no you know, I had found a one to think that I hadn't been diagnosed, but I knew something was there. And so once I did find out I was like will, I can't tell invited my doctor said that. You need to, you know, decide what you really want to do because we have, you know, I'm going to set you up on the college's Everything started as soon as possible. And I told her my son was getting married in August. And I didn't want to spoil the wedding, because people would really focus on me. And it would take that that joining away from this good time in Niagara Falls. So I guess, playing around and I didn't tell anybody but at the same time, I was fearful because I kept feeling, you know, my own man in my person, it seemed like it was growing. Every time I was asleep all the time. And it spread, but I just didn't share it. So I waited till he got married on August the ninth and we get back. We get back home, the 10th we all live that probably morning. And once we get back to our area, I told everybody I called my co workers and everybody was upset because they were Whitney all the weekend and nobody
Anything would have happened.
We wouldn't have known anything I say it, but it would have changed the atmosphere. And that's what I did.
So that was a tough that had to be a tough several days to go through and how to ask you at that point or when you went and you were diagnosed and started working with your physicians, did they have any kind of a support system where you're at, they have any kind of groups or anything that they offered to you and said, Here's where cancer patients or breast cancer patients come together and support each other or mentors or that kind of thing to talk with, you.
Know, they had a social worker that worked in the hospital and he came and he talked to me about the different things that they could do for you. But he had no knowledge really, of anything that I need and you know, what kind of foundation I go to places I can go to get any kind of financial help, you know, pull it up deal or anything like that. Because, you know, I know I'm kind of working. He said, Well, we got an agency that will make help you with like $50 that happened. One of the ladies that belonged to my church, she had been through, you know, a lot of different things with cancer, and she's an advocate now. She has this organization called real me and working and what they do, they donate to make you women, you know, money to help them with bills and different things and they do it locally, in each area. And she they asked her does she know anybody that was diagnosed recently that could use them? No. And she gave them my name. Well, that's great. We went to they had a function where they had a lot of people, they will give a different things and they gave me a financial, you know, Skyping. And it really helped me because anytime this work being financially helped me but along the way, it was another organization called the pink angels, the pink angels that are co-founder, whatever she put, let me go back the First Lady Sheila, she has an organization called sway. Okay, and when they do a whole lot of the things that she was really the person leaned on and she put me out there with everybody that she knew. And her she loved. She does a whole lot of things. She knows Washington DC, and speaks on behalf of cancer itself. But after the pink angels, their co-founder or their founder, she recommended a organization that would help me You know, they would buy you for By buds pants, it's very faint. And they helped me a lot. They helped me with my rent, so I didn't have to worry about things. So these were people that I knew that they were into, you know, different organizations. That's where I got support from, and the American Cancer Society. They paid for my rights to go to bed from chemo from my job, a cat would pick me up and come back and give me and take me back to work or they would bring me home and American Cancer Society did that for me.
That's wonderful. And I think you know, as you and I talked about the other day, the financial aspect of cancer treatment just isn't often talked about. And even though you were employed, I was employed when I went through it, I had benefits. And you think that okay, well, I have insurance so it's going to be okay. And what you soon find out is there are a lot of CO payments. ton of medications. And depending on the extent of your treatment, if you run out of paid time and it goes into FMLA, the financial consequences are just so much larger than you ever think, you know, you think I have insurance, I'm covered, I'm good. And if you don't have insurance, I've always thought my god, how do people get through that without insurance because it's such a costly thing, but missing days of work. And it's just so important to recognize that that is an issue when you know, people are going through cancer treatment. And I know I personally have talked and coach with some women who were just that had so much more stress on to you know, the entire treatment that one of their biggest concerns was their finances, and how they're going to make ends meet as they're going through it. So I love that you're talking about the American Cancer Society, pink angels. There are a lot of organizations out there that are that will support Women as they're going through treatment, but I don't know that a lot of women know about it or that be you know, they're, they check into those resources or they reach out to those people. So I think it's really important that we let people know that there are resources out there and ask questions and talk to people and you know, reach out because it's so important to have that support during your treatment. Yeah. Yeah. So I want you to share something, Gail, because when you and I talked about what you went through treatment, not only did you have chemotherapy, but you have really intense radiation. And this is a really important story, I think, for you to share. Because, again, oftentimes, like you've already expressed, you know, I didn't want to show fear. I didn't want to people to know that I was afraid. And I don't think that that's specific to you. I know I hear that from a lot of women. I know I had that experience myself. And then as a survivor, I kind of look back and I think well on the one hand, you know, the whole movement for breast cancer and be a warrior and all that it's meant to be very supportive and it is encouraging. But sometimes I think that as survivors, we fail to really process everything that happened to us and how we're feeling because we feel like we're supposed to be strong. You know, we're supposed to be warriors. So let's talk about what happened to you and then how you stood up and advocated for yourself because I think that's a wonderful story.
Yes, um, when I started my own radiation, I started maybe a month after my cable, my cable might serve people. And it hurts the radiation. You know, it. It didn't seem like it would bother me at all. It was slowly I start noticing my skin. They had blisters on it adds the nurse that's a it's normal. She's I will Yeah, sometime you do blood spur up. So I said okay and they recommended appointment. And once I took it to Walgreens, the prescription they gave me Walgreens say it was nothing but really to a Vaseline. I was paying $8 per prescription, purchase some Vaseline. I didn't know I thought it was something, you know more than that. And I would say the word and it only seemed like it made me burn board and say don't put it on prior but put it on after the treatment and I had maybe 2020 chemo I mean radiation, and my skin just really hit got to the point. I couldn't move it all in one night. I woke up and I just felt like it was wrong and all my skin filled all time. I went to the doctor, and he's been Phil Oh, you'll be okay. So I Hit that okay, I can't take any more treatments because it's constantly killing and by the time I did I took about two days because I couldn't get out of bed I was just that week and I was in that much pain from the burning and make it to my radiation doctor. He told me he seen worse and I said I've never felt this bed in my life through everything that I went through so far. And at that time my whole side my whole right side was pink and even the back my back even field and the I he said well okay, you can pick another treatment as they know I refuse to eat like I've seen where if I say well, you know, I've never felt this bed and I need to go to emergency room or I need to see a skin specialist because I'm in a lot of pain. And when I go see this in specialist he told me that had I taken under radiation treatment, it would have damaged my nerves and my skin would have never grown back. It was the most pain my bed was so good, because my skin filled up everything. And when I did see him, he could only feel off the skin with tweezers. Because it was all man and it was my entire right side. And he asked me why is my burn up around my neck considering it should have been only through my breast area and under my arm? And I didn't know you know, I just professionals, but the pain that I felt I could never explain in a million years. It was horrible.
Wow. And now as a result of you though, what what I wanted to talk about that story was because the way that you did advocate for yourself and even though the doctor said you know you need to do this or you're going to do this, you're like no, I know something's wrong and so many times As the patient we have to we have to go with our gut and we have to say, you know, take care of me and understand what your needs are. So as a result of you following through with that with the dermatologist tell me there's a new protocol at that hospital now for radiation treatment is that correct?
In Africa, after they studied my case, they said that they will have a skin doctor there, whenever women or or anybody in the radiation from now on, and every time they have a treatment, they have to go through the skin doctor, they have their skin check, because of what I went through because they said I should have never had that many treatments at one time. It was causing my skin to get back to where I was feeling. So now through what I even though I had to go through it in order for them to make changes. At least the next person won't have the experience.
What exactly That is a great thing. That's a really great thing. And, you know, being an advocate for yourself and making some kind of change happen as a result of that. So other people didn't have to go through it. So tell me, Gail, how you think? How's your life different now, after being a survivor of breast cancer? Do you look at things differently? Do you feel differently about you know, life in general? Or how does that how do you how does it affect your life in a way that maybe you wouldn't have thought about before having cancer?
Well, how it's really affected my life is it taught me to never take anything for granted. You know, I really when I see people now and sometimes I see people and they look like they're down, you know, I'm saying the morning even, you know, and a lot of times, people just need that because they are going through something. And I've met women that I could look at her face or look at vericut meaner and see you They just need somebody to talk to because when you go through cancer, you really don't know from day to day what's going to happen but you're just hoping you have hope that you know I'm going to get through this then you don't want to be a bother to people but I didn't have a few people my wife will call me we can just count because it was times that I was willing to do it well on my radio because if my chemo also because my nails were you know, I love my fingernails my toenails became long and I would carry fingernail pumps with me all the time because I had black, the black corner and I didn't want people to see it. So now you know I'm looking at people and
if they need attention or just want to talk to me about anything I have time for you know, some people just need a hug if please can even do bed and be supportive in any way. I can because sometimes you take things for granted that mean a lot to people.
That is so true. So tell me if there was advice that you could give to another survivor out there because I know that you know, there are a lot of women who just really struggle after treatment, to get back to life to kind of put everything into perspective to move past the fear of getting a recurrence. Sometimes people have a really tough time just starting up again because they're afraid what if I start something and then I get cancer again, and I can't finish it or I can go on with it. And what would you say to other survivors now that you think is an important thing for everyone to know?
So, one thing to love yourself, you know, when you look in a mirror, you always see things you don't like, you know, and after going through surgery and different things like me or my breasts is smarter than that.
one of them being larger than the other. I'm self-conscious about it. So I wear jackets all the time. But I would advise anybody not to concentrate on those things because there's always some imperfection in everyone, but trying to enjoy life and I learned, you know, like a prophecy something different in a person. I never stare I never did do that.
But when people look at you sometime they not really looking action because of a mom, but you're so self conscious. You think that you know, but just try to really embrace yourself and love yourself and do as much as you can to enjoy life because it is really short and surround yourself with positive Everything, you know, like, there's so many positive people and the only thing they want to do is enjoy life too. And yeah, that's great.
So that's what I would advise you know, don't really, you know, worry about the things that you can't transfer some things in life we can't change anyway. Just focus on being happy go on and by yourself, like me, I like going to the wheels I really do. It's not that I'm cheap or anything but I enjoyed it. So I really don't really care what a person say about me. I don't anymore because I know I love everybody and I really do whether you nice or mean. I still don't love you. For you surround yourself with positive
yeah That's beautiful. That's great and right, because our behavior is always our own choice, right? It's not dictated by someone else's behavior. If someone else is in kind, or is doing something that makes you feel self conscious, we have to realize that our choice always belongs to us. And we don't have to respond to that. Yeah, I think that's an awesome outlook to have. Well, I want to say thank you so much for reaching out for responding to my request for stories for sharing your story because it's beautiful, and you're just a beautiful lady and a wonderful soul. And I'm so glad that you're able to get your voice out there for other women to hear and to understand your experience because it's really meaningful. So thank you for being here today.
You are so welcome.
Well, thank you.
You and every time I see your name now, I'm gonna say she's The reason why
Okay, well, even though I didn't encourage Gail to say she would become a follower, I'm thrilled to hear that she will because I'm always happy to get a new follower. A really appreciate the time and the energy people put into becoming a part of the breast cancer survivor community and following me on social media through this podcast, and through information on my website and my email list. So if you're not a follower, you can find me on Facebook and Twitter at Laura Lummer. You can find me on Instagram as the breast cancer recovery coach. And you can also go to my website Laura Lummer calm where you can download my free eBook The six habits of healthy happy breast cancer survivors. And I would love it if you have the time to subscribe to this podcast so you never miss an episode and leave a positive review if you enjoy listening to it. And that way it helps us move into the rankings. The show move up in the rankings so that other breast cancers can find this podcast also, and hopefully find support in that information. So I do want to let you know, because this is a super special month for me. And next week, on Tuesday, July 11, will be my six year anniversary of surviving, watch my social media channels. If you're on my email list, you'll be receiving these specials too. But I'm going to put out a 48 hour special with discounts and special items on my coaching packages on beautycounter items. And you guys won't want to miss that because they're going to be some super amazing deals. If you're not familiar with beautycounter I do want to acknowledge the support that I have here from beautycounter that helps me to be able to put on this podcast. And beautycounter is an awesome company with a mission to get safer products into the hands of every woman. And the reason why I am part and proud to be a part of this mission. Is because especially as a breast cancer survivor, and as a healthy lifestyle coach, it's important for me to help people understand that what we put on our body is equally as important as what we put in our body. And sometimes we make a false assumption and assuming that there can't be a product on the shelf, if there's some reason to believe that it's actually not safe for us. And yet, the cosmetic industry is very poorly regulated. And so beautycounter takes that voluntary step to the next level, where they have a never list and they ban all chemicals that are banned in the European Union, which has over 1100 potentially carcinogenic, toxic chemicals, whereas in the United States, there's fewer than a dozen that are bound. And so that's why I'm a believer in this. And you know, my concern is to support every survivor at every woman and never having to become a breast cancer survivor. And I know that making informed decisions by what we put in our body. And what we put on our body is one of the steps to help keep us all alive and healthy for a lot longer. So you can check out beautycounter on my website, Laura Lummer, calm, just go to shop and click the link for a beauty counter, or go directly to them at beautycounter calm forward slash Laura Lummer. Lots of great information. And again, hopefully, it'll help you to make some more informed decisions about what you choose to put on yourself and what you enjoy. All right. So thanks for listening. And please come by again in two weeks from now, when you're going to hear an awesome interview from another survivor, Rhonda Salazar, Rhonda has an organization Rhonda hashtag, t g f s. And she's just awesome. She's an incredible survivor who's put a lot of energy back into supporting survivors telling her story and creating her story through music as well which is super cool. So I have a great interview that we're putting out. I hope you enjoyed this interview with Gayle. And if you would like to be heard on the podcast or just share your story to be seen on my website or on social media, you can submit your story on my website at Laura Lummer calm, go to survivor stories and click on the link that says share your story. I look forward to hearing from all of you. And I'll look forward to putting out the interview with Rhonda two weeks from now. And until then, watch for my anniversary specials and let your lifestyle your courage to the test laid all your doubts.