My name is Gail Wilcox, and I was diagnosed with breast cancer, July 2019.
What a way to start a story!
If I were to rewind only a year, I would be telling you how I’d just began a new career as a nursing home administrator. That after spending most of my life in higher education, I finally found something I loved in caring for others. I’d be telling you how I just wanted to live on forever. You know how excited and happy you are when you feel like you have the world by its tail? That was me. I was exactly where I wanted to be. I was finally doing what I wanted to be doing. Life couldn’t be better. Life couldn’t be happier.
Then it wasn’t, just like that. In a second’s notice, it was not. Then whoop boom – you’re faced with reality.
ALL THE RIGHT THINGS
When they called me back saying there were some issues with my mammogram, I thought, “Oh, okay. You know, we’ll get this taken care of, no problem.” I filled out the information and told my husband, “this will be a piece of cake.” I had no family history of cancer. I was on top of my screenings. I’d done all the right things. There wasn’t a reason in the world to worry.
I was utterly unprepared when the technician said, “Here’s your mass.”
Next came the ultrasound when I found out the mass had traveled and was affecting some lymph nodes in my chest area. More bad news followed quickly after when I was told, “Unfortunately, it’s not completely reachable by surgery.” It was Friday of the same week when I learned that I had a very aggressive form of breast cancer. My outlook on life was destroyed.
HURRY UP AND WAIT
It’s all overwhelming. My life became a game of hurry-up-and-wait. You get this bit of information; then, you get that bit of information. It’s really hard. As a patient, it’s like, I just want to know. I want to know what my future holds. I’m the type of person that is strong for everybody else but not really strong for myself. I like to take care of other people. When people would say, “Oh, you’re strong. Just think positively.” I just wanted to knock their heads together just a little bit. It’s not that easy to be positive and be strong and think you’re going to be healed. That’s not the healing factor. I had so much to work through; depression a little bit, scared to death a little bit, a whole lot. Then I went to anger, and then I went to fighting.
It was an internal fight. It wasn’t “I’m going to fight for my kids” or “I’m going to fight for my husband.” I had to be ready to fight for myself. As caregivers, women, we tend to put everybody else first. In this one instance, I had to put myself first. I had to say, “Okay, it’s all about me for this period of time.” So, I started that journey.
WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS?
I remember walking out of the oncologist’s office, thinking, “I’m doomed; it’s over. I might as well start preparing for the worst.” My prognosis was not good. There I was, sitting in the truck with my husband and not crying but boohooing because I didn’t deserve this.
Cancer is no respecter of persons; I didn’t do anything. But you have all of those feelings of doubt and insecurity. Oh, my heavens did not live right? Did I not eat right? If I would’ve done this, maybe it wouldn’t have happened to me. That’s not it. Cancer is cancer, and it overtakes your body no matter what. I decided to take it one step at a time. I don’t care what the doctors say. This is my body. I will take one step at a time, and I’m going to fight the battle, and I’m going to win. So, I did.
CHOOSING PROTON THERAPY
I was careful with my research and presented my questions to my doctor very early on. Because of the lymph nodes’ location, I needed something to precisely target that area without causing unnecessary damage. Something that would ensure this was over and done with, and not going to come back. To put it simply, I wanted the best. I knew regular radiation could not target that area as well as proton therapy. Despite living an hour and a half away from the proton center, I knew I had to choose the best treatment available, especially when they used the word aggressive to describe my cancer. I didn’t want that ‘aggressive’ to play a role in my healing. My goal with proton therapy was to restore myself. I thought, “I can’t be what I was before, but I can be better than I was before.”
Proton therapy offered me that choice to restore myself to something better than I was before. Stronger. Ready to fight. I made that choice to fight to keep that career. I had to fight to keep my family. I had to fight to have those daily experiences with my family. I didn’t want cancer to define me. And I know that’s a cliche, but I did not want my life to say, “she’s about cancer.” I wanted it to say, “She’s about living.” Proton therapy offered me that choice to live.
The people at Oklahoma Proton Center were wonderful, and they treated me just like a queen. They made sure that I was comfortable. They loved on me. They took care of me. Can’t beat a deal like that at all.
THE REASON I SHARE
I feel like I’ve been blessed throughout the whole journey. I’m thankful for that because I’m a caregiver. I want to help others. Whatever that entails. When I share my story, it gives me that opportunity. People have sought me out and visited me at my office and say, “I’ve just been diagnosed with brain cancer, and I hear that you’ve been fighting the same battle” or “What do I do to take one step at a time?” These are the moments that make it worth it. These are the moments I get to share about proton therapy. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I wouldn’t.