Exeter woman survives bout with breast cancer
Daniels uses experience to form support group to help others
Exeter resident Gayle Daniels decided if she could help one woman by enduring and surviving an ordeal with breast cancer, the experience would be worth it.
"I was always told to do self exams, and I did," Daniels said. "I had a mammogram in August, and the following February of 2013 I found a place on my breast. So, I went to the doctor and they didn't think it was anything, but I insisted we get it checked. I thought it was probably a cyst; my mother had a lot of cysts. They sent me to the hospital in Cassville and I had a mammogram, and they sent me immediately to have a sonogram. From there, they sent me to Joplin to have a biopsy.
"One of the most horrific moments is when the doctor comes in and tells you you have a malignant tumor. I remember shedding a few tears and my husband holding me. My first thought was, Why me? And then I closed my eyes and thought, Why not me? What makes me different from anyone else? It is an emotional thing at first. I've always been a very optimistic person which really helped me a lot because I remember gong to my surgeon and saying, 'Lets get after this.' You can say what you want to in your lifetime, but until your faced with [cancer], you don't know what your decision is going to be. When they tell you it's cancer and they think they can get it, you're going to go for it."
Daniels was sent to breast cancer surgeon Dr. Walter Dandridge in Joplin, whom she connected with and still recommends to women.
"He's a terrific doctor," she said. "I was a lucky one. I had no pain. I had surgery to remove the tumor and have no problems. I went home right after and decided I wanted to go right back to work so I wouldn't think about it. This happened two years ago last May. I have been a very fortunate person."
Thereafter, Daniels completed 35 radiation treatments.
"I went to the chemo and radiation clinic in Joplin," she said. "You go in, and you know everyone in there has cancer. And it was kind of odd, because everyone is so quiet in there and I'm a talker. Staff would say, 'We always know when you get here because everyone in the lobby starts talking and laughing.' They asked me then if I would talk to some of the newer women coming in, as they said, 'You just kept acting like you're not scared.' And I wasn't, because God's on my side.
"My attitude has always been, what will be will be. So they set up a little room and I would talk to new patients who were scared. And I would pray for them. I was also the only one who wasn't blistering so bad and after treatments because of a special cream I used. It's called butt paste."
Some weren't as lucky as Daniels.
"I've found out when I'd go to my treatment that someone I'd gotten to know died," she said.
Gail now sees her surgeon every six months.
"I have to take tamoxifen for five years which has some side effects," she said. "They also did a genetic study. When the oncologist called me with the results, that I would not pass it on to my daughters, he had never seen a study come back like this. I came back a 0. It's a range of 0-10, with the highest number meaning you're very susceptible. It means your odds of having cancer of any kind. So, according to my genetic study I should never have had cancer. But, maybe that was my reason to have it, to help other people."
And help others she did. Daniels and her husband, Keith, started a group for cancer patients called Southwest Missouri Cancer Support Group, as a means to help others going through the experience.
"I talk to a lot of people about it," Daniels said. "My husband is really great. He got the support group started because he was with me all the way."
The group meets at Mercy Hospital Cassville and is open to anyone struggling with breast cancer and the stressors that go along with it.
"It's not only an emotional burden but a financial burden," she said. "The financial burden is unbelievable. I was spending $200 per week just on gas because I had to drive to Joplin five days a week for seven weeks. And, we had insurance. And, you have to pay your doctor every time you see him.
"The group helps women any way we can. We do a lot of nutrition, too, because the chemo makes them very sick. It's also good to talk to other people and say, 'Hey, I know what you're going through.'"
At a recent Cancer Expo at Mercy Hospital in Cassville, Daniels and friend Vicky Punch visited with women and raffled a blanket to help five-year-old Blazi Lowe, who is struggling with brain cancer.
Her advice to all women and something she fervently believes in -- do the self exams.
"Every woman, at least once a month when you go to bed at night, should do a self exam," she said. "Early detection is the whole key. If you don't know how to do the exams, look on the internet. Yes, breasts are lumpy, but if you're lying flat on your back and you feel something odd, call your doctor immediately."
Having breast cancer has changed her perspective on things.
"It makes you look at things differently," she said. "It makes you appreciate everything in life a whole lot more. Statistics say that one in four would have breast cancer, now it's one in three, so I'm a big advocate for self exams."
Even though she had to undergo radiation, Daniels did not have to do chemotherapy because of her genetic testing score, but did endure losing some of her hair.
"Scores of four and over have to have it," she said. "I took a chemo drug temporarily, so I did lose patches of hair and it came back curly. I'm lucky because I didn't have to do the whole chemo thing."
Long before her own diagnosis, in 1994, Daniels endured losing her mother-in-law to Stage 4 breast cancer at the age of 67, so she can empathize with anyone who has lost a loved one to breast cancer, too. During that time, she took her to all her treatments.
"It was very hard," Daniels remembers. "She was sick a lot."
Daniels admits she has not made drastic changes since having breast cancer.
"I changed nothing about my life, really," she said. "I don't eat as much greasy food, but that's just because it's not too healthy."
But, one thing is definitely different.
"I probably enjoy life more and appreciate things more," she said.
Daniels said she talks to women about breast cancer awareness on a regular basis, not just in October, which is breast cancer awareness month.
"I talk to people all the time," she said. "I think it's good that they're trying to make women more aware of breast cancer. I just wish they would advocate more self exams."
For more information about the Southwest Missouri Cancer Support Group, people may contact Vicki Punch at 417-847-5225 or Daniels at 417-342-0081.