Strength, Survival, and New Beginnings: Jody Gayle Shares Her Story of Breast Cancer

Strength, Survival, and New Beginnings: Jody Gayle Shares Her Story of Breast Cancer

Sasha Bush

The Ashland Beacon


   “Once you choose hope… anything is possible!” -Christopher Reeve

   What is hope? If not believing in what seems to be impossible. Hope is what can give us our greatest strengths, during our deepest despair. Jody Gayle, a graduate of Boyd County High Schools class of 1997, was just like any normal woman; until one day her world came crashing down around her, as one tragic event led to the next, and soon, she found herself in a state of despair. Gayle shared with us, “In September 2017, I had my heart shattered from a relationship.  To help deal with getting over it, I joined a gym and started working out.  In a few months, I was feeling the best I had in years.  I was happy, confident, and outgoing.  I was living my best life and doing something that I enjoyed. But then in early July, my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time, after being in remission for 12 years and we were all devastated. There she was at 78 years old having to endure another mastectomy. My grandma’s cancer returning hit me hard and brought to my attention that I needed to be more disciplined in performing self-breast exams. On July 18 while taking a shower, I performed a self-breast exam and felt something that didn’t feel normal.”

   “The next day I called my gynecologist's office and explained what was going on.  My doctor was booked out for two weeks and I didn’t feel comfortable waiting that long and asked if I could see someone else in the practice any earlier.  I was able to get scheduled for an exam on July 20 which happened to be my 39th birthday.  I explained to the doctor what was going on and discussed my family history. The doctor went on with the exam and said it didn’t feel like much, was probably a fibrocystic cyst, and might go away after my next menstrual period. The doctor said we could wait and see if the lump goes away or he could order an ultrasound, it was up to me.  Of course, I said order the test.  I went to Cabell and had my first mammogram and ultrasound done on July 28, 2018.  I received a call that afternoon that I needed to come back in for a biopsy.  The biopsy was scheduled for August 15, 2018 with Dr. Legenza.  I received a phone call on the afternoon of August 20, 2018 from Dr. Legenza confirming my biopsy results were positive for invasive lobular carcinoma. I was in complete shock. How could this be?  I was in the best health I had ever been in.  I had been working so hard to become a stronger and healthier person, and I remember thinking how unfair it was.  Why me?  Looking back, I honestly believe that losing weight made the lump easier to detect and feel.  God had started me on this journey long before I knew about it.” added Gayle.

   After receiving this earth-shattering diagnosis, Gayle found that her life was a whirlwind of endless doctors’ appointments and planning for a future full of changes. Ultimately, Gayle opted to have a bilateral mastectomy. Gayle declared, “It was one of the hardest yet easiest decisions I have ever had to make.  I chose this type of treatment because I didn’t want to risk the chance of going through what my grandma had with breast cancer and returning to another breast down the road.  The type of cancer I had is sneaky and harder to detect by the way it grows.  It never showed up on my mammograms.” After many initial setbacks due to insurance claims and having to completely switch hospitals, doctors, and surgeons and come up with an entirely new treatment plan the day had finally come…  “Time for eviction!!!” declared Gayle.  During the early morning hours of October 30, 2018, Gayle arrived at KDMC with her biggest supporters in tow, which included her mom, dad, sister, and best friend Rebecca Gilbert- for the day she had long awaited… the day she would finally be rid of what she described as an awful disease. Once Gayle awoke, she was given the news that her cancer had been removed and that the margins were clear.

   The road to recovery was long and hard. Gayle was a very independent woman for having gone thru this terrible ordeal, and suddenly she found herself unable to care for her most basic needs. “I felt so helpless.  I couldn’t lift, I couldn’t raise my arms above my head, I couldn’t shower, I couldn’t wash my hair, I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t lay down or get up by myself, I couldn’t even dress.  I had 4 drains that had to be emptied and measured which I struggled to do on my own.  It was daunting being that helpless and depending on others when I was used to being independent. I’m extremely thankful I had my sister by my side to help with all the things I couldn’t do. I went to a plastic surgeon every two weeks to get expanders filled.  I can’t explain the pain I felt after having a fill.  There was one point I was crying and begging for them to be taken out,” noted Gayle. 

   On top of everything that Gayle was going through, the hits just seem to keep on coming. During her recovery, she was told that her position at work had been filled and that she was no longer needed. “Yet another unexpected hit.  Here I was with thousands of dollars due in medical bills, and they were still adding up.  I was never going to survive this.  My only source of income was gone.  I looked for work, but who was going to hire me knowing up front I would need to leave once a day every two weeks to get a fill?  Who was going to hire me knowing I would need two weeks off for surgery soon after being hired?” stated Gayle. Fortunately for Gayle, the good Lord had other plans for this brave warrior. Gayle shared, “Shortly after, KDMC started a breast cancer support group.  I started attending because it was closer to drive there instead of Huntington.  I met some amazing survivors there.  After attending the meetings for a few months, I heard about a position that was open for a call center clerk in the hematology/oncology department.  I applied, was interviewed, and was offered the position.  The pay wasn’t even half of what I was used to making from past jobs, but at least it was an income coming in and benefits.  I believe God was watching over me once again because I quickly learned to love that job.  It was the most rewarding job I had ever had and that made up for the pay difference.  Being able to talk to the patients and share experiences not only helped them but helped me heal in a way that I can’t even explain.” Currently Gayle is working in the Oncology Service Line as a Cancer Registrar and helping others to get through their difficult journeys. 

   “There are so many things I would like people reading this article to know about breast cancer, but I will name a few. Please know that breast cancer does not discriminate and can happen at any age! Trust your body!  Follow your instincts! Nobody is going to care about your health as much as you do!  You are in charge!  Be your advocate! Educate yourself and learn your body.  Pay attention to any changes in your breast.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be a lump, watch for swelling, redness, pain in the nipple area, nipple discharge, or change in shape or size. Be sure to keep up to date on your mammograms. Please understand that the pain and anguish are not over when your treatment is finished.  I still struggle sometimes when I take a shower or look at myself in the mirror knowing what I have lost.  But there is also a sense of thankfulness knowing what my body has faced and what it has been through” shared Gayle. 

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