Cancer Survivor Lisa Marie Gainey’s Story
My name is Lisa Marie Gainey. I am currently 39 yrs young, living life to the fullest with breast cancer. I was divorced 6 years prior to being diagnosed and am now remarried. I have 1 child who is now 11. My family and I live in a suburb of Buffalo, NY. BRCA testing was negative, although there is a strong family history of BC and other related cancers. Both my maternal and paternal grandmothers had BC and my paternal grandmother died of pancreatic cancer 23 years after her mastectomy.
I was diagnosed with Metastatic Invasive Ductal Carcinoma on June 26, 2012. In other words…I have stage 4 IDC Breast Cancer that has spread to my spine and pelvis. While my soul knew that I had cancer, hearing the words from my doctor was horrifying. It was a shock…I wasn’t sick, I wasn’t tired or in pain, I wasn’t anything….how could this be happening??? At the time, I was the mother of a wonderful 9 yr old son…a girlfriend to the most selfless man I have ever met…the daughter of 4 amazing parents … the sister of 2 “little” brothers…the aunt of 2 of the most adorable nieces in the world and 1 very special nephew…and a friend that has the best group of friends in the world. I didn’t have time for this….I was too busy being me and living my life. I worked full-time (60+ hours on a slow week, and volunteered at AJ’s school…add to that his sports and tutoring schedule….)
I had to explain what was happening over and over to my parents, my siblings, my boyfriend, my friends…all while in a whirlwind of emotions and fear of the unknown, but with a smile on my face and a positive outlook. However, nothing could have ever prepared me to have to utter the words, “I have Cancer” to my 9 yr old child. That was the worst day of my life! As a single mom, my first thought was of my son, AJ. Rewind – we buried my grandmother a few weeks before my diagnosis and she was his everything. Grandma Jean was AJ’s sun and moon, his best friend and MY mentor. She died quickly at 84 from pancreatic cancer. How much can I child take in such a short period of time? With my boyfriend at my side, it was time to explain it all to him. We sat down with my only child, and explained it as simply and as honestly as we could. No lies – that’s all I kept saying. After some hugs and some tears, he said to me, “how can I help?” He is always with me, helping me in whatever way he can…and others with cancer as well. In August of 2012, my boyfriend became my husband and truly tests the “in sickness and in health” vow every single day. We went from “never getting married” to husband and wife within 2 weeks…all because his friends decided that we needed a wedding, and they wanted a party! “Team Testosterone”, a group of 12 NYS Troopers, planned my wedding and pulled it off without a hitch! I could never repay them for my most perfect day!!
Because my cancer has spread to my lymph nodes, spine and pelvis, and that my tumor was over 7cm in size, surgery is not an option. Even 2 years after my original diagnosis, I live with the tumor inside my body. I have undergone radiation, hormone therapy and chemotherapy. Chemo is a weekly regiment and has just become part of life. Radiation consisted of 15 targeted sessions for my bone mets, and a quadramet shot for the bones. I receive Zometa monthly for my bones as well. Tamoxifen worked for a brief time in the beginning, then 18 months of weekly chemotherapy sessions began. I started on Taxol and then switched to Abraxane to reduce the side effects. Currently, I am on a 3 month break from chemo to let my system heal and am taking the hormone blocker, Femara. I have no signs of major “wear and tear” on my system and all of my organs are in good working condition. I maintain a low blood pressure, a manageable weight, and am on no other medications than those needed for my cancer. Other than the BC, I am a very healthy individual.
Another HUGE part of my life are my Pink Sisters! This online group of women has become my sounding board, my “Dear Abby”, my saving grace … My family! We laugh and cry together every day. We share accomplishments and help pick each other up when we fall. We talk about our families, our likes/dislikes, and can discuss anything with each other from sex to constipation to the traffic. We share pictures, events and have opened our lives and our hearts to each other. Because we are all in different phases of our battle, we can depend on the group to help us through this journey to the end. Even my husband will ask how the “girls” are doing. It is hard to find someone who understands the emotional and mental anguish that BC can bring into your life. Every one of us in this group can relate to it and have experienced it firsthand. We share so much more than just breast cancer. That is our commonality, but our bond is what defines us.
Luckily for me, my parents (both remarried for over 25 years) raised me with a can-do attitude. I quickly learned that cancer would do everything to knock me down but that it was up to me to get back up and fight every day. Stage 4 cancer is NOT a death sentence…rather, it is a way of life. It changes who you are on the outside, but does not define you on the inside. Thus far, the changes have been mostly good for me. I have slowed down since I am no longer able to work but I get to spend more time with my family. I lost my hair, but found that my mom did a good job with keeping my head round and I have no flat spots so bald worked for me. No shaving for over a year!! That was great. And, because I am in medical menopause, I no longer get a monthly call from Mother Nature…but my husband and son now get to suffer with my mood swings. Don’t get me wrong…this isn’t a walk in the park either. Hot flashes are for real and they SUCK! Out of nowhere, I turn deep red, almost purple and huge drops of sweat just appear! Kinda gross…especially mid conversation with someone you barely know or in the middle of grocery shopping. Luckily the baldness gives me a little reprieve and I don’t have to explain too much. I really miss being able to do physical things…bike riding, giving piggy back rides, carrying the laundry basket when I need it brought upstairs, long walks, roller coasters, intimacy with my husband…. I found that it’s all give and take, and that some days are better than others.
I often feel scared, but never alone. My support system and my medical team are amazing. I do my best to look for the silver lining in everything. I always smile, I love to laugh, and I refuse to let cancer win. My favorite thing to do in the whole world is to hug my family and cuddle. Good thing my “boys” allow it as often as I need it. My favorite sounds are my son’s laughter and my husband’s “I love you”. I have too much to do with my life – there are many many more hugs to be given!
My advice to those with cancer would be simple. DON’T GIVE UP!! There is always a better day ahead. It may take a few bad days to get there, but the fight is so much better than the alternative. My saying has become “it is what it is”. It truly is that simple. There are 2 lines in a song by Lady Antebellum that I repeat in my head when things are getting me down… “If grease is the soul of the kitchen, and coffee the drink of the gods, routine too perfect to mention, time is a thief I would rob” “Hope is the soul of a dreamer, and heaven is the home of my God. It only takes one true believer to believe you can still beat the odds”
As I stated earlier, my son is doing all that he can to help me and others with cancer. It was hard for him to lose my grandmother and then learn of my diagnosis so quickly after her death. He has been on a mission ever since. His mission is to find a cure for cancer! Our family and I (even before gram or I were sick) participate in a yearly fundraiser for Roswell Park Cancer Institute. It is called the Ride for Roswell. In 2013, AJ alone raised over $13,000 for cancer research and other cancer related organizations. This year, in 2014, he has already raised over $15,000 for cancer research by fundraising for the Ride for Roswell. We are also lucky enough to have been asked to help with their campaign this year so we are on print materials, have a video on their website, and are featured on a billboard and on some busses! He LOVES it…and really feels that he can make a difference. Even though I am not being treated at Roswell, their cutting edge research is known throughout the world and their support services have become a significant part of my life. My medical team consults with RPCI as well.
In less than 1 week, AJ, Jim and I leave for our first real family vacation since my diagnosis! DISNEY WORLD HERE WE COME!!! I cannot wait to just relax, enjoy my boys and just BE. We all deserve it!
Click below to see an amazing video with this cancer survivor’s pics & Lisa’s Fight Song!
Author’s Note: If you would like information in the Pink Sisters support group, please comment below.