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home : news : news August 27, 2015

10/16/2013 8:07:00 AM
Breast cancer survivor looking at 25th anniversary
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Brenda Harrison

Sheila Gamble is coming up on  her 25th anniversary as a breast  cancer survivor. The year 1989  was full of ups and downs, jubilations  and fears as she battled this  terrible disease.

Through it all, it was God’s  grace, her faith, her husband Milton,  family and friends that carried  her through this ordeal.

“God has been so good to us  and I am proof that he is still a God  of miracles,” she commented.

At age 36, Sheila discovered a  lump in her left breast. It was in  January of 1989 and she was the  mother of three young children –one in 5K, one in first grade and  the oldest in fourth grade. Soon  after, she was diagnosed with an  aggressive form of breast cancer.  Dr. Ellis performed a left radical  mastectomy and the cancer was  discovered in 12 lymph nodes.

Her oncologist, Dr. Pavy, felt  that Duke University Hospital  offered the best opportunity for her  treatment. In February, she and  Milton left home for Duke where  her own bone marrow was harvested  before starting a heavy  dosage of chemo drugs. The  healthy bone marrow was saved to  be transplanted following chemo  because the powerful drugs she  needed to fight the cancer also  killed bone marrow.

Sheila was able to return home  to start the chemo at McLeod hospital  where she underwent four  sessions. The drugs were administered  for three days between 28  day intervals. Midway between  doses she got very ill, so she  planned family outings during the  first 14 days.

Through all this, Sheila says her  family and close friends, especially  Marsha Fincher and Chery Whittington,  were right beside her as  “bucket patrol.”

“Also, the staff in the McLeod

cancer ward were wonderful to  me,” she said.

At first, her insurance  denied claims for the bone  marrow transplant, and the  hospital required $100,000 up  front. Friends, including David  Eagerton, hosted fundraisers,  and Greenwood School  hosted Shamrocks for Sheila,  selling shamrocks at 25 cents.  Henry Brunson of Cooks for  Christ held one of his first benefits  for her.

Eventually, their attorney  got approval from the insurance  company for the transplant.

In late summer. after six  weeks at Duke where the  bone marrow was successfully  replanted in her body,  Sheila came home to begin  radiation.

Of course, during her  chemo, Sheila lost her hair. To  make it fun she bought two  wigs, one short red wig and  one long blonde Dolly Parton  styled wig.

“Sheila is Pollyanna,  always looking on the bright  side,” commented her husband  Milton.

By November of 1989 a  shortness of breathe revealed  a toxicity to the strong drugs  used to fight her cancer. She  was rushed to Duke, “and I  didn’t think I’d come back,”  she admitted. There was a terrible  ice storm which prevented  her being airlifted. A  break in the storm allowed Milton  to drive her to Durham,  N. C. He borrowed his dad’s  car because at the last minute  he discovered his car had a  flat tire.

The hardest part of fighting  cancer, Sheila said, was  pulling out of her driveway to  go to Duke watching her three  kids crying and standing outside  with their grandparents.

“I left my kids knowing I  had a 50 percent chance of  never seeing them again,” she  explained.

After surgery at Duke,  Sheila was put on steroids. As  Christmas approached, Milton  was making plans to bring the  children to Duke for the holiday.  But on Dec. 23, Sheila  was released. It happened to  snow that day and she  returned home, still on heavy  steroids, for a joyful white  Christmas with her family.

The next two or three  years, although cancer free,  brought other health issues  due to the strong medications  she took to fight the disease.  The drugs decayed her joints  and she had a hip replaced  repaired a hip twice, repaired  both knees and both ankles,  as well as a broken shoulder  and pelvic bone. She has suffered  from pulmonary fibrosis  and has a paralyzed vocal  chord. Another side effect of  the drugs was a bad case of  shingles which lead to a stroke  in 1990.

But she is not complaining  “By God’s grace, I have

seen my children grow up, two  daughters get married and  enjoyed my five grandchildren.  I also got to go to Alaska,”  she exclaimed.

In early December, she will  be there for her son’s wedding.

Sheila sees Dr. Pavy for  yearly checkups. A couple of  years ago, he suggested she  get tested for the BRCA gene.  She tested positive to the  gene that makes one more  likely to have cancer. It was  suggested that her children  take the simple blood test for  this gene as well. Her middle  child, Emily (a former Miss Florence)  was tested and also  found the have the gene. Emily  and her husband now reside in  Inman with three small children.

Emily has decided to have  a double mastectomy to avoid  the high risk she has for cancer.  Her surgery has been  scheduled for Oct. 28.

Sheila admits to feeling  some guilt for passing this  gene to her daughter, but she  is proud of her for making  what could be a life-saving  decision.

Galloway Mosley
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