PLATTSBURGH — Gail Zimmerman-St. Louis lives each day “sunny side up.” Not even a second cancer diagnosis in two years is going to change that.
She was first diagnosed with cancer of the larynx in August 2010, after a persistent sore throat brought her repeatedly to see her doctor.
The diagnosis was followed by seven weeks of aggressive radiation therapy at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Swallowing was almost impossible for a long time after treatment and remains a problem for her, but doctors were confident that they had removed all the cancer.
In April of this year, a persistent cough brought her back to her doctor. A CAT scan revealed two squamous cell carcinomas in her right lung. By the time doctors performed wedge re-sections six weeks later, in June, one of the tumors had doubled in size.
DAY BY DAY
“I’m a fighter. I’m fighting it,” she said in a voice made hoarse by radiation. “I don’t know how much time I’ve got left. I’m really trying to live each day to the fullest, as much as I can.”
She was supposed to have six weeks of chemotherapy following her surgery, but reaction with her Crohn’s disease forced doctors to reduce treatments to five weeks. During those weeks, she contracted pneumonia twice and now has developed MRSA, a drug-resistant form of staph infection, in her right lung.
While her doctors are again confident they have removed the new cancer, the tumors were metastatic, which means they have a 90 percent chance of returning somewhere else in her body. No one can say where or when.
“But,” she says with a smile, “I have a 10 percent chance of it not returning.”
During her first bout with cancer, Zimmerman-St. Louis used up all of her personal leave and sick leave, and her medical bills started to add up.
She travels regularly to Boston for follow-up treatments, and travel costs add significantly to her bills. Since her second treatment, she has been unable to work. She has applied for Social Security disability but is unsure if that will be granted.
Two of Gail’s friends, Rose Coolidge and Nancy Koch, have been working since May on a fundraiser to help with her expenses. Hosted by family and friends, the event will be held today, starting at noon, at the Moose Lodge at 90 Sharon Ave. in Plattsburgh. It will feature a $10 barbecue dinner, raffles, 50/50 drawings, karaoke, a live band, a deejay and other activities. The benefit has no specific ending time.
With her sunny-side up philosophy, Gail is looking to the future rather than at her current medical plight. She married her husband, Ron, in October 2011, and it is their dream to travel the country in their recreational vehicle.
“It doesn’t have to be a death sentence,” she says of her cancer. “I think a lot of it is attitude. I think that’s what’s important.”
She would like to have the opportunity to speak to schoolchildren, to show them first hand what smoking can do to a person.