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Cherie Gabbert shared her story at Lunch for the Cure in 2017. This is her story.
“I joined what I endearingly call ‘the community of cancer’ in 1997. I became eligible on our insurance at age 35 for a mammogram, but I had been busy with my family, a wonderful husband who traveled each week for his job, and three young sons ages 12, 10, and 3, whom I home schooled. I wasn’t having any symptoms. I was simply going to have my first mammogram. It was my husband who finally insisted that I get this done, and nearly 2 years later it was a good thing I did. At just 37, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Living in rural southern Oregon is mostly fabulous. The less fabulous aspects include limited access to health care, especially 20 years ago. I had to drive 100 miles for mammograms and specialty care.
The ensuing download of details offered an arduous treatment plan with an outlook of maybe making it to my 40th birthday. The original prognosis and local treatment limitations led my husband to take me to seek options at the OHSU Breast Clinic. By the luck of the draw my appointment was with the whistling Dr. Pommier & his Superhero Nurse, Pam. I liked what I heard, options, confidence, and much needed hope, and so my relationship with OHSU began. I was ever so grateful to have access to the most current treatment options available within a day’s drive. Access means everything.
Having access is a wonderful thing, but there are other components to factor in, energy and finances. The cost of gas to get to and from treatments was one thing, but lodging in Portland was a luxury beyond our means. There were times I would get up at 4 AM and drive myself to OHSU for a late morning appointment with my whistling Doc, while my husband stayed home with our sons. Sometimes I would stop along the way for a power nap in order to safely drive that 6 hour trek, and then hope I was finished by early afternoon to drive home that same day. I would coast down Terwilliger stopping only to pick up some victory sushi, and then hop on southbound I-5 and head home. After getting through that year, I was so happy to be on the road to recovery.
However, the financial recovery was a different matter. This challenge struck just as we had started to catch our breath. Certainly, every bill deserved to be paid, I was thankful for everything. Our finances were stretched. My husband was stressed trying to balance a job on the road with easing me back to full time mom-ing again. Ultimately, we had to refinance our home to catch up on the credit card debt we had accrued. In 2009, I graduated from treatment and follow up as a Stage 3 breast cancer survivor thanks to the cutting-edge treatments available at the time.
Fast forward to 2014 where I had beaten the odds by not only making it to my 40th birthday, but I cruised on to my 54th! I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Bummer, but I’m thinking, ‘no biggy, I kicked breast cancer, so, no prob!’ It was after this surgery that I found a lump way up on my clavicle. A biopsy revealed a regional recurrence of breast cancer. I wish I could say I was completely zen about it, but truthfully, I couldn’t breathe. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I already did my time!
Back to OHSU I went for answers. What a difference 17 years makes! I was introduced to the Center for Health and Healing, and the tram! The gondola wasn’t just a swanky Portlandia thing! Where else can a person go to battle against cancer and have unlimited access to a cool ride with a view like that! I realized immediately that they had been very busy since my graduation day in 2009.
Following my initial surgery, I returned home to find the first of many Susan G. Komen Oregon and SW Washington access to treatment cards loaded for me to use in whatever way was most beneficial for my needs.
Access to treatment is vital, then comes the part where the rubber meets the road, gas, food, and lodging for a 500 mile trek multiple times a month. With the assistance of Komen Oregon and SW Washington, we were able to stay in our home, which is no small thing! The flexibility afforded by the use of a preloaded Visa Card was especially helpful so that we could fill our gas tank, buy groceries, or pay a bill.
I’m working toward my graduation day again. I can see it from afar as I now journey as a Stage 4 breast cancer thriver. Along the way, I’ve met numerous people whose battle isn’t limited to fighting cancer. Access is a challenge for many.
Generosity comes in many forms, and each is valuable, but cold hard cash pays the bills! I am forever thankful to the many donors who support Komen Oregon and SW Washington. Without you, my story would be very different.”
Cherie Gabbert was interviewed by John Erickson to discuss our Treatment Access Program. Listen here.