Gunilla Admund went 3 ½ years without having health insurance, so in 2013, when she landed a new job at Intel, one of the first things she did was schedule a doctor’s appointment. One questionable mammogram turned into two, which became an ultra sound and then a biopsy. As she sat in the waiting room, she could hear the nurses saying her name and knew something must be wrong. The radiologist explained to Gunilla that she had concerning cells that were connected and looked like the ragged edges of a mountain. She then surprised the technician by asking to see the tumors which she immediately coined “Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier”. She named them because now instead of dwelling on her tumors, she could just refer to them as ‘the mountains’.
Gunilla relied on her unique sense of humor to get her through the breast cancer journey. More than that, she relied on her daughter, Anna. Anna had just graduated from college and had plans on visiting family in Europe. She was going to spend a few months with her Grandparents and cousins in Sweden. Gunilla told her she should still go but there was no way. Anna was going to take care of her mother. Anna accompanied Gunilla on her doctor’s appointments, taking the notes that tend to go over your head when the word cancer is being used. Gunilla said “To have my daughter around me at that time helped tremendously, I couldn’t have done it without her”.
“Losing your breasts is tough because it’s part of your femininity” Gunilla said. “but the most devastating thing is losing your hair.” When big chunks of her hair started falling out in her hands, they decided it was time to shave her head. Anna took the last swipe of the razor and reassured her Mom that she looked like a Rockstar. Gunilla knew she could hide the fact that she didn’t have breasts, but when you have a bald head, it’s harder to hide. “People look at you differently. They see a woman with no hair and they know that you are sick. That was tough for me”.
Gunilla admits that the decision to have a double mastectomy was in part due to vanity. She knew that if she had just one breast replaced it would mean one pretty breast and then gravity would do its thing on the other breast. At each chemotherapy appointment, they the doctors would pump up the expanders either before or after the treatment. And each time Anna would take pictures to document the progress. “Oh Mom – look how big they are getting! Bigger and bigger” Anna joked. Gunilla’s mother came all the way from Sweden for the last chemotherapy appointment. She got to meet her daughter’s oncologist and nurses and thank them for saving her daughter.
Gunilla believes that being optimistic helped her through her journey. “Most of the time I see the glass as half full”. Gunilla joked that she started to see the pink light at the end of the very long tunnel. ‘I learned that I have no patience for negativity. I don’t have the capacity to be around judgmental people”. Gunilla works full time and still fights fatigue. “I have to be more protective of myself, and that’s not selfish – that’s taking care of me”.
When asked what advice she would give someone who was diagnosed with breast cancer, Gunilla said ‘Find someone who has been through cancer, connect with someone who can understand what you are going through. You need to cry and laugh. Whatever feeling you are having is totally valid”.
In 2010, Gunilla started supporting her friend Elizabeth, who is a Survivor, by walking with her in the Susan G. Komen Oregon and SW Washington Race for the Cure. In 2014, Gunilla put on the pink shirt and walked for the first time as a Survivor. “When I walked through the finish line and they gave me that flower – I couldn’t explain it, I just had to do it, for me.” Since that time, Gunilla has become even more involved with Komen and now is a member of the Race for the Cure re-imagined…MORE THAN PINK Walk Committee.