Bertha Gilson, from New Castle, Pennsylvania, was diagnosed with breast cancer in June of 1993. Her journey through breast cancer has inspired friends and family with her grace and courage. Bertha underwent 35 radiation treatments and is grateful that she has been cancer-free for more than 17 years!
What was your first thought when your first received your diagnosis?
The doctors were very optimistic that we caught it early and that I had a very good prognosis. However, I had in my own mind that I had 6 month to live.
How did you share your diagnosis with your family?
I found the lump on my own but didn’t tell anyone in my family. I made a doctor’s appointment and they performed a biopsy that same day. The doctor said she was almost positive it was cancer, but she would have my official results in 2 hours. I called my husband at work and told him right on the phone to please come home; I was pretty sure I had cancer but we’d have the results in a few hours. He was in shock because I had not even shared the news that I had found the lump. I didn’t want to scare anyone until I knew for sure.
Who did you lean on for support?
I actually withdrew into myself. I didn’t want anyone to make a fuss over me. I didn’t like to talk about it. I actually didn’t even tell my own mother about it until the day before my surgery and that was only because my husband made me tell her. I really didn’t want to make anyone upset.
Did your faith support you during this time?
To be honest, I had lost my faith at first, which is why I think I withdrew so much, but, as my treatments went on and my doctors were confident that the cancer was gone, I began to realize how fortunate I was and how precious life is. I began living each day to the fullest. I even went out and bought my own Harley and earned my motorcycle license right after my radiation treatments were finished. Today, I thank God with each good bill of health I receive from my doctor. It has been such an eye-opening experience.
How did you feel during treatment?
I was very nauseous. I would have to pull over on the side of the road because I was sick on the way home from each radiation treatment. But when I got home, I would act as though I was just fine. My daughters were only 5 and 12 years old at the time. I was very careful not to upset them. They knew I had cancer but I tried shielding them from the effects.
How did your experience with cancer affect you? What did you learn about yourself?
I learned that life is a gift. Don’t put anything off for tomorrow. If it’s in your heart to do it now, nothing should stop you.
What are three words your family or friends would use to describe you?
Haha! I would have to say bullheaded, strong and brave. I definitely have a mind of my own.
What advice would you give to someone newly diagnosed with cancer?
If you have a question about your condition, ask your doctors directly. Don’t just research it yourself and don’t always rely on another person’s story. Each case is different. It is great to have friends that have been through it but remember that each and every outcome is different. Just because it happened to someone else, whether good or bad, that does not mean that it will be your case as well.
Thank you, Bertha, you are the first person we are honoring as an "Inspiring Woman."
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