Whole-person care and empathetic colleagues make a difference for one Kettering patient.
Gail Harvey finished her lunchroom duties and made her way to her truck in the bus barn before her afternoon route, the same one she’s driven for the Carlisle Local School District in Ohio, United States, for more than 20 years. She enjoyed a few quiet minutes to herself before driving a bus full of students. Then she got a call from her gynecologist.
Hearing from her doctor after any appointment would be unusual. But based on her previous visit, this call brought tears to her eyes.
“Immediately,” she said, “I just knew.”
One Call to Change Everything
A few weeks before, in late 2022, Gail checked to see if she had bruised herself after feeling soreness in her breast. That’s when she noticed it: a large, hard bump. It wasn’t what she was told to feel for during self-exams, but she scheduled a visit with her gynecologist anyway.
After a mammogram flagged both breasts, she was sent for an ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and a double biopsy. A few days later, as Gail sat in her truck, her gynecologist, Mark Day, called to give her the news: a tumor in her right breast.
“I don’t remember too much after that,” she said. “I started crying.”
Gail tried to stifle her tears enough to listen as Day explained her next steps. Her friends near her in the bus barn noticed her distress. Knowing her situation, they understood what Gail’s signaling to her phone through the window meant. Within minutes, her fellow bus drivers and other coworkers surrounded her. Her best friend, Molly, who also works in the lunchroom, was called to take Gail home.
At the time, Gail’s husband was away on a trip, and she debated whether to wait until he returned to tell him. But when he called later that night to chat, she decided to give him the news.
One of Gail’s friends had had breast cancer in 2021 and had raved about her oncologist. To her surprise, Gail was assigned the same one: Manisha Nanda. She explained to Gail that her triple-negative breast cancer is the most aggressive type and spreads quickly. Because of this, Nanda wanted to try chemotherapy before considering surgical options to target any possible cancerous cells in Gail’s body.
On January 12, 2023, Gail began chemotherapy. Every three weeks, she and her husband spent a day at Soin Medical Center in Beavercreek, Ohio. On the off weeks, she had shorter appointments for fluids. And she wasn’t alone, then, either. Her coworkers took turns accompanying her.
“They did a sign-up sheet in the bus barn,” she shared. “We didn’t know that my treatments were [going to] change. So, they had the sign-up sheet all the way through June, and it was three-quarters of the way full.”
After two months, Gail began a different treatment that called for chemotherapy at Soin every week. Although her coworkers could no longer join her, they found other ways to show their support.
Laughter Is the Best Medicine
On a Friday afternoon in February, while sitting on her bus, Gail ran her fingers through her hair. When she lowered her hand, clumps of hair came down with it.
“That was the first sign of me losing [my hair],” she said.
That weekend, her husband noticed a bald spot on the back of her head. They buzzed her hair, nearly all the way. Gail called to tell her boss she would be at school for her bus and kitchen duties like normal — only without hair.
The next morning, Gail arrived to work excited to see her friends but unsure how they would react to her new appearance. What she didn’t know was that they would also look different that morning. Each of them arrived wearing a bright and wacky wig. They even had one for her.
“I was cracking up,” she said. “I mean, just cracking up. I was crying.”
Although she doesn’t wear that wig, she holds onto it as a reminder of their unwavering support.
As of April 2023, Gail has more chemotherapy ahead of her. She’s not sure what the future will hold. But one thing she knows is that God will help her make sense of everything one day.
“It’s happened for a reason. I don’t know what the reason is yet,” she said, “but there will be some good that comes out of it.”
Until then, she knows her friends will always be there to put a smile on her face.
“I couldn’t do it without them.”
The original version of this story was posted on the Kettering Health news site.