Live for today

Published 3:36 pm Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Laverne Gay is a blessed woman!

That may seem a strange statement to make about a woman who has courageously waged an ongoing battle with various forms of cancer over the last 31 years and is now weakened by her disease; but she, her family, friends and perhaps many of her medical care providers would use just those words to describe her.

Her daughter, Kim Gullage, has chronicled the medical fight and prefaced it with a written dedication to her mother. She calls her “a most amazing and remarkable woman, an inspiration to all she meets—a true miracle of life.”

The reason for that adoration is that Laverne has been battling cancer most of her adult life. It began when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer at age 27 and had to have a complete hysterectomy.

In 1985 she developed a lump in her right breast, and the doctor decided to just “watch it.” A 1987 biopsy diagnosed breast cancer. She had a right radical mastectomy, followed by reconstructive surgery.

It was following the mastectomy and before the reconstructive surgery that she married her husband, Tommy Gay. She had a daughter, Kim, and a son, Kyle Odom, from a prior marriage.

In 1993, she became short of breath and began coughing up blood. A lung biopsy revealed metastatic breast cancer in both lungs. The prognosis was six to nine months life expectancy without chemotherapy treatment and nine to 12 months with chemo.

Laverne bravely chose to undergo chemo treatments for nine months. Each week her daughter says she took intravenous treatments on Mondays and returned to work Wednesdays through Fridays as a cosmetologist.

She continued with oral chemo medication for several years, keeping the tumors in check. All this, in spite of the doctor saying the longest surviving patient he had seen with Laverne’s condition was 18 months.

But in July 2007, she began having increased difficulty breathing and a CT scan showed the tumors in her lungs had increased and metastasized to the adrenal glands. The oncologist recommended switching medication to Aromasin and return in two months.

Laverne’s sister, Linda Hatton, a registered nurse, and Laverne’s daughter decided to get a second opinion from an oncologist in Augusta. That doctor told the family that the situation was very serious. Laverne had tumors the size of walnuts, lemons and oranges in her lungs and recommended another lung biopsy to see if the tumors were still metastatic breast cancer or another type. He recommended the family seek medical care in Albany since it was closer to home. He too expressed amazement that Laverne had lived 14 years with metastatic breast cancer in the lungs.

Oncologists at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany confirmed what the doctors in Augusta had said. She continued on Aromasin until August 2008, when CT scans showed further metastasis. The disease had spread to her liver and bones. Laverne began radiation and chemotherapy treatments. This determined lady proved her tenacity and valor by driving herself to Albany for radiation treatments, then driving back home and going straight to work.

In spite of side effects, described as a blood clot in her left arm, shingles, low blood counts, loss of appetite, weight loss and fatigue, she persisted, carrying on her daily life as best she could.

Laverne has been an established cosmetologist in Bainbridge for more than 30 years. She began as an apprentice with Janice Bailey, worked at Town & Country with Martha Barnard, then with Linda McCullers at Hair Shapers for eight years before she decided to retire. After six months of retirement, she became bored and opened her own shop in the Royal Palms building on Water Street. Following a brief stint with City Clippers, she returned to her own business at Royal Palms where she has continued to practice her career until January of this year.

On Jan. 5 she was hospitalized for low blood pressure, low hemoglobin and numerous complications. An additional CT scan revealed even more metastasis. The oncologists, believing enough was enough, decided to stop all aggressive treatments.

Laverne is now at home receiving loving care from Hospice, her family, her three small dogs, and a host of friends that include her fellow Grace Church members. They have provided the family with meals and each new day brings visits, cards and flowers from a host of friends. Sister Linda says the outpouring of love has been unbelievable.

When you ask Laverne how she has had the strength to deal so courageously with this disease for so long, she instantly replies, “The power of the Lord.” Both she and her sister grew up in the church under the guidance of their mother, a devout Christian.

“She gave us a good foundation,” they explain.

Before being diagnosed with cancer, Laverne planned and worked for the future. Thirty years ago she quit worrying about the past or the future and her motto became, “Live for Today,” a saying she wears on her favorite necklace.

She is living for today even now. She and her sister traveled to Aiken, S.C., for a week in mid-February to celebrate Valentine’s Day with her daughter’s family. They enjoyed seeing Hopeland Gardens, shopping, meeting the daughter’s friends and co-workers, took a side trip to Healing Springs in Blackville, S.C., and Laverne managed to work in a color job on Kim’s hair and a cut and color for her sister.

The two are planning another trip soon to Mexico Beach where they enjoy watching the waves roll in, seeing the dolphin play, and looking for shells. Linda’s daughter and husband are both ministers and on previous visits they have had family church services on the beach that include anointing with oil, prayer and praise.

Laverne is as beautiful as ever, and on her better days she enjoys going for rides in the car. On the days she is at home, she enjoys visitors, watching the birds that come to her back yard garden, and holding her small Yorkie dogs who are faithfully in her lap.

Yes, Laverne Gay is a blessed woman, deeply loved by her husband, her siblings, her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and friends, but most of all by the assurance of the love of her God.