Chemo Chronicles: Terri’s Diagnosis Story

Mar 5 2020

There are 24 hours in every day. That never changes, yet the number of things and people in our lives seem to always be growing. It keeps us busy, and often the idea of “making time” – especially for ourselves – seems impossible. That’s what happened to Terri Gaines, an office manager at Bon Secours Upstate OBGYN.

“I had my last mammogram in 2017. I knew I was supposed to have one in 2018 because that’s what you do, but life got busy and I didn’t do it,” says the 61-year-old.

Terri had no reason to think she was putting her life at risk. She had no family history of breast cancer, and breast exams – including self-exams – didn’t turn up anything abnormal either. It was actually a company merger and new opportunities within our organization’s wellness program that finally motivated her to act in 2019.

“I needed a mammogram for my wellness card, so I called to schedule it. Still, a couple of times I thought, ‘I don’t have time for this,’ but I went and had it done anyway because I needed it for that,” she recalls.

Now, she’s thankful for the push. Her mammogram revealed devastating news just before Thanksgiving – Terri was diagnosed with triple-positive breast cancer. Bon Secours Oncologist Asia Grabska, MD, told Terri she was lucky she acted when she did.

“When I told her I’d only had the mammogram done due to our health insurance, she looked at me very seriously and told me if I’d let another year go by, we would be having a very different conversation because of the way this would have grown,” Terri shares.

Knowing how blessed she is to have discovered her disease earlier rather than later, Terri is now focusing on fighting – against cancer and for other women.

“I’m glad this new health initiative was there to force my hand, but all women in this world do not work for an organization that makes that one of their requirements. Plus, I think there are a lot of women who look at it the way I did in 2018: Life’s busy, I’ll do it later. Later may be too late,” she warns.

Terri has shared her surprise diagnosis with everyone who will listen, encouraging them to make time for themselves and their health. As a result, she says at least half a dozen of her friends, co-workers and church members who intended on skipping their mammograms have since scheduled or completed theirs.

“As mothers, we put ourselves on the back burner to our family but not having routine screenings actually puts your family on the back burner,” Terri says. “Making time for those is actually just one more way of putting your family first. By taking care of yourself, you’re able to take care of them.”

Bon Secours Upstate OBGYN Practice Administrator Mary Nickles says she’s in awe of her co-worker and friend.

“Terri is taking this on as a personal challenge to create a platform. She’s making time to help others even while she’s on her own journey to becoming a cancer survivor. She’s using it as an experience to benefit all the women within the sound of her voice,” she says, going on to refer to Terri as an “everyday hero.”

Many stories of the fight against cancer focus on the beginning, when the diagnosis is first discovered, or even pick up at the end, with a story of survival and overcoming the disease. However, Terri feels it’s important that no one misses out on the middle – the lengthy, sometimes grueling journey from diagnosis to remission.

“Psalms 46:10 has become my mantra: ‘Be still and know.’ This is a journey I cannot do alone, and that’s a lesson I hope to pass along to others. It’s ok to be vulnerable. Don’t be a lone ranger and try to do this journey alone,” she says.

Terri won’t be alone – as we plan to continue bringing you updates on her health journey, from her very first chemo treatment at the St. Francis Cancer Center. She’s decided to be completely transparent in how she’s fighting the disease and how the treatments affect her day-to-day life, including her family and her three decades as a professional in women’s health.

“If it will help someone down the road, then I’m all about it. If even just one person reading this says, ‘I was going to skip my mammogram,’ but doesn’t as a result of this, then it’s worth it.”

Learn about the breast health and mammography services available at Bon Secours.

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