MILLEDGEVILLE — Gail Spivey always felt blessed her entire life to have such a loving family, supportive friends and good health, but In 2010, Spivey’s world nearly halted when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 69. Although life-altering and life-threatening, “cancer did not overcome me.”
“Cancer can happen to anyone, so why not me? As a believer and lifelong Christian, I knew that whatever happened as I was faced with surgery and treatment choices, God was in control and I am His child; it was going to be all right,” she said. “I feared cancer, but I took it as it came with the reassurance that my diagnosis was very early on. It was a turning point in my life. I became aware that I was subject to things that everybody experiences. I was, and still am, surrounded by encouragement and knowledge, so I’m able to face challenges in life.”
After reaching menopause in her early 50s, Spivey decided to use hormone replacement therapy to help eliminate her headaches and night sweats.
“I chose hormone treatment for over 20 years. My cancer was an estrogen-driven cancer. Fortunately due to wonderful medical treatment, excellent health facilities and a good -diagnostic x-ray, that’s why my cancer was found,” she said. “I had regular mammograms and OBGYN check-ups. In 2010 I was called back for a repeat mammogram. It was confirmed that I did have breast cancer, so that was followed by a biopsy, which confirmed the diagnosis.”
Spivey underwent a lumpectomy, which removed only a portion of the breast unlike a mastectomy, and six weeks of radiation treatment along with taking oral medication.
“Being a redhead with very fair skin, I blistered from the radiation, but it took care of the disease. We’re very fortunate that when I did the mammogram, it was in the very early stages,” she said. “To face a devastating diagnosis alone would be much more difficult with the impact that it has on someone’s life. When word got out that I was diagnosed, I received so many flowers, letters and visits to encourage me and let me know that they support me; that really fed my soul, and for that I am forever grateful to them.”
Spivey’s beloved sister was diagnosed with melanoma also at age 69 and lost her battle three years later.
“I only had one sister and we were redheads. We were six years difference in our age, but we became very close as we got older. Experiencing my sister’s death as a result of a cancer that had no treatment at that time, I was encouraged with the advances of all forms of cancer, particularly breast cancer,” Gail said. “In my generation, we didn’t refer to breasts. We were aware the way God created women, but we didn’t discuss it openly. As the numbers have increased with breast cancer and other forms of cancer, we’ve become more open and much more aware.”
Spivey grew up in Warner Robins during her toddler years after her parents moved to the town for the war effort. She attended school in Houston County before enrolling at Mercer University in Macon, where she met her husband — J.W.
“I was as a cheerleader at Mercer, and J.W. was on the basketball and baseball team. We married after I graduated in 1963 with a bachelor’s in psychology. I worked as a high school 12th grade psychology teacher at Butler High School in Augusta while my husband was in the Medical College of Georgia,” Gail said. “I gave up teaching after two years and worked as a social worker doing the evaluation for residential care for Gracewood State Hospital, which was the only hospital at the time equipped to house and take care of what is now referred to as the special needs population.”
The Spiveys welcomed their first son into the world soon after J.W. graduated from medical school. The family moved to Macon while J.W. worked as a paid intern at the Macon hospital before heading to Charlotte, N.C. for residency training in orthopedic surgery.
“Our second son was born, and it became too difficult with my husband’s schedule and two little boys, so I stopped working. After his four-year residency, he went to the air force to do his military commitment for the next two years,” Gail said. “We moved back to middle Georgia because our parents were here and so that our sons would know their grandparents. My husband chose to establish is practice in Warner Robins in 1974 and he was the first orthopedic there. He practiced for over 38 years and he closed the practice last year due to some health issues.”
To escape from hectic working days, the Spiveys purchased a home at Lake Sinclair in Milledgeville in the late 1970s. The family has since enjoyed getting away from life’s demands and spending time with their sons, daughters-in-law and four grandchildren. The couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in March.
“Life is wonderful. My health is good and I’ve had clear mammograms and check-ups regularly since that time. You have to rely on your faith, belief and support system to get you through these difficult situations. I’ve been blessed my whole life, but I appreciate it even more since that episode that took a year out of my life. I appreciate everyday and all my blessings,” Gail said. “I see the cancer as a celebration of life. Our 50th anniversary is a milestone, and my husband’s health issue has been another milestone in our lives. When you experience some of these things, it makes those life lessons and experiences more precious.”
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