Gina Cook's Story
No longer surviving but Thriving
My name is Gina, and what an honor to share my story with you. My prayer is that somewhere along the line of my story, you will feel hope and strength.
They say time flies when you are having fun. I would like to say time has flown because my life has been a blast, full of laughter and health, yet looking back it is hard to believe that seven years ago, my life was drastically changed forever because of that moment where time stood still and life seemed hopeless.
Breast cancer is no respecter of persons. It doesn't care who you are, where you came from, what color, what age, or that you really don't have time for this horrible disease. But here I was at the age of 31 and a mother of two young girls and a few days before my youngest daughter Dakota's first birthday, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I remember feeling as if I could not breathe and the sting of death was at my door. The words "You have Cancer, and it isn't good" were spoken by the doctor.
My life, that seemed so young and fresh with so much ahead, suddenly seemed dark and hopeless. And here in that moment, a new me emerged. I was a fighter and was not ready to leave this world. I was not ready to leave my daughters and my family behind. My purpose on earth was not fulfilled, and I was ready to put my boxing gloves on and fight this horrible cancer. My brother-in-law bought me some red boxing gloves and had all my family sign them for me, and I was ready to fight.
Because of my tumor's size and it being in three out of 15 lymph nodes they removed from my arm, I began chemotherapy first to shrink the tumor. Immediately I began three heavy and hard months of Chemotherapy. Throwing up so weak that I had to hold on to anything in sight to make it to my destination. As if the throwing up and exhaustion isn't enough, then you lose your hair. What was once long and brown thick hair went to a short cut and then a week later fell out on my pillow as if to say "I'm leaving you, too." For at those moments when you are lying in your bed trying to sleep, you feel alone, alone with the thoughts of "How will I survive this?" Though family and friends surrounded me through this fight, I was still alone with my thoughts. No one could really know what I was thinking or feeling.
There are so many days it would take all my energy to get out of the bed. I would pray for God to give me the strength so my oldest daughter Macayla, who was 6 at the time, could see me look normal when she came home from school. The masked smile and "Mommy is fine. Just tired." hurt as much as the multiple surgeries that I had. I didn't want my girls to lose their mom. I wanted to see them get ready for prom, celebrate birthdays and holidays, and see them get married one day. Yet through all these feelings, my heart still had a song.
I will forever remember that moment when Macayla was running in the front yard. It was a beautiful day and she was chasing butterflies that were all out in our front yard. I sat on the couch that was in front of the glass window and watched her. The words began to come to me, and I walked slowly to the stairs. I grasped the stair rail and held on tight with both hands. One step at a time, I kept repeating the words in my head so I could remember it:
"My butterfly, you fly so high. You fly for me. Everything I am not now, you seem to be. My butterfly take on the wind, fly so high, but come back again. Thank you for letting me see myself through you. You're everything to me."
I made it up the stairs and went into my closet, knelt down on the floor, and with my paper and pen birthed the song "My Butterfly" out of its cocoon.
For that moment she was flying for me but I began to see myself emerge from the cocoon and able to fly. Not physically, but spiritually. I felt hope. My chemo treatments went on for over a year, followed by radiation, more surgeries, and after-cancer treatments. On the weeks I did not have chemo, I would go for short walks with the girls, or go to the mall for an hour, if just to show my girls I could do it. I enjoyed every minute and second before the dreaded chemo stepped up to the box on my calendar.
I loved being around family and singing with my mom, sister, and my brother Kevin, who played the drums. It was very rare I would miss a church service. I didn't want to quit singing because it got me through the pain. I began to write more songs and the healing process began. Soon the day came when I would see that all the fighting, pushing, and determination to beat this would come and I would hear the words, "You are cancer-free." Free. How appropriate those words were to me. I made it!
Then there was my wonderful mom, without whom I don't think I could have recovered as quickly. She would stay up at night with me, and rock my youngest daughter Dakota to sleep when I was too sick. My mom was my rock! Through this I have met amazing people, made bonds that can never be broken, and have continued fighting this battle for others. I have confidence like I never have before and I am empowered to bring joy and life to others. I am involved as a volunteer with Long Leaf Hospice and am now a Zumba fitness instructor. My story is for everyone to see that though the disease is ugly, there is hope on the horizon, a sunset over the mountain that you climb.
I want to dedicate this to my daughters Macayla and Dakota, who are my butterflies and will carry on the legacy of giving back and inspiring others. They dance for me and continue to amaze me every day!
More Stories of Hope
Every person who walks in the American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event has a reason for walking - and every person touched by cancer has a story to tell. These stories remind us that the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event is more than a walk. It describes the progress we're making together to save lives and create a world with less breast cancer and more birthdays. Below are personal stories we hope will inspire you to join us in making strides to end breast cancer!