CLEVELAND — Gaynell Wade was given a year to live upon her initial stage four breast cancer diagnosis.
The cancer had spread despite her having gone for check-ups twice a year, but Wade is now enjoying her 19th year since that diagnosis.
Oct. 13 marked the beginning of what she calls her journey, and she said she has continued to receive blessings or "nuggets" since then.
“For the 18 years that I’ve been on Herceptin, they’ve never had to take me off," she said. "Every time I go, (my numbers) have been within the range that I can stay on the treatment."
Herceptin is a chemotherapy that can treat breast, stomach and esophageal cancer. Wade sees Dr. Alberto Montero, medical oncologist at UH Seidman Cancer Center.
Montero said, although stage four cancer is a terminal illness, “what a lot of people don’t know, 1% to 2% of patients, if they have a complete response, they’re basically cured.”
He said research and treatment has come a long way since Wade’s diagnosis.
“Before Herceptin, HER2-positive breast cancer had a very poor prognosis, and nobody would live more than two years with metastatic disease," he said. "Herceptin has really made this possible."
Wade worked as school principal up until her diagnosis, but she has been just as busy since then. She runs workshops, provides resources at her church, gives speeches and mentors, all in support of those living with cancer.
Wade considers herself very blessed for living this long with the disease, but she knows others weren’t as fortunate.
“I always want to do an honor but also in-memory because there are those who God has called home,” Wade said.
She said her faith, family and friends have gotten her through her journey, but it hasn’t always been easy.
“I may not be happy that they have to go in there and find the little veins,” she said, referencing the times they’ve had to insert her with a needle, “but I have joy.”
She wants to offer hope to others.
“Not everyone will have the support I had but, 19 years ago, I was told I had less than a year. If they can see me now, that will give them hope," she said.