SCOTTSBLUFF — “I’m a real go-getter, energetic and I don’t like to let things slow me down, so this is driving me crazy,” Gale Wimberley said.
Thirteen years ago, Wimberley was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer and continues to fight everyday with a positive attitude.
In May 2005, Wimberley went in for her regular mammogram and the doctors informed her she had dense tissue. Shortly after her appointment, she found a flat spot on her breast and changes to the skin. She decided to go back for another mammogram, but nothing showed up, so the doctor ordered an ultrasound. Again, nothing raised any concern.
She was encouraged to come back in six months for a follow-up appointment, but Gale decided to get a second opinion. She visited her gynecologist, Ernest Bussinger, who sent Gale to the surgeon’s office where Glen Forney ordered a needle biopsy.
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Her nipple had started to retract despite the mass not having the characteristics of a tumor as it was not solid and moved.
“They took ten samples and all ten of them came back positive,” she said.
In February 2006 at the age of 44, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. Stage 3 is diagnosed once the cancer goes out of the breast and into other parts of the body.
Gale’s doctors informed her she had a choice to either take out the one breast and watch the other one, but she did not want to take a chance. Ten days later, she had a double mastectomy and during the surgery, doctors also removed her lymph nodes.
Her main tumor was 5 centimeters and doctors told Gale she likely had the tumor for six years.
“That means I likely had it when I was pregnant with my last baby because he was four at the time (I was diagnosed),” she said.
The most common breast cancer is ductal carcinoma where the cancer forms in the milk ducts, but Gale’s was lobular carcinoma, which forms behind the milk ducts and sends out feelers. With no defining margins, Gale said that’s why it didn’t show up on tests.
Following the surgery, Gale was diagnosed with lymphodema, which is a localized swelling of the body caused by an abnormal accumulation of lymph. The swelling was within her left arm. She has to wear a sleeve to push the fluid out since her lymphatic system was damaged and cannot pump the fluid out of the area.
After genetic testing ruled out a genetic trait, doctors told Gale her breast cancer was likely caused by the environment. While there is no clear answer what environmental factors could have caused Gale’s cancer, she is suspicious of an event earlier in her life where she was bitten by a horse.
“Years ago, I was petting a horse across the fence and he reached over and bit me on my boob and about picked me up off the ground,” she said. “I had major bruising there and it (the cancer) was in the same place.”
To help fight the cancer, she did chemotherapy for four months and then radiation for six weeks. She went in for treatment every two weeks.
“The doctors told me they were going to give me as much chemotherapy as possible without killing me,” Gale said.
Throughout her treatment, Gale became sick and recalls the first day after her chemotherapy was rough.
“I was really sick and the next day, I went in to the doctor with a bowl under my arm just in case.”
For six years, Gale was doing better with her treatments until she felt a pain in her shoulder. After having a CAT scan, the doctors said she had developed tendinitis in her shoulder from knitting. She had started knitting during radiation treatment in 2006 to keep her hands busy. While she knits scarves and baby blankets, making hats is her favorite.
But the doctors had other news, too. While reading the CAT scan, they found a spot on Gale’s back. After a bone biopsy, they also found a spot on her hip that tested positive for cancer. In 2012, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer.
As she went through another round of radiation, she took Dosetaxel for a year.
“That one is what caused a lot of lung damage,” she said. “I have fibrosis in my lungs now, which means my lungs have scar tissue and they don’t expand like they should.”
Since then, she experiences shortness of breath and coughs.
Another four years passed as Gale continued to battle. During a routine scan in 2016, another mass was discovered under her armpit.
“I could feel a deep pressure under there, but even when the doctors would manipulate and push, they could never feel anything,” she said. “Because it was so vascular, they had a hard time even seeing it through ultrasound.”
She and her family traveled to Denver, Colorado, to have the mass removed. Following a biopsy, the doctor determined the mass was still breast cancer, but he would not be able to remove it without disrupting blood flow.
“They tried to do surgery on that mass, but it was too vascular and they couldn’t remove it,” Gale said. “But with the chemos that I’ve had, it has resolved itself and they can’t see it. They said it wasn’t active.”
Still, Gale continued to fight surrounded by family and friends.
She had been a hair dresser at the Hairport in Gering for 39 years until May 2019.
“She’s passionate about her work and the people she works with,” Shar Medearis, owner of the Hairport, said. “It was devastating to see her leave because we miss her dearly, but at the same time, I thought it was the best decision she could have made to take care of her health.”
Over the course of 22 years, Shar became good friends with Gale, who would always offer help to others.
“She was always there to offer advice and help if we didn’t know what to do with a client’s hair,” Shar said. “I always trusted her judgment.”
Hair stylist Marcie Beals was also one of Wimberley’s colleagues at the Hairport. Marcie and Gale were the two full-time employees and since Gale’s retirement, Marcie looks into her mirror and no longer sees Gale behind her.
“It’s a lot quieter now,” Marcie said. “I would ask Gale for advice since both of us did most of the colors.”
Despite her treatments making her sick, Marcie said Gale stayed strong.
“She was like Wonder Woman,” Marcie said. “She always kept a positive attitude and never shed a tear in front of us.”
Giving to other people and hearing her clients’ stories brought joy to Gale.
“I miss people and hearing what’s going on in their lives,” Gale said. “There’s so much going on in my life, I just don’t have time to work.”
After all the struggles and triumphs Gale has overcome, she, her family nor her friends could have anticipated what would happen next. An unforeseen family tragedy with her husband, Don, made Gale hang up her apron and scissors.
“This year has really sucked,” Gale said. “Don got out to work on the trailer and this kid went to light a cigarette and looked down and when he looked up, he hit my husband. There was no skid marks or anything.”
To be with her husband, Gale stayed with family in Fort Collins, Colorado, for four weeks as Don was in the intensive care unit. He had an internal decapitation where his skull separated from his spine. Doctors fused the two together and put a plate in his skull, but Don would only open his eyes before he died from the injuries he suffered as a result of the collision.
Following her husband’s death, Gale caught a cold that progressed into pneumonia. For four weeks she battled in the hospital, in which time her lung collapsed, so she is currently using an oxygen tank, which she hopes to be off of in a few months.
She also recently started Ibrance, a new chemotherapy drug that she takes daily to bring her tumor markers down. During her time in Denver, Gale missed some of her appointments. Now, she is going in one time a week for three weeks for an infusion into her port, but her tumor markers continue to climb. Her next appointment is the last week of October.
Through her battles with cancer and the loss of her husband, Gale said, “I learned that people are amazing, caring and giving.”