Seventeen years after battling three different cancers, the Grand Haven Township woman recently added a new step to her daily routine in an attempt to decrease the number of cellulitis infections she experiences.
Twice a day, for an hour each time, she wears a pneumatic compression device to keep her lymphatic system moving so the fluid doesn’t remain stagnant in her arm. Gasaway, 58, said the device is worth it.
“I beat the cancer and I’m here,” she said. “It’s a little minor inconvenience and it takes a couple hours out of my day, but it is what it is.”
Gasaway has experienced infections over the years after having 23 lymph nodes removed, stemming from her cancer diagnosis. Thirteen of the lymph nodes tested positive for cancer.
Gasaway was diagnosed with cancer in her left breast in 2001. She detected a lump in her armpit during a self-exam, which was diagnosed as Stage 2-B breast cancer. A mammogram several months prior didn’t detect the cancer because of its location, she said.
Gasaway underwent six and a half months of chemotherapy and six weeks of daily radiation.
A year later, she opted to have her right breast removed, which led to the discovery of an unrelated cancer in her right breast. She didn’t have to have further treatment.
The same month, Gasaway had difficulty swallowing, so they removed half of her thyroid — and another unrelated cancer was found.
Within a year’s time, Gasaway said she was diagnosed with three unrelated cancers. Throughout her cancer journey, she has undergone 13 surgeries to eradicate the disease.
Since then, Gasaway has remained cancer-free.
Gasaway said she had “amazing physicians and surgeons,” and faith, family and friends made a difference in her recovery.
After having more than two dozen lymph nodes removed, Gasaway received instructions for things to avoid doing for the rest of her life — such as lifting more than 25 pounds, getting mosquito bites and scratches on her left arm, anything that requires continuous movement with that arm, and more.
While Gasaway said she’s remained cautious, there are some things that can’t be avoided that cause an infection.
About eight years ago, Gasaway received her first compression sleeve after experiencing her first cellulitis infection. In 2016, she had six cellulitis infections.
“If it gets into your bloodstream, it can spread throughout your body and it can be deadly,” she said.
When Gasaway starts feeling the symptoms — an ache in her shoulder, light-headedness, nausea, her left arm swells — she goes to the emergency room to receive an antibiotic through an IV, which is followed by an oral antibiotic.
Gasaway has received physical therapy, where she learned how to massage and get the lymphatic system moving on her own. Although Gasaway does that every day, she said it wasn’t enough, so she started using a pneumatic compression device last month.
Once in the morning and again in the evening, Gasaway wears the suit’s shorts and top. When time allows, she wears the top part of the suit for an additional hour.
The machine is preset and automatic to help Gasaway’s lymphatic system.
The machine pushes air into the suit. It progresses from her hand, up to her shoulder, and onto her side and back.
In addition to interfering with her arm, Gasaway said the swelling also impacts her abdomen and left back.
During the day, Gasaway wears a compression sleeve. At night, she wears a quilted compression sleeve, which she wraps with several Ace bandages to keep it tight. The day and night compression is to help keep the fluid out, she said.
Gasaway also uses a special soap for her arm. When she gets a cut on her left hand, she makes sure it bleeds, cleans it and wraps it with triple antibiotic ointment.
“You can’t stop those things from happening,” she said, “so once something does happen, you have to be proactive and jump on it immediately.”
Gasaway also takes vitamins to build her immune system and vitamin E for her skin, and wears lotion to prevent her skin from getting dry. In the summer, Gasaway tries to wear long-sleeve clothing and lotion to keep the sun off her arm.
When Gasaway isn’t working, she and her significant other, Bob Fialek, enjoy traveling and spending time with their families. Fialek said they intend to live life to the fullest and not let anything stop them.
Gasaway encourages others faced with health challenges to be proactive, reach out to friends and family and others who’ve been in their shoes, and remain positive.
“I think that makes a big difference,” she said. “Just don’t give up.”