Gwendolyn Whitfield, 51, was born and raised in Chicago. Growing up an only child but with a large, close extended family, Gwendolyn says she was born with giving in her genes. Gwendolyn’s family and friends know her as a truly caring person, always putting others before herself. On many occasions, Gwendolyn has found herself consumed with the day-to-day activities as many women today may feel. However, despite the chaos, Gwendolyn always has kept a smile on her face.
In November of 2014, while retrieving groceries from the car, Gwendolyn felt something solid and slightly painful in her breast. Because of her father’s recent battle with cancer and a family history of breast cancer on her father’s side, she immediately made an appointment with her primary care physician, John Elser, M.D., family medicine at Little Company of Mary Hospital (LCMH). After a consultation, Dr. Elser recommended Gwendolyn meet with the LCMH fellowship-trained breast surgeon, Nancy Taft, M.D. Dr. Taft ordered tests in addition to performing a biopsy and, in December of 2014, Gwendolyn’s biggest fear was confirmed: Cancer (Stage 3).
“My initial reaction was fear, but I refused to linger in fear” explained Gwendolyn. “I said a prayer, asked God for help, and immediately channeled my fear into faith and fight. I would not let cancer take away my spirit.”
Dr. Taft consulted with Simona Chivu, M.D., hematologist / oncologist at LCMH and an intensive treatment plan was formed. From February through May of 2015, Gwendolyn underwent chemotherapy, triggering very vivid memories of the experience with her father.
“It was tough; however, remembering his positive spirit and the unending love and care from my mother, Ella Whitfield, is what kept me going,” Gwendolyn said. “My father was helping me from heaven and my mom was helping me fight on Earth.”
After months of chemotherapy treatments, and with the fighting spirit to ensure the cancer would be gone, Gwendolyn made the decision to undergo a double mastectomy in June of 2015, which was followed by 33 radiation treatments. In addition to Drs. Chivu and Taft, Cara McGuire, RN, breast nurse navigator at LCMH, also was an integral part of Gwendolyn’s support system throughout the entire process. L.A. Alston, a retired police officer and Gwendolyn’s partner, also has been a tremendous support throughout Gwendolyn’s breast cancer journey, coming with her to every appointment and procedure from the day she was diagnosed.
“The support I have received from L.A., my mom, family, friends, neighbors, and from Little Company of Mary has been indescribable,” said Gwendolyn, adding that L.A.’s light-hearted humor has kept her laughing even on especially difficult days.
Today, Gwendolyn is nearing the end of her treatments, which will be complete in April of this year, and she is looking forward to the Beverly Breast Cancer Walk in May.
“I am truly grateful to the entire team at Little Company of Mary for the care I received and for taking care of my father throughout his cancer journey. From the nurses to the doctors to administration, I feel like this place has become like an extended family,” said Gwendolyn. “My experience has taught me the importance of letting go of the unimportant things in life, forgiveness and, most importantly, to take care of myself. I want to live while I’m living.”
The 2016 Beverly Breast Cancer Walk will take place on Mother’s Day, Sunday May 8th, at Ridge Park. The Walk benefits Little Company of Mary’s Cancer Center, Comprehensive Breast Health Center and Mammography Department, allowing Little Company of Mary to provide state-of-the-art treatment and services to breast cancer patients and their families. Since it began in the year 2000, the Beverly Breast Cancer Walk has grown to more than 14,000 walkers in 2015 and has raised more than $4,500,000 in total toward the fight against breast cancer. For general information, including sponsorship, please call 708-229-5097 or visit www.BeverlyBreastCancerWalk.org.