Forgive and live: Lessons from a woman with terminal cancer

When time is measured in days and months instead of years and decades, perspectives on life tend to change.

For Libby Gaymon, a Cheektowaga woman who is battling a second attack of metastasized breast cancer, time is both friend and foe.  Gaymon, 42, makes sure that whenever she is feeling well enough to get out of bed, she gets outside and cherishes her surroundings.  She takes time to enjoy the little things in life – the flowers, the walk to the bus stop, even the dandelions sprouting through the cracks in the sidewalk.  She appreciates how quickly life can pass you by.

 

Gaymon doesn’t know how much time she has left; she can feel the cancer spreading throughout her arms and legs. She had radiology on her skull to relieve the swelling from lesions.

“I've tried several chemos and every one of them has failed me. [The cancer] just keeps growing and growing,” Gaymon told 7 Eyewitness News from her living room, wearing a headscarf to conceal her bald head. 

Learn more about immunotherapy at Roswell Park here

Gaymon is now trying an experimental immunotherapy treatment at Roswell Park.  Immunotherapy helps the body’s immune system attack cancer cells. It is still being studied nationwide to see if it can play a role in treating metastatic breast cancer.  

“With existing immunotherapies, we’ve seen a response rate of about 20%. We certainly, as a field, hope to improve on that percentage with newer combinations and approaches that are just beginning to be studied, like the one we are looking at for Libby,” Dr. Ellis Levine, Chief of Breast Medicine at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, told 7 Eyewitness News in an email.

Only time will tell if it works for Gaymon.  She prays it will give her more time.

“Immunotherapy is a broad and relatively new area of cancer research and treatment, and there are many, many different approaches and individual drugs and cellular therapies that fall under this umbrella. So far, various immunotherapies have been shown to be effective against several cancer types, but not yet more effective than existing treatments for breast cancer. The study we are trying to get Libby on combines two separate immunotherapies. Our hope is that by combining two approaches, we’ll see better effectiveness against breast cancer.”

 

-Ellis Levine, MD, Chief of Breast Medicine at Roswell Park Cancer Institute

“I just want to come home and be with my family. I don't feel like I'm dying today. But I am. That's why we need to get [immunotherapy] started,” Gaymon said.

Gaymon’s family has been by her side since she was first diagnosed in early 2016.  A year later, in a show of solidarity, Libby and her husband renewed their vows. 

Libby and her husband renewing their vows

In May 2017, their daughter Alexis invited Libby to the McKinley High School Senior Prom.  7 Eyewitness News cameras were at their home near Eggert Road when hundreds of neighbors packed their front lawn and surrounding properties to cheer them on as they got into the limousine provided to them by McKinley High School. 

Those were good days.

There have been plenty of bad days, too.

“Sometimes I sit there and think about it and say three weeks or three months and it makes me cry, but most of the time I don't believe it. Like, it can’t be true," Gaymon said as tears ran down her face.

"You’re not seeing if you walk past flowers, or if you walk past somebody smiling back at you, but you’re too busy on your phone."

There is pain in her voice, and painfully earned perspective in her words, as she speaks about the lessons she’s learned from her experience with cancer.

Her primary message: slow down and take time to appreciate the world around you, or else you’ll miss everything.

“You’re walking down the street on the phone, either you’re on the phone or you’re texting and you’re not even seeing your surroundings.  You’re not seeing if you walk past flowers, or if you walk past somebody smiling back at you, but you’re too busy on your phone.  You guys are letting life pass you by,” she said.

Having lost four family members in the last year and a half, while battling cancer in that same amount of time, Gaymon also urges people to forgive.

“Just live and be happy.”

“Just let it go. It’s not that serious.”

When asked what she believes is the meaning of life, she responded simply and concisely:

“Just live and be happy.”

Gaymon’s family will hold a fundraiser in her honor on Saturday, September 30th at Valley of Buffalo, 2379 Union Road, Cheektowaga, from 4:00pm-9:00pm.  The money raised will alleviate some of the medical expenses and financial difficulties from Libby’s cancer treatment and the immunotherapy.   Tickets are $20 and the fundraiser is open to the public.