Geraldine 'Gerry' MacSwain-Butkiewicz, sitting on Marley, crosses 'riding a horse' off her bucket list, with help from son-in-law Mike, from left; Lacy Yarie, a registered nurse at Bell Tower Residence; and Marley's owner, Stephanie Coss, a friend of Yarie's.
Let me get one piece of business out of the way: The credit for the story I'm about to share should go to Linda Schmidt, the admissions director at Bell Tower Residence in Merrill.
In a column for our weekly Merrill Focus edition, Schmidt wrote about Bell Tower resident Geraldine "Gerry" MacSwain-Butkiewicz. I'm going to call her Gerry from here on out, for simplicity's sake.
Here's a summary of Gerry's trials and tribulations over the past 11 years:
? In December 2002, she learned she had a tumor on her breast and needed a lumpectomy, which was performed in January.
? In February 2003, she had a mastectomy.
? Later, she learned she had ovarian cancer.
? When the doctors removed her ovaries, they found that the cancer had spread. So Gerry underwent a hysterectomy.
? In 2008, as she was preparing to have her cataracts removed, her doctor saw something suspicious. It turned out that Gerry also had stage 4 lung cancer.
? Last February, Gerry's doctors found cancer in her bile ducts that had metastasized.
? By July, she was too weak from more than a decade of surgeries and treatments to stay home alone and care for herself. That's when she moved to her Bell Tower apartment, where she receives assisted living.
This is the part of life where some of us give up. We resign ourselves to the inevitability of death and decide to sit around and wait for it to claim us. That's not Gerry.
"I learned from my mother (who died at age 59 with ovarian cancer) that if you're going to be mopey ... no one will want to be your friend," she said, as quoted by Schmidt. "Everyone deals with something during their lifetime."
Gerry dealt with her circumstances by creating a bucket list of four simple activities she had never done before, always wanted to, and plans to do before her time's up. She's already done two: She rode a horse, and then a motorcycle.
"I have two items left," she told Schmidt. "I'd like to ride a four-wheeler and a go-cart before I die."
Gerry's story immediately caught my attention, because we are planning a Daily Herald Media project in October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We had settled on a theme, "Messages of Hope," and we will present the inspirational stories of cancer survivors and share our readers' messages for those facing the disease.
Every day in our community, cancer patients and their families are staring down all the frightening possibilities. It's important for them to know that others have been through this.
A story like Gerry's also is a reminder that there's no time like the present to take advantage of being alive. That's a worthwhile thought for any of us.
To participate in Messages of Hope:
? Mail: Share your messages for breast cancer patients and their families by sending a letter to Amy Kimmes, care of Daily Herald Media, 800 Scott St., Wausau, WI 54402. Please provide your full name, and your address and phone number for verification purposes. If you're a breast cancer survivor, consider sharing your story with our readers and a photo of yourself for publication in print and online.
? Email: Send your message or survivor story and photo to firstname.lastname@example.org.
? Twitter: Send tweets of hope to breast cancer patients and their families during the month of October, using #WisHope as a hashtag. We will retweet on @wausauherald and publish a selection of Twitter messages in print and on our website.
? Facebook: Visit and "like" the Daily Herald Media page. Then leave your messages in the comments. If you've beat cancer, leave a comment or contact us at email@example.com.