BY ANDREA VANVALKENBURG
MORRISONVILLE — Last fall, Gail Reyell was celebrating the purchase of her new home.
But as she threw herself into renovations, she noticed a lump in her neck.
She underwent a series of medical tests and procedures, both locally and in Vermont, but doctors remained baffled about the cause.
“We did a needle biopsy, and it came back no cancer and not really an infection, either,” the Morrisonville woman recalled.
“But we decided to treat it as an infection anyway. We had been sanding walls and painting in the new house when I found it, so we thought it may be a sinus infection or something from all that going on.”
When antibiotics failed, Reyell underwent a surgical biopsy in Saranac Lake, where physicians removed three lymph nodes and collaborated with Fletcher Allen Health Care doctors to determine the exact diagnosis.
A month later, Reyell got the news — she had a Stage 3 cancer known as follicular lymphoma grade 3b.
“It’s a slow-growing cancer. If I didn’t have the lump, I wouldn’t have had any idea.”
After getting the life-changing news, Reyell immediately contacted the Cancer Treatment Centers of America and boarded a flight to Illinois for a second opinion.
“They confirmed what Burlington confirmed,” she said. “But it was just amazing how much I learned about my cancer, how to handle it and that I’m treatable.”
Doctors immediately began an aggressive treatment of chemotherapy. She has had two rounds now; she has a third soon.
After having the original mass removed, she said, doctors discovered others in her neck and spleen. Those lumps are being closely monitored, and future testing will determine how effective the treatment has been.
Every 21 days, Reyell makes the trek to Fletcher Allen in Burlington for more treatment, and she hopes by August, she’ll have good news.
Her significant other, Dennis LaValley, and sister Cathy Lobdell take her to Fletcher Allen. In fact, Cathy quit her job in large part to be there for Reyell, a gesture that about bowled her over.
While she remains positive, the diagnosis and treatment have taken a toll on her.
“The chemo is rough ... it’s like you have a really bad flu. You’re sick, you’re tired, you stay in the house and take your temperature and rest,” she said recently as she recovered from another round.
Lymphoma is a cancer of lymphocytes, a kind of white blood cell that travels through the body through the lymphatic system, including bone marrow, spleen, thymus, and lymph nodes, which makes the cells that battle infection.
Her immune system weakened by the cancer, Reyell now stays home recovering from chemo treatments and avoiding anything that could compromise her health.
She had to leave her job at Eye Care for the Adirondacks and go on disability, as she is unable to interact with patients.
“And I’m now in the process of having to sell my new house because I can’t afford it,” she said.
“But what gets me through all this is a positive attitude.
“And I’m a very, very fortunate person because most of the time, (the cancer) is curable — and that my coworkers, my family and friends have been so amazing.”
Reyell lives with LaValley in Chazy now, since she couldn’t keep her home. By coincidence, her sister Cathy lives on the same road.
Her family support comes, too, from her son, Garrett Mastic and his girlfriend, Cara Boyer; her other sister, Donna Lavarnway and her spouse, Brian; and Cathy’s husband, Bob.
“They’ve all come forward and helped me through it, and it’s been so overwhelming.”
HOW TO HELP
Gail Reyell's former coworkers at Eyecare for the Adirondacks have launched an online fundraiser to help defray the mounting expenses connected with her illness.
Donations to the Gail Reyell Road to Recovery Fundraiser can be made online at: https://www.youcaring.com/recovery.road1. Or checks, made out to Gail Reyell, can be mailed to: Gail Reyell Road to Recovery Fundraiser, Attn. Myra Colmenero-Macmillan, 380 Priest Road, Saranac NY 12981.
Also welcome are gift cards for such necessities as gas and also Lake Champlain Ferries tickets.
Friends are also hosting a yard sale/car wash/bottle drive/bake sale from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 8, in the parking lot at Eyecare for the Adirondacks, 450 Margaret St., Plattsburgh.