When Gail Geiger turns the corner onto the cancer floor at Easton Hospital and walks toward the nurses' station, she only makes it a few steps before the staff spot her and surround her with hugs, talk and laughter.
The nurses ask how she's feeling and compliment her on how wonderful she looks.
Gail has been cancer free for nearly seven years. "But it's always in the back of your mind once you have it," she says.
Her cancer journey began with silence.
Gail had never been sick, had surgeries or been on medications, but in the summer before she turned 68 years old, she didn't feel well.
"I got weaker and weaker every day," she says. "But I never shared it with my family."
One day she became so weak and dizzy that she fainted. When she came around, she called her brother who drove her to Easton Hospital.
Gail had a tumor in her colon. All of her blood was feeding it and in turn making her weak. "My surgeon, Dr. Chand Rohatgi, said I was a lucky girl," she recalls. "I had waited so long, he was worried if I would have survived another week."
Dr. Rohatgi removed the tumor and enough of her colon that she required a colostomy bag. "But Dr. Rohatgi was hopeful that he could reverse the procedure after I healed."
Her journey into chemotherapy was an arduous one. Gail would either face daily chemo treatments or intensive three-day inpatient treatments every other week.
She chose the three-day inpatient treatments. It would last a year.
"This is how the nurses became like family," she says. "They made my stay. On good days, they would laugh and talk. On hard days, they just sat and held my hand. We would even bring in food to share just to make it feel more like home."
Over the course of that year, Gail kept a journal. The first page has a picture on her first day of treatment. Over the twelve months, the entries capture her emotional journey.
Some entries are positive and hopeful. Other entries are confessions of her fears...of not seeing her children grow, not returning home and not making it through her treatments. Still other entries are pleas to God, asking for the strength to endure.
The journal is a testament to her spirit - facing a daunting diagnosis with honesty, openness and tenacity.
When her year of treatment ended, Gail had been transformed. Her cancer was gone. Dr. Rohatgi successfully reversed the colostomy procedure. And her gallbladder, which had become badly infected, was also removed.
"I hear stories from people saying Easton Hospital is not the place to go," she says. "But I challenge each one. Easton Hospital is a five star place. The people are kind, caring and compassionate. You won't be sorry if you go."
So Gail came back. "I began to volunteer here in 2008," she says. "I wanted to do what I could to give back."
She goes where ever she is needed. So she has worked with the chaplains, delivered mail and flowers, visited patients and helped in the Senior Circle office.
Today she is on the cancer floor.
"I so look forward to coming here," Gail says. "And the people I work with and help are such rays of sunshine."
250 South 21st Street
Easton, PA 18042-3892