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'I learned how strong I could be': Perham woman is a three-year cancer survivor

Honorary Co-Chairs Wade Sjolie, left, and Gina Cavanagh led the Survivor's Lap in the Relay For Life event in July. Cavanagh was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago. Brian Hansel/FOCUS

Gina Cavanagh was not expecting the news she received by phone the Friday before Mother's Day three years ago.

She was told she had breast cancer. Of all the types of cancer women contract, breast cancer is the most common.

She sat and thought for a while, and then went through the ordeal of breaking the news to her family and friends. After gathering their support, she started dealing with the treatment, which is still ongoing. Come May, Cavanagh is looking forward to being a four-year cancer survivor.

Given a choice, Cavanagh would not want to deal with her health problem, but she admits it has given her some new insights into a person she knows quite well—Gina Cavanagh.

"I learned so much," Cavanagh said. "I learned how strong I could be."

October is breast cancer awareness month and not surprisingly, Cavanagh is 100 percent in favor of the early detection screenings that medical professionals tout.

"Testing is a must," Cavanagh said. "No matter what sex you are, you should have early testing."

After Cavanagh learned she had cancer she encouraged her 23-year-old daughter to go in for a mammogram, even though she had no cancer symptoms. It was a "stitch in time" for her daughter. By establishing a healthy baseline for a person, physicians have a point of reference for future screenings.

Cavanagh had chemotherapy first, then received radiation treatments, and at the present time is taking a daily pill which is regarded as a preventative.

Cavanagh is part of a group of five Perham women who are fighting the same type of cancer. Cavanagh said the treatment each of them receives affects them in different ways. Cavanagh still has some bouts with pain, but they are far less severe than they once were.

One bright spot has been the tremendous support she has received from people in the Perham community.

"People rally around you," Cavanagh said.

Cavanagh sees a strong need for support in the Perham community.

"When you look at Perham, we do have a high number of people who have cancer," Cavanagh said.

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