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A message from Bert and Dorothy Gay: Never give up

Posted by Marcia Dick  August 31, 2011 09:59 AM

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Bert and Dorothy Gay enjoying a recent vacation in Dorothy’s native Ireland.


Editor’s note: Bert and Dorothy Gay, Somerville residents since 1968, wrote about their experience when Bert was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.

‘‘Back in May 2010, when I heard the words ‘inoperable lung cancer,’ I got a pit in my stomach,’’ said  Bert Gay, 70, of Somerville. His wife, Dorothy, added,  ‘‘Of course, we thought it was dire.’’

Bert had been experiencing some health issues and developed a cough following a vacation the Gays had taken to Ireland.  ‘‘We thought it was a cold or bronchitis,’’ Dorothy said. So did their doctor initially, and he prescribed antibiotics and told them to call in a week if all was not well.

‘‘We called before the week was out," said Dorothy. ‘‘And the next thing we knew we were at Mount Auburn Hospital getting an X-ray. And that X-ray showed a mass.’’

Dorothy and Bert are longtime Somerville residents, having moved here from England in 1968. They came because their son needed specialized medical care. ‘‘We intended to stay for two years," said Dorothy. ‘‘It’s been 43!’’

Bert was a nuclear machinist and Dorothy was a nurse. She  served as Somerville’s mayor from 1999 to 2003.

When their primary care physician, Dr. David Menon, saw Bert’s CAT scan, he immediately knew that the road ahead would not be easy. ‘‘Dr. Menon told us that the cancer had wrapped itself around the pulmonary artery which transports blood from the heart to the lungs," said Bert. ‘‘He told Dorothy and me that I was looking at chemotherapy and radiation therapy ... there wasn’t much more that could be done."

‘‘At this point,’’ Bert came home and started to get his affairs in order,’’ Dorothy recalled.

It was at this time that another doctor, Mount Auburn thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Peter Maggs, stepped in to evaluate the situation. He and the Gays decided that he would attempt a novel surgical procedure.

‘‘He told us there were no guarantees, not to get too excited. But that there was a possibility he could get the whole thing ... the whole tumor,’’ said Dorothy.

Dorothy and her two children, Geraldine, 45, of New York, and Donald, 43, of Somerville, sat in the waiting room for seven hours before Dr. Maggs appeared to announce that the operation had been a success. He had removed the malignant tumor along Bert’s entire left lung, one fine sliver at a time.

‘‘I came out of the surgery cancer free,’’ said Bert, who did not require chemotherapy or radiation.

When family went to ICU to see him, Bert was sitting up in bed and talking. ‘‘We were stunned,’’ said Dorothy. Two days later he was out of ICU. Three days after that he came home.

‘‘I walked into the house under my own power,’’ he said.

Months later, Bert and Dorothy visited her native Ireland, a trip they plan to make again next year. They have also taken a cruise to the Caribbean and plan a trip to England in the near future.

‘‘Bert never gave up,’’ said  Dorothy. ‘‘He and I both realized that we have a lot of living to do and we’re going to do it.’’

Also instrumental in Bert’s healing, said his wife,  were their five grandchildren, who range in age from 9 to 24 years. ‘‘We thank Mount Auburn of course ... but those kids might be the best medicine of all.’’

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Bert Gay talking with his surgeon, Dr. Peter Maggs, at Mount Auburn Hospital.

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