Vallie Gibby looked out her living room window at the steel gray Pacific Ocean stretching to the horizon. Sipping on a mug of spicy tea and spooning fresh whipped cream on an Oregon strawberry, she emphatically stated, “I would have been dead by now."
The 69-year-old Lincoln City woman was reflecting on how her diagnosis of colon cancer could have been the end for her.
She sips again from her mug. “I’m Canadian, you know, and we enjoy our afternoon tea.”
Tea isn’t the only thing Vallie and Lynn, her husband of 40 years, enjoy. Since retirement, they have traveled to many countries around the world, both for pleasure and through volunteerism with Church of the Nazarene. Every year they volunteer with a mission in Mexico.
“We see a need and we jump in,” she said. “We just love.”
Caring for others comes naturally to Vallie. She is retired from a long and varied nursing career — including working with breast cancer clinicians at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia — before moving to Lincoln City a decade ago. Because of this, she is very knowledgeable about medicine,
patient care and the potential outcomes of terrible diseases such as colon cancer.
In late 2017, Vallie’s primary care doctor, Marilyn Fraser, MD, reminded her that it was time for a routine 10-year colonoscopy. Despite feeling perfectly healthy and having no symptoms, Vallie agreed to make an appointment because she respects Dr. Fraser, not because she thought she was at risk or feared the outcomes she witnessed during her health care career.
“She’s top notch,” Vallie says of Dr. Fraser, with a smile. “I adore her. Oh, and she’s Canadian, too.”
Shortly after her colonoscopy at Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital, Vallie learned from her general surgeon that there was part of a polyp inside a tricky bend of her colon that he was uncertain about.
“My surgeon was not afraid to tell me that he was not 100% satisfied with what he saw and that he wanted another surgeon’s opinion.”
Just days after her first colonoscopy, Vallie was in for round two with Gregory Schwartz, MD, at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center.
“Immediately afterward, Dr. Schwartz kindly said to me, ‘You have Stage 2-A cancer.’ No matter how prepared you think you are for this possibility, there is still the shock factor,” Vallie said, recalling that moment. “But, I couldn’t pretend it’s not there. I knew that I needed to get it out.”
Very quickly, Vallie had an appointment to remove the cancerous tissue. Based on a genetic study, Vallie didn’t need to undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
Vallie sees a cancer specialist every three months to monitor the cancer markers in her blood and has a CT or MRI scan of her intestine annually. After a colonoscopy one year after surgery, she received a clean bill of health and now only has to have a colonoscopy every three years.
“I feel fabulous and am forever grateful,” she said. “Going forward, I know I am in the best of hands and look forward to a long and healthy life.”