Tahlequah Daily Press


October 4, 2013

Unexpected encounter

Gail Heaton has long been a supporter of Relay for Life, but little did she know that 18 months ago, she would transition to a ‘survivor’ herself.

TAHLEQUAH — Tahlequah native Gail Heaton has been a hands-on supporter of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in Cherokee County since the mid-1990s.

Eighteen months ago, she became far more intimate with the disease than she would have ever cared to imagine.

“I’ll never forget it. My sister-in-law, Sue and her husband, had become recreation vehicle enthusiasts, and decided to spend the winter in south Texas,” said Heaton. “The encouraged us to buy an RV and go with them. I had retired from teaching to care for my mother and father, but both had passed away.”

The last day in November, the Heatons took the plunge and bought an RV.

“And on Dec. 1, the doctor called me and told me they had an opening for a mammogram,” said Heaton. “Well, of course, I went. They found something, and sent me to the St. Francis Breast Cancer Center to have a biopsy. I remember on the drive to Tulsa having this weird feeling that it would be cancer.”

The biopsy confirmed Heaton did, indeed, have a deep lump in one breast, and her doctor gave her two options.

“Dr. Chad Johnson told me I could either have a lumpectomy or a mastectomy, and let me know it was important for me to make my own decision,” said Heaton. “I opted for the lumpectomy, and he agreed with my decision.”

Heaton said the lump was located deep in her breast, and could not be felt with her bare hands. Fortunately, it was also in the early stages.

“So they removed the lump, and I began my seven weeks of radiation shortly after that,” said Heaton. “And let me tell you, after seven weeks’ radiation, my breasts were like brown shoe leather.”

Heaton has been cancer-free for 18 months, and feels very lucky. She returns for checkups every six months, her most recent being mid-September.

“I had a scare when I went for my annual checkup,” said Heaton. “They performed a mammogram on both breasts, and found a little spot that looked like a sail on my unaffected breast. We went on to do an ultrasound, and found out it was nothing, but it was scary there for a minute.”

Heaton recommends all women have regular mammograms, and hopes they’ll get involved with Cherokee County’s Relay for Life event.

She became interested for two reasons: her sister-in-law, Lela Stowers, had been an active advocate for many years, and her father had a connection to losing someone with cancer.

“My dad was a twin; he had a sister,” said Heaton, with a catch in her voice. “Her first diagnosis was breast cancer, and then later, she contracted cancer in her bones and major organs. Losing his sister was so devastating to my dad, I just had to get involved.”

Heaton enjoys the Relay’s Luminaria ceremony. Survivors or those who have lost a loved one to cancer purchase lanterns, which are often decorated, including the survivor or loved one’s name.

At 10 p.m. on the night of the event, the luminarias are lit, and often the names of each person for whom a luminaria was purchased is read.

“After the names are read, we walk one lap in total silence,” said Heaton. “It’s very moving.”

As for worrying about a relapse, Heaton keeps a positive attitude.

“I love being outdoors,” she said. “I love to mow the lawn, and before I had knee trouble, I’d walk miles every single day. It didn’t matter if it was 30 degrees or 102. Some people recognize me not by my name, but by seeing me out every single day walking.”


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  • wherearethey.jpg Padilla enjoys reconnecting with childhood

    As a child spending time at her grandparents’ house, with all her aunts, uncles, and cousins around her, Kerrie (Bosley) Padilla spent endless hours outside playing chase, catching fireflies, or writing and acting out plays.
    In 1987, after her dad got out of the Navy, the family moved here from Georgia to be closer to that family: matriarch Dorothy Monzingo, and maternal grandparents Dorothy and Dwight Allen. Her parents, DeAnna and Steve Edwards – as well as a couple of siblings and some aunts, uncles and cousins – still live here.
    Eventually, Padilla graduated from Northeastern State University, and then its College of Optometry.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • rf-Dream1.jpg Dream Theatre spotlights songwriters

    Dreams can come true for local aspiring songwriters who seek to gain performance experience.
    For one young musician, Thursday night was an unexpected dream of discovery, as well.
    Two opportunities are available to musicians at the Dream Theatre each month, the new Songwriters’ Showcase which opened Thursday night and Premier Night for musicians who have a few songs or a set, but not a whole show.
    In search of the groove that works for The Dream, Manager Larry Clark is partnering with Blake Turner, Lakes Country operation manager.
    The Songwriters’ Showcase, which will continue the third Thursday of the month in conjunction with Tahlequah Main Street Association’s Third Thursday Art Walk downtown, features seasoned performers who can share some of their personal insights into the how, when and why of their songwriting experiences.

    April 21, 2014 2 Photos

  • Dream, Brewdog’s to host music festivals

    One sign of spring’s arrival is the scheduling of music festivals, and 10 bands will visit a Tahlequah venue May 24, the Saturday before Memorial Day.

    April 17, 2014

  • rf-Zoe-thing.jpg Conference attendees get words of encouragement

    Words of encouragement and door prizes were bountiful Saturday morning at the annual Zoë Institute’s Women’s Conference.
    Ten women shared words of wisdom in areas from happiness to health, and 100 gifts were given out, including the grand prize of gasoline for a year.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • sp-symposium-art-panel.jpg Panelists discuss impact of Southeastern art

    Until recently, most people had a certain expectation of American Indian art – and it didn’t include images familiar to people in and around Cherokee County.
    “A lot of times, when people think about Native art, they immediately think of Plains art or Southwestern art,” said Roy Boney (Cherokee), Tahlequah artist and moderator of the panel discussion “Southeastern Indian Art: Building Community and Raising Awareness,” held Friday, April 11, at the NSU Symposium on the American Indian.
    Boney and the other panelists are frustrated by the divide between mainstream expectations of Native American art and their need for genuine self-expression.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • rf-Teacher.jpg Dickerson believes in putting the student first

    As a child growing up in Elk City, Cherokee Elementary teacher Debra Dickerson lined up the neighborhood children and animals to play school.
    “I’ve been a teacher ever since I could talk. My mother always said she knew where I was because she could hear me bossing everyone,” she said.
    The classroom then was a blanket tossed over limbs of her big cherry tree on Eisenhower Street. Recess was spent tree-climbing, running, riding in the bus (her red wagon) and being creative.
    “Those were the days before video games and TV,” she said.
    Dickerson, 2013-’14 Cherokee Elementary Teacher of the Year, believes a classroom should be a safe haven for children, because school is often the best part of their day.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • kh-trash-pickup.jpg Cleaning things up

    Lowrey was part of the Cherokee Nation’s Career Service Center contingency of 11 volunteers. Other volunteers cleaned up trash along the roadway from the Cherokee Casino to the NSU campus.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • SR-NinthAmendment.jpg Right to privacy leans partly on Article 9

    While the other articles of the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights are straightforward – at least, enough for Americans to bicker over in court – the Ninth Amendment might cause a bit of confusion.
    It reads: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
    There are no rights enumerated, and it might be difficult to argue one’s Ninth Amendment rights in court, though it has been done successfully.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • stickball-2.jpg Stickball

    The American Indian Science and Engineering Society and Native American Student Associationat Northeastern State University hosted a traditional stickball game as part of closing cultural activities during the 42nd annual Symposium on the American Indian Friday. Participants included, from left: Nathan Wolf, Disosdi Elk and Chris Smith.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • green-bldng.jpg City council to discuss ‘green building’

    Tahlequah City Council will hold a special meeting Friday, April 11, at 5:30 p.m. to discuss, among other items, applying grant money to renovate the city’s “green building” at the corner of Water and Morgan, near Norris Park.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo


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