Lin Gettman gets GLOW-ing

Boardman woman shares her experience with breast cancer

BOARDMAN — One day last year, while on a routine shopping trip at a local discount store, Lin Gettman noticed a woman who seemed uncharacteristically upset for someone who was merely looking for a special type of soap.

“We talked for 20 minutes. We were both in the soap aisle, and after 20 minutes, she hugged me. I asked if I could help her and she told me she had breast cancer surgery,” Gettman said. “You never know who you can help.”

The timing and circumstances of the chance encounter between the two women proved ideal. Gettman had a perfect opportunity to empathize with the woman because both had been diagnosed with the disease — Gettman twice.

Instead of succumbing to fear, bitterness, anger or any of a variety of negative emotions that often are a natural response to such news, Gettman has become an advocate for those who receive cancer diagnoses, she said recently from her Boardman home.

Shortly after her first diagnosis, Gettman joined GLOW (gracious, loving, optimistic women) Girls Inc., a support group that provides love, friendship and encouragement to women who have any type of cancer. Members also send cards to and make what are called love baskets for women who have been newly diagnosed. The baskets contain items such as candles, soaps, lotions, shampoos and candy.

Gettman, a retired Niles McKinley High School English and drama teacher, recalled that after shopping at the Grove City Premium Outlets Mall near Grove City, Pa., with her daughter in late 2001, she conducted a self-exam that revealed a tumor on her right side. Her gynecologist knew it likely was cancerous, so she was sent to a surgeon, who confirmed the bad news.

“The surgeon put the X-rays up for my husband and me,” Gettman recalled. “He showed it to me and said, ‘It’s the size of a quarter.'”

After a lumpectomy, Gettman was told her type of cancer was aggressive, and that it was a good thing she had performed the self-exam, she said. Nevertheless, it also took an emotional toll on her.

“It was hard for me to tell my daughters because we’re a really, really close family, and no one in the family has ever had cancer of any type,” she said.

After a bit of reluctance and fear, Gettman joined GLOW Girls and met during a Christmas party in 2001 the group’s founder and others who were battling cancer.

Around the same time, though, she was hit with additional rounds of devastating news: Gettman’s oldest daughter was diagnosed with what medical personnel thought was pancreatic cancer. As if that revelation wasn’t enough, Gettman’s mother had died and her sister-in-law was in a car accident, she said.

You could say, however, that an added glow to Gettman’s life was learning that her daughter did not have the disease — that the doctors instead saw “shadows” in her pancreas that apparently disguised themselves as such.

But in 2003, Gettman had a second recurrence when she was told she had cancer in her left breast, a situation that was unrelated to her initial diagnosis. However, it was caught in the earliest stage, she said.

“I had a mastectomy due to the location. I had three surgeries in eight weeks,” she added.

During her bouts with cancer, the longtime teacher, who’s been in remission about 18 years, periodically had to take time off work, but that didn’t mean she was out of the loop — not by a long shot.

“The kids sent me cards, sent me gifts,” said Gettman, adding she also periodically brought her students up to date on how she was progressing.

Today, she lives a normal life and rarely thinks about cancer, unless preparing for a checkup, she said.

Gettman often encourages those who are unwittingly traveling down her familiar path to join support groups and take advantage of firsthand knowledge about the disease. Talking to survivors or those who are going through the process also “can give you such hope that you’re not alone,” she said.

The GLOW Girls support group meets at 6 p.m. the third Monday of each month from September through June at Gia Angelo’s Pizzeria Italian Restaurant & Bar, 1315 Boardman-Canfield Road. For more information, call Gettman at 330-727-7621. She also had an additional piece of practical advice for those who are dealing with breast cancer.

“You can’t stop; you can’t give up.”