Gina Angelo fell in love with motorcycles the first time she rode her brother’s Harley. She then became a pacesetter: first, by organizing the “Witches on Wheels” (Detroit’s first women’s Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Club) and then by becoming a renowned woman boxer at a time in America when most women were housewives and stay-at-home moms. From truck stop waitress to carnival stripper, from “the Toughest Woman in Michigan” to Hollywood star, Gina lived life on her own terms. It is unlikely that America will ever witness an equal to the 1950s biker queen who became a legend in her own time.
September, 2001 was a year to remember. Many of you can recall the 11th day of September. We were plagued with terrorist attacks and our nation started a cycle of living a life of disarray. Fear began to take its toll on our lives. Not only was I caught in the loop, I had to deal with the dreadful diagnosis of Breast Cancer.
On September 18, 2001, I was faced with the dreadful dilemma of finding a lump in my breast. For some reason, I had the feeling that was not a naturally good feeling of despair. I felt that something was wrong, not because I felt pain, but maybe it was because of the alien being that was invading my body.
I immediately sought medical attention that proved to be true. When the doctor completed the test she gave me that dreadful news. When she walked back into the room she found me sitting on the examining table waiting for the news of the results of the pathology report. I remember that day very vividly. The sun was shining beautifully bright outside but when she said those dreadful words, “Yes, you have cancer.” I lost all sight of reality. I instantly lost focus on what she was saying. I no longer recognized that she was still standing in the room with me. I became blind. After getting dressed I left her office and slowly drove home, tears streaming down my face wondering what went wrong.
I immediately felt the need to pray. As I drove home, I saw my life pass before my eyes. I thought about my family that I may not be able to enjoy. I had an 8 year old daughter whom we had adopted and I wouldn’t even be able to watch her grow up. Everything runs through your mind. Well when drove in the yard, I sat there in my car wondering whether I should go inside. Well, my husband had already known because he called me and I broke the news to him over the phone. He was waiting for me to get home. Little did I know, he had called all of my family far and near and broke the news to them.
Now, I had to worry about how they were going to perceive this whole issue. But, without a second thought my phone began to ring off the hook. My sisters and brother called just to see how I was taking this news. I could tell in their voices that they were lost for words and did not know what to say. I broke the ice and said to each of them, “I’m going to be alright.” “I’m going to do what I need to do.” However, I was still crying and wondering did I really believe what I said. They were thinking of me and I was trying to think of them.
My first thoughts were “am I going to die?” After getting over the initial shock, I went back to my doctor and told her to explain again to me what she had told me three days before. I expressed to her that I did not hear a word she said. She acknowledged to me that she knew I did not hear her nor understood. After she explained everything to me again, I told her that I’d made my decision and she needed to put on her boxing gloves and get ready to fight.
Having said that, she said, “That’s what I like to hear.” Then the cycle started. My life became a life of visiting the doctors. I had test here and there preparing for surgery. The cancer was found in my left breast, but I was afraid that it would end up in the other. My diagnosis was “Infiltrating ductul carcinoma.” I used my computer and researched and dissected every word. I started compiling a file on myself. Every time I went to a doctor, I would get copies of everything they did. If they wrote something on a piece of paper, I wanted a copy. If it pertained to my treatment I wanted to know about it. It came time to have the surgery. On October 31, 2001, I had the most sought after costume for Halloween, a hospital gown. I went into the hospital with a bust size of 44DD. When I left the hospital I was flat chested and had to give up 26 lymph nodes.
My cross-over ceremony as a DIVA. My DIVA number #53
The healing process started and I suffered many set backs. I developed an infection in the left breast and it had to be irrigated. I temporarily lost the use of my legs. Chemotherapy started and then the nightmares began. But through it all I perservered keeping God first. My family and friends were a catalyst of my healing. They were there for me when I cried and laughed. I won’t tell anyone that it was easy. But having faith, hope and a healthy dose of laughter makes the pain less severe.
I made it a point to keep positivity in my life. Things that made me happy I did more of them. I set goals of things I wanted to accomplish and did not wait to start them. I found that working on those goals gave me the will to live. I did things that I had not done in my life time. I thought of what it would be like to earn a degree. When I graduated from high school, I couldn’t afford to go to college so I went directly to working full time and forgot about it. Before I knew it I was far along in age. Well, when you’re diagnosed with Cancer you see life differently. Here I was given another chance at life and I wanted to do something positive. I stepped out of my comfort zone and enrolled into college. I had not been to school for over 30 years. I started thinking, “can I do thia?” Well, I did. Now I have almost completed all the requirements of earning an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice.
During my trials I tried to focus on positive things. I tried to make others happy. I bonded with other ladies that had been diagnosed and I found myself being a pillow for them when they were at their weakest moment. Many of them thought of giving up but somehow I found the way to keep them just as motivated. We got through those treatments and celebrated each day of our survival. I understood that everyday I opened my eyes was a day of celebration and I needed to make someone happy. After my diagnosis, I never felt cheated of life. I considered my diagnosis as God’s plan and direction for my life. I felt as though I was a chosen vessel and the honor was bestowed upon me to show others that having cancer was not a death sentence.
I can’t take all the credit for my survival, though I must credit my healing to the support of the wonderful man in my life (my husband). He was there for me from day one. I never got tired or at least he never told me he was tired. He took the burden of worry off of me during my healing process. I know I drove him crazy but he never let on to me that he was upset. He did everything to make me happy and calm. As you know, with cancer you should be stress free.
Just as nothing is for certain, the same is with life. There are no guarantees. The prayer of serenity was my stronghold. I asked God daily to grant me the strength to accept the things that I can’t change. Daily someone is diagnosed with cancer and learning all that we can helps to make a change. Now my life is fulfilled with staying on top of my health and helping others cope. I am now a survivor of 5 years, enjoying life and never dwelling on the things that I can’t do anything about. I make it a point to love everyone. I enjoy meeting new
people and sharing with them my “I” story. Just to tell you in writing would not do justice to the things I endured throughout my transition to recovery. It was a long and hard journey but I made the trek in shoes that I would not wish that anyone wear. I learned a lot and as I said earlier, I see life differently. Through this journey I developed a motto that kept me going, “You may take my breast, but you can’t take my heart.”