Cancer Crusaders

Susan McMillan, Zully Jimenez and Betsie Gambel share their stories.

In times of need, many find the greatest source of strength comes from leaning on those closest to them. This was certainly true for Betsie Gambel, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma the day after Christmas in 2005.

“I was the picture of health,” she says. “I was in great shape, I bicycled all the time and I was working on recovery projects. Then I came down with these horrible pains. I was in Greenville, S.C. at the time with my son Meric.”

Because the healthcare in New Orleans was “marginal” at the time, Gambel made the decision to seek treatment at the world-renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. For the six-month duration of her treatment she stayed with one of her cousins, and on weekends different friends would come into town to visit.

At the time, Gambel was working at local ad agency Keating Magee, but when cancer struck she dropped her hours to part-time. Still, she stayed busy.

“My situation was my job. My job was to get well and take care of myself. I took advantage of all the classes at MD Anderson; they take a very holistic approach to healing. “

For those six months, Gambel endured 10- to 12-hour sessions of chemotherapy every three weeks. She says she tolerated the treatments well, and to ward off the chills many suffer during chemo, a friend sent her a prayer blanket.

“It was the most beautiful pale pink,” she recalls. “Susie [Delery] knitted it for me. Now, whenever I hear about someone getting diagnosed with cancer, I send that blanket to them and they send it back when they don’t need it anymore.”

As fate would have it, one of Gambel’s good friends, Mary Dorsey, was diagnosed with the same type of cancer, and was also at MD Anderson. Gambel says she was lucky to have a friend there with her at the same time; the two went to yoga classes, support group meetings and other activities at the center together, and both are now successfully in remission.

Upon returning to New Orleans, Gambel went back to work. “I’ve always been a believer in ‘cause marketing,’ and that strengthened after my cancer. I used my experience as a cancer survivor to help nonprofits organize their fundraisers and events, and created relationships between nonprofits and our for-profit clients.”

“I got back, I was just rockin’-and-rollin’ along, but I had always wanted to start my own business. I love the agency setting, but I knew that I had to take a chance and invest in myself. I just couldn’t wait any longer.”

In April of this year Gambel Communications was born. She recently purchased office space in Old Metairie, and though they only have four employees right now, client response has been tremendous.

“We represent just about every client discipline out there, including the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer and Hiller Jewelry. This month Hiller is hosting a fundraiser through East Jefferson General Hospital Regional Cancer Center for breast cancer.”

In late September of this year Gambel was honored at a Cancer Crusaders luncheon, an award given to those dedicated to making a difference. Her son Meric was her escort. Her other son, Gregory, lives in Philadelphia.

“I call them my city mouse and my country mouse,” she jokes.

“Whatever kind of cancer you have, there’s a bond created nevertheless between people. It’s not exactly a club you ever want to join or be a part of, but it’s a network, so being able to support any kind of cancer event is my way of representing battles won and lives lost.”

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