One Friday morning more than two years ago, Gwendolyn Rawls sat down, leaned back for her hair to flow into the wash sink, and prepared for a few hours of well-deserved relaxation at the salon. But as her stylist began rinsing out the shampoo, things took a turn.
“A clump of hair fell out into her hands. I cried. She cried. Everyone in the salon cried. I told her to get some clippers, and that day I shaved off all my hair for the first time since starting chemotherapy,” Rawls said.
Rawls’ choice to shave off her hair in that moment, reflects the overall approach she took to her cancer diagnosis from the start — fearless. For years she had been told by doctors that a cyst in her left breast was benign. But when she moved to Atlanta in September 2015 she came to Grady, and an ultrasound revealed she had breast cancer.
“They found the cancer after no one else could. All my family took it really hard, but I was calm. I knew it was not a death sentence.”
Her doctors at the Georgia Cancer Center for Excellence recommended a mastectomy in November that year, after which she began chemotherapy in January 2016.
“There were many days I felt so bad, but I always kept going. There were times I would cry, but I had too much to live for — I was not finished here, I had more to do.”
Rawls is now a two-year cancer survivor, and is in the process of completing reconstructive surgery at Grady. She also never misses her cancer support group meetings every month.
“You know coming to Grady, I feel like family here. My doctors, nurses, navigators, guest services who check me in, they are all kind and uplifting. I was in good hands at Grady from the moment I made my first appointment to have that mass checked.”
Rawls is especially proud to stand tall during October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She said it is a reminder of her ongoing journey, and how far she still has to go.
“I feel happy every October. That day in the salon, I realized, it was just hair. I went out and got some beautiful scarves and learned how to tie them up. I rocked it. Now I am a two-year cancer survivor and I can’t wait to get to 30. I will continue to give my all to help others who may be struggling, and I’m going to enjoy my life. This is my time.”