Margaret “Peg” Garguilo will always remember when she was first officially diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 2016, shortly after having self-discovering two suspicious lumps.
“It was mid-week of our family vacation and, all along I had intended for [the doctors] to call me while we were on vacation because I knew that I would be surrounded by my tribe,” Garguilo told a crowd of 200 fellow cancer survivors and loved ones in the James M. Stockman Cancer Institute in Frederick early Sunday afternoon.
Joined onstage by her daughter, 23-year-old Emily Josephine Garguilo, Peg was the first of several guest speakers invited to the institute to celebrate National Cancer Survivor’s Day and share her story.
An international celebration in its 32nd year, Sunday marked the 14th year National Cancer Survivor’s Day has been held here in Frederick, said Debra Fuller, a nurse navigator at the institute who helped organize the event.
“It is a day aimed for cancer survivors, and the definition we use for a cancer survivor is anyone who is newly diagnosed all the way through the remainder of their lives,” Fuller said.
The event strives to include people at every stage, from diagnosis through treatment and, hopefully, remission, in order to encourage everyone affected by the disease.
“It’s a celebratory event because, this is a difficult journey, but we want to show that there is hope for everyone,” Fuller said.
As attendees were sat down and enjoyed catered food and other refreshments, Fuller introduced various speakers, including Michael Merth, a registered dietitian at the Frederick Memorial Hospital, who discussed the importance of developing and maintaining healthy eating habits on the journey to recovery, dropping simple tips to those present like sticking to the perimeters of grocery stores, where most of the fresh, non-processed foods are kept refrigerated.
The celebration also featured other events, such as musical therapy, an inspirational rock painting booth and mini-makeovers by the American Cancer Society’s Look Good, Feel Better program, but the keynote speakers provided some of the most inspiration during the event.
Peg’s first chemotherapy treatment was in August of 2016, at the same time her son Dominic was preparing to begin his first semester at Towson University, while Emily was about to start her junior year at the University of Maryland in Baltimore.
When her mother needed to be hospitalized shortly after her first treatment, Emily decided to delay returning to college to be closer to the family.
Thankfully, in June 2017, after a particularly aggressive treatment plan and at least one major setback, Peg completed her treatment and was finally able to leave the hospital. Arriving at the hospital to pick her up, Emily brought a pair of clippers at her mother’s request. Emily managed to shave half of her mother’s head before the clippers broke, then returned with another pair borrowed from a neighbor to finish the job.
“Not to get over philosophical, but, leaving the hospital was huge, leaving some of my hair on a pillow in the hospital, along with my illness, to me, was really significant and I didn’t want anything to do with my hair before I walked into [my] house,” Peg said.
Later that night Emily packed up and moved back to school, starting classes the very next day. After a rocky semester with plenty of tearful phone calls back home to her mother, Emily graduated with a degree in kinesiology in May of 2018.
Today, Peg is looking forward to watching her daughter tackle a doctorate program in physical therapy that just started last week. She is also looking forward to taking many more phone calls, ready to celebrate Emily’s successes or to encourage her during stressful times.
“Yes, you can still expect many phone calls where I’ll likely be crying,” Emily confirmed, laughing.
“Well, I’ll take the phone calls any day, angel girl,” her mother replied.