It only seems natural to sit home and rest after undergoing an intensive surgery to help treat breast cancer.
Not for Bridget Gaughan.
Her then eighth-grade son was scheduled to have a wrestling match the same day she had her mastectomy, and Gaughan knew that she could not miss it.
“It was always a big deal for me and him that I came and watched his wrestling matches,” Gaughan said. “I had gotten home from the hospital and I was just like, ‘I’m bound and determined. I’m going to watch him wrestle because if he doesn’t see me there, he’s going to get worried there’s something wrong.’”
Unable to drive so shortly after surgery, she proceeded to walk from her house to the nearby middle school, much to the concern of her mother, but to the relief of her son. It was taking simple measures like these that helped Gaughan show her children not to be afraid, and have since defined her as both a devoted mother and breast cancer survivor.
A mother of three and an attorney, Gaughan has lived in Ahwatukee Foothills for 26 years and thinks the area is greatly suited to her lifestyle.
“I’m a big runner,” Gaughan said. “I love living in Ahwatukee because there’s so many great places to run and hike. I live right on the mountain preserve so I hike quite a bit behind my house.”
Gaughan first discovered a lump on her breast in October 2008 and called the doctor for a mammogram. She was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer that November, and a second, more aggressive cancer was found following her first surgery.
“I think there’s probably many people who think that mammograms are the end-all and be-all,” Gaughan said. “It’s a very important screening device, but there’s some types of breast cancer that are not detectable in a mammogram. It was actually fortunate that I had the first type because the second one never would have been detected.”
The news came as a complete shock to Gaughan and her husband, whose sister died of breast cancer at a very young age. Being an avid runner herself, Gaughan led a healthy lifestyle and had very little history of cancer within her family.
“That’s what hit me so hard when I was diagnosed,” Gaughan said. “I was thinking, ‘I don’t have any history of breast cancer, my mother didn’t, my sister didn’t … that’s what you have to understand about cancer: it’s not discriminatory and it can hit everybody. It’s just the unknown about it all.”
She altered her daily routine to suit her treatment, which primarily meant giving up her daily runs for walks down virtually “every single street in the neighborhood,” she said. Gaughan was determined to not let fear overtake her despite the circumstances, and eight surgeries and 21 months later, she had recovered.
The entire experience made Gaughan want to become more involved with the annual Relay for Life event in Ahwatukee, which raises money for the American Cancer Society. Instead of merely writing a check when her kids took part in it during middle and high school, she decided to get involved and join a survivors’ team in 2009.
In August 2010, Gaughan distinctly remembers being at the grocery store with her friend Lucy, who worked on the silent auction for Relay.
“I said, ‘Lucy, I would really like to help you for the silent auction for the 2011 event,’” Gaughan said. “She looked at me and was like, ‘Well, you’re just going to have to do it without me.’
“I looked at her really strange and asked, ‘What do you mean?’ and she said, ‘I’m not going to be here for the 2011 event.’ And she wasn’t.”
Lucy had been diagnosed with breast cancer and eventually passed away that December. Devastated by the loss, Gaughan was more determined than ever to become an active volunteer for Relay.
“It just made me really step it up,” Gaughan said. “I did it in dedication of Lucy. I just felt I really wanted to take it to the next level and make it the best it could be.”
One of her primary goals this year was to raise money for 250 luminaries in memory of her uncle, who passed away from cancer this past December. He had the disease for 10 years, and was part of a research project by the American Cancer Society that used new drugs for treatment — a direct recipient of funds that are raised in events like Relay. She hopes that the luminaries will not be merely words on a paper bag, but will help remind everyone of who he was as a person.
“When they see the luminaria bags, they’ll see his picture on there,” Gaughan said. “He’s a smiling Irishman, and someone that’s full of love and laughter.”
The luminaria ceremony is “hands down” Gaughan’s favorite part of Relay, followed in a close second by the survivors’ walk. She says that the walk is “very powerful,” and never fails to be overwhelmed by all the love and support that comes from the people of Ahwatukee Foothills cheering the survivors on.
Despite all the hard work that she and other adult volunteers put into the event, Gaughan truly believes that the Ahwatukee youth are what make Relay such a successful event.
“People complain about today’s youth and what they don’t do, but what they really need to do is show up at this event and see what these kids are capable of accomplishing,” Gaughan said. “They’re enthusiastic, they’re there for the right reason, they’re having a great time, and they’re raising money for the American Cancer Society.
“That’s why people should show up — to support the youth of Ahwatukee Foothills who are doing so much to benefit people like me, and like my uncle.”
Ahwatukee Relay for Life is this weekend, April 14-15, at Desert Vista High School, 16440 S. 32nd St.
For more information, visit www.relay.org/ahwatukeefoothillsaz or call (480) 248-0475.
• Patrick Ryan is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. He is a sophomore at Arizona State University.