A frightening diagnosis, then he is cancer-free

Man with once-inoperable tumor now cancer-free

At Mount Auburn, Bert Gay speaks with Dr. Peter Maggs. At Mount Auburn, Bert Gay speaks with Dr. Peter Maggs.
By Bert and Dorothy Gay
September 4, 2011

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Editor’s note: Bert and Dorothy Gay, Somerville residents since 1968, wrote about their experience when Bert was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.

“Back in May 2010, when I heard the words ‘inoperable lung cancer,’ I got a pit in my stomach,’’ said Bert Gay, 70, of Somerville. His wife, Dorothy, added, “Of course, we thought it was dire.’’

Bert had been experiencing some health issues and developed a cough following a vacation the Gays had taken to Ireland. “We thought it was a cold or bronchitis,’’ Dorothy said. So did their doctor initially, and he prescribed antibiotics and told them to call in a week.

“We called before the week was out,” said Dorothy. “And the next thing we knew we were at Mount Auburn Hospital getting an X-ray. And that X-ray showed a mass.’’

The Gays are longtime Somerville residents, having moved from England in 1968. They came because their son needed specialized medical care. “We intended to stay for two years,’’ said Dorothy. “It’s been 43!’’

Bert was a nuclear machinist and Dorothy was a nurse. She also served as Somerville’s mayor from 1999 to 2003.

When their primary care physician, Dr. David Menon, saw Bert’s CAT scan, he immediately knew that the road ahead would not be easy. “Dr. Menon told us that the cancer had wrapped itself around the pulmonary artery, which transports blood from the heart to the lungs,’’ said Bert. “He told Dorothy and me that I was looking at chemotherapy and radiation therapy . . . there wasn’t much more that could be done.’’

Then Bert started to get his affairs in order,’’ Dorothy said.

It was at this time that another doctor, Mount Auburn thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Peter Maggs, stepped in. He and the Gays decided that he would attempt a novel surgery. “He told us there were no guarantees, not to get too excited. But that there was a possibility he could get the whole . . . tumor,’’ said Dorothy.

Dorothy and the couple’s two children, Geraldine, 45, of New York, and Donald, 43, of Somerville, waited seven hours before Dr. Maggs came to say the operation was a success. He had removed the tumor along Bert’s entire left lung, a sliver at a time. “I came out of the surgery cancer-free,’’ said Bert, who did not need chemotherapy or radiation.

When his family went to ICU to see him, Bert was sitting up in bed and talking. Five days later, “I walked into the house under my own power,’’ he said.

Months later, Bert and Dorothy visited her native Ireland. They have taken a Caribbean cruise and plan a trip to England, Bert’s native country, soon. Bert “and I both realized that we have a lot of living to do and we’re going to do it,’’ said Dorothy.

Also instrumental in Bert’s healing, said his wife, were their five grandchildren, ages 9 to 24. “We thank Mount Auburn of course. But those kids might be the best medicine of all.’’

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