Cancer survivor, philanthropist, student: PLU student beats cancer and dedicates life to helping

by Genny Boots, News Writer

Gailon Wixson Pursley is a senior social work major at Pacific Lutheran University. On paper, Pursley looks pretty “normal” until you hear about her life off-campus. Pursley is a philanthropist and cancer survivor.

June 6 of last year, Pursley had just finished her junior year and was recovering from a stressful finals week when she was diagnosed with cancer.

Walking became hard for Pursley and after an MRI and a biopsy, Pursley was diagnosed with Stage Three Undifferentiated Sarcoma in her left pelvic area.

“I had started noticing things in March of last year and it just steadily got worse,” said Pursley.
Now, nine months later, she is in remission and showing no signs of cancer.

During her treatment Pursley split her time between the Ronald McDonald House, where she shared a room with her mother, and the Seattle Children’s Hospital. It was at Children’s where she met the world famous musician Macklemore. “He was the nicest guy, and so down to earth,” said Pursley
During her treatment Pursley split her time between the Ronald McDonald House, where she shared a room with her mother, and the Seattle Children’s Hospital. It was at Children’s where she met the world famous musician Macklemore. “He was the nicest guy, and so down to earth,” said Pursley

According to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital website, “Sarcomas are cancers that begin in the body’s connective tissues.” Sarcomas can affect bone, soft tissue or both. Pursley suffered from soft tissue cancer, which the American Cancer Society says, “accounts for 7 percent of all childhood tumors”

The most common method of treatment is radiation and chemotherapy.

“My chemo drip would be 20 hours and then they would unhook me and for four hours I would do radiation and then I would do another 20 hours of chemo, and this would go on for 3 days,” Pursley said. “Then they would release me, and I would feel like crap for two days, and then I would repeat the cycle three weeks later.”

Near the end of her treatment, Pursley was featured in an interview for Seattle’s KOMO news. Pursley had started a campaign to replace the overhead lights in the Ronald McDonald House.

Pursley spent half of her time in treatment at the Ronald McDonald house and noticed the lights made a distinct buzz, one of the last things someone going through chemotherapy and radiation needs when they come home. Pursley and her mother decided to fundraise to get newer, quieter lights for patient rooms.

Little did she know that on-camera interview was all it took. After seeing Pursley on television, the owner of North Coast Electric decided to donate all the lights to the Ronald McDonald House, and took what Pursley fundraised to pay the labor costs.

“The day I left Ronald McDonald was the day after that [interview] aired”, Pursley said.

She is hoping to see the lights installed by her first checkup post-cancer in March. Until then, she is living her life back on-campus and enjoying the routine of college life.

“When you are up there [Seattle Children’s Hospital], it is all about treating your illness, but when you’re here [Pacific Lutheran University] it’s not as much of a problem. I don’t feel like I am just being treated for my illness- now I am a normal student again,” Pursley said.

But really, she is anything but normal. While she might not describe herself as “brave” or “a fighter,” Pursley has a new outlook and focus for her life. She now hopes to become an oncology social worker and to continue her education at University of Washington for her graduate degree.

Throughout this process, Pursley says “it has given me a such greater appreciation for being back here [PLU] and a greater appreciation for being healthy…It is just fantastic to spend time with people my age and spend time with my friends again.”

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