A superhero in pink
It is not every day you encounter a real-life superhero.
Tuesday, July 10, at the Park City Golf Course was such a day. Clad in her shiny pink cape and beaming from ear to ear was Park City resident Gerry Brooks, a pro surfer in her youth, a mother, grandmother, and a four-time cancer survivor. Brooks recently played in the annual "Pink Day" cancer fundraiser for the Park City Women’s Golf Association (PCWGA) 9-Hole League.
The league decided to keep its funds in Utah this year, and will send the proceeds of more than $1,300 to the Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), based in Salt Lake City. One of the top cancer facilities in the country, the HCI serves thousands of cancer patients throughout the Intermountain West every year, with more than 58,000 outpatient visits, 3,000 surgeries and 11,000 infusion-therapy treatments provided in 2010, as well as academic and clinical training.
Many of the women in the league have friends or family members who have been touched by the disease, or have even experienced it themselves. One such league member is Vickie Schultz.
"I have lost three otherwise extremely healthy people to cancer in the last year and a half," she said. "The Huntsman Cancer Institute is awesome. It’s a godsend."
Another person who thinks highly of the HCI, and is being treated there, is our superhero. Gerry Brooks, 71, has been a resident of Park City since 2001 and has been battling cancer for more than 20 years. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1990, and underwent a radical mastectomy in the process of defeating the disease three times. She was then diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2010, a disease she is currently still fighting — now in her second round of chemotherapy. She said the disease is metastatic and incurable this time, but she is determined "to enjoy life to the bitter end."
This is part of the message Gerry Brooks wants to share — enjoying life. She is convinced that having a positive outlook on life and keeping active helps with longevity. And the 71-year-old revealed just how active she is.
"I substitute, on average, 70 to 100 days at the Park City High School during the school year, in addition to skiing in the winter or golfing in the summer," she said. "I alternate sports with working out at the Silver Mountain Sports Club. I believe being active keeps your mind off cancer and helps to fight this deadly disease."
She shares how last winter she skied with her son in knee-deep powder. Her son stopped to catch his breath and she started laughing.
"I’m the one who is 70 and having chemo. What are you stopping for?" she quipped. It is anecdotes like this that show her vim and zest for life.
"I’ve had a great life. I’m positive. It’s a gift," she says.
In her youth in the 1960s, Brooks was dubbed as a "pioneer of surfing" on Gilgo Beach in Long Island, where she surfed. At surfboard-maker John Hannon’s beachfront rental shack, she was "the stunning bikini-wearing blond behind the counter," as described by Matt Warshaw in "The History of Surfing." He tells how she "not only out-surfed most of the guys but out-styled them as well".
In surfing, she still has a foot in the door and now teaches three of her grandchildren to surf. Her four children and nine grandchildren live in the Connecticut and Long Island area. "All professionals: a doctor, a lawyer, an FBI agent, and one with a Ph.D. in high school administration," she beamed.
Her daughter, Kristen, purchased the personalized Superhero cape for her mother. It was handmade by Alyssa Wolfe, who started the company Pip & Bean (http://www.pipandbean.com ) out of her home in Indiana. Kristen ordered the reversible cape in pink and teal, the colors that represent breast and ovarian cancer. She keeps a close eye on her health and decided to have a complete hysterectomy as a preventive move.
And through it all, Gerry Brooks wants to remind people of something: "Keep an eye on your health and listen to your bodies."
In addition to getting regular mammograms, she prompts women to "see a doctor if you think something is wrong." She offered that a great family and circle of friends has helped her lead a full and active life.
Basking in the company of this incredible woman, filled with warmth, zest, and an infectious energy, it’s natural to decide to do just that — carpe diem.
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