Gayle Katzenback was a beautiful, kind, and overall lovely person. It’s been one month (yesterday) since Jesus called her home and, in honour of her, I want to share my version of Gayle with you.
I met Gayle at Aush-Bik-Koong bible camp when we were both 10 years old. I remember her from camp because at the time I was a tall, skinny, pale kid. I found comfort in meeting Gayle because coincidentally she was a tall, skinny, pale kid too. I know it’s a little superficial, but I felt good knowing I wasn’t alone in my lankiness. I’m sure she also felt good knowing that at least she was the cooler of the 2 lanky kids (people remember me from camp as the kid who wore a wetsuit all week… all I’m saying is that I refused to be cold and the wetsuit prevented me from turning blue). We weren’t really friends when we were young, we just slightly knew each other from ABK.
Even as we grew up and continued to camp at ABK, we didn’t really become friends. Besides our slight resemblance, we had nothing in common. Gayle was cool, and trendy. She always looked so good no matter what. While I wore sweatshirts and crocs with a messy bun, she wore nice clothes and always had her hair done. I was pretty loud and outgoing and because I didn’t know Gayle very well, she just seemed to stick more to the people she knew and definitely seemed more mature.
That’s really all I can say about our relationship as young kids/teens. Knew who she was from camp. Knew she was from Sault Ste. Marie. And we were just acquaintances.
In 2014, when I was diagnosed with adrenal gland cancer (Adrenocortical carcinoma), I knew absolutely no one my age, or even near my age for that matter, who also had cancer. Gayle was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma almost 2 years later in 2015. I was very happy to NOT know any other young people who were suffering from cancer and when I found out about Gayle, I was devastated. I didn’t want her to feel alone in this. I knew exactly how she was feeling and just wanted to encourage her to trust in God and stay strong. Even though we weren’t close, I messaged her on Facebook to let her know that I was there for her and gave her a few bible verses that had comforted me in the beginning. She thanked me and gave me a little update and that was it. The next year and a half we occasionally chatted but not often at all. I prayed for her any time I thought of her, but it wasn’t until September 2017 that I actually got to know Gayle.
We both went to Causenta Wellness in Scottsdale, Arizona for treatment, so my husband, Eythan, and I stayed with Gayle and her family. This was admittedly a very difficult transition for me. I had just gotten married so we were still adjusting to that and then we had to learn how to live with strangers. Thankfully Charlene, Jason (her parents) and Gayle did not stay strangers long. I quickly felt very close to them, strangers became my family.
Gayle and I, even living in the same house, were not fast friends. We got along great but our personalities and interests had nothing in common. We did, however, became closer as the weeks went on. We spent every day together at the clinic and in the evenings, we would just hang out casually around the house. Being newly married, Eythan and I tried to spend as much time as possible spending quality time together, working on our new marriage.
During clinic hours, Gayle and I would chat about everything. I was often up for conversation (unless I was in pain) but I never wanted to bug Gayle in case she just wanted to sleep or read or sit together in silence. I just liked having her there if no words were spoken.
In late September, our mutual friend, Riley, came to visit and surprised Gayle. I was surprised and super excited as well to have her visit. Because Riley and I were good friends already, I found that during the week she was with us, I got to know Gayle so much more. After Riley left we started to become actual, real friends.
For anyone who knew Gayle, knew that she absolutely loved Target. I can’t count the amount of Target trips we made each week! We would get home from the clinic for the day, and if we both felt good, would go to Target and walk around looking for nothing but of course, if you know what Target’s like we would often find something that we absolutely needed. Gayle usually needed candles and I often needed cosmetics hehe. Oh, and Starbucks of course!
You’d also know that she had the absolute best taste in music. She always found new artists and songs first. I definitely got a cooler playlist after living with Gayle, although she had an annoying tendency to play songs on repeat. I discovered this tendency of hers by listening to the song Watch by Billie Eilish, which is a great song by the way, just not when you listen to it 6 times in one drive to Target. (It’s one of my favourite songs now) We also shared a love for Taylor Swift so of course we had many jam sessions while learning the words to her new album.
In November, Eythan had to go back to Canada for work so I stayed another 3 and a half weeks in Arizona without him. This was very difficult for me, but having Gayle around made the biggest difference. Remember, we were in Arizona getting cancer treatment… we were both stage 4 and had MANY hard days. We watched each other suffer in pain many times. You really get to know someone when they’re vulnerable and I’d say that being in pain is the most vulnerable I ever feel. Even though I didn’t have my husband there to comfort me, I still had my family there with me.
Jason and Charlene, you made me feel loved and at home and I’m endlessly grateful for you both.
Gayle and I spent hours walking around the mall and Ikea and Target, chatting about our cancer stories and encouraging each other. Having someone that understood my feelings and fears and experiences was so nice. Even though we both had cancer, we had such different experiences. When I share my experiences with people, they often feel very sympathetic and want to comfort me but some of the things that I’ve gone through are hilariously embarrassing. Getting to chat about them with Gayle was refreshing since we could laugh them off and respond with an even better story.
This one night, it was around 1 AM and everyone in the house was sleeping. I couldn’t fall asleep, so I figured I’d get a snack. I walked into the kitchen and there Gayle was eating some Greek yogurt. We both chuckled a little as I pulled out the strawberries. There was this one strawberry that had very large seeds and as I picked it out of the container, she shuttered in disgust. There are things that make me super squeamish too, but it usually doesn’t involve delicious fruit. Then she says, “I have a phobia of things that have a bunch of tiny holes placed close together.” I literally burst out laughing. I did not know that was a real thing! It’s called trypophobia by the way. Very real and still hilarious. (However, after seeing some photos that would make a trypophobic squirm, I get it. They’re freaky looking).
I miss her. I miss her a lot. She was the coolest person I ever knew, no question. Gayle was such a beautiful person. She was on a chemo pill which gave her beautiful white blonde hair and she had the iciest blue eyes I’ve ever seen. But not only was she gorgeous she also had a beautiful heart (that sounds cliché but nothing about Gayle was cliché). She treated everyone with so much kindness, and really cared about everyone. Like I mentioned earlier, I barely knew Gayle at all before Arizona, but I wish I had the chance to be her friend longer. She was a friend when I really needed one and I hope that she felt the same about me. This is my version of Gayle, the Gayle that I got to know. She’s not here with us anymore but she gets to walk with Jesus every day. 21 years is not a long enough time here on this earth, but she was so loved and cherished by her family and friends.
I’m so happy your suffering is over. Thank you for making being away from home bearable and making me feel like I wasn’t alone. Thank you for always being positive and helping me be so too. And don’t worry, I know you’re fine.
Also, you made really delicious pumpkin pancakes which was without a doubt my favourite thing about you 😉
Give God a hug for me!