Gloria Dobogai has a special bond with the patients at the Froedtert & MCW Clinical Cancer Center — she was one of them.
“I remember lying in bed thinking, ‘Let me go. I am not going to make it,’” Gloria said. “But I beat cancer, and I can share my story to offer hope to others.”
Gloria has been a volunteer at the Clinical Cancer Center for 20 years and spends most of her time with patients in the Day Hospital, where those who need chemotherapy, blood products and other types of infusion therapy go for treatment. She is also the curator for the Patient Art Gallery. Gloria’s husband, John, was diagnosed with kidney cancer shortly after she became a volunteer. He was treated and is now cancer-free. Then, in December 2010, after nearly 13 years as a volunteer, Gloria was diagnosed with anal cancer.
“It kind of hits you in the gut because I took care of so many patients with cancer,” Gloria said. “I had seen them through ups and downs. You feel so blessed to be able to help them — and then suddenly you’re the one who needs help.”
No one in Gloria’s family had ever had cancer, so the diagnosis after a routine colonoscopy came as a shock. Her cancer was Stage I and treatable, but the six weeks she spent receiving chemotherapy and radiation therapy were some of the toughest weeks of her life. Gloria was hospitalized twice for side effects related to her treatment, but she says her experience, in some ways, was a blessing.
“I listen to people who are struggling, and I tell them, ‘I am a cancer survivor,’” she said. “And I truly mean it when I say, ‘I know this is the horrible part, but you do bounce back.’”
As a survivor, Gloria admits she sometimes wrestles with guilt — friends have passed away because of the disease, but she continues to volunteer because she knows it makes a difference.
“In the end, if I can give someone hope and encouragement and let them know life goes on after cancer, I will.”