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Friends Rally for Canaryville Cancer Victim

By Casey Cora | May 22, 2013 7:51am
 Friends are rallying to support Gail Carnithan, a Canaryville woman who's been hit with medical setbacks.
A Gift for Gail
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CANARYVILLE — A series of medical setbacks have upended Gail Carnithan’s life.

Since 2011, she’s been diagnosed with two forms of cancer, underwent three brain surgeries, battled pneumonia, was in a coma for two months and had a stroke.

Now she faces a mounting stack of medical bills.

“My heart breaks for this woman. I just don't know how much more she can endure,” said Jacolyn Maher, Carnithan’s friend and part of a group organizing a fundraiser to help pay her medical bills.

The “Gift for Gail” event is scheduled for 2-7 p.m. June 15 at the Canaryville Club, 458 W. 45th St.

Carnithan’s friends talk about their classic Canaryville upbringing, how they’ve lived on the same block for decades, how they take turns hosting Bunko dice game parties and play bingo at St. Gabriel.

They talk fondly of Carnithan’s fiancé, jail correctional officer Mike Johler, who proposed during a party at Pattie’s Pub and how the couple recently bought a home together at 43rd and Emerald.

“Then bam, just like hitting a brick wall,” Carnithan said from her hospital bed at Lutheran General Hospital.

For Carnithan, 41, who works for Advocate Health Care, the ordeal began in August 2011, when she lost hearing in left ear and felt numbness on her left side. She was brought into a medical office for an MRI screening, which revealed a tumor pressing on her brain stem.

Surgeons removed as much as they could, but she’d have to return for another procedure to cut out the rest.

That’s when doctors found a spot on her lungs, which turned out to be Hodgkin lymphoma.

With her immune system compromised after intense chemotherapy and radiation, Carnithan caught a severe case of pneumonia that landed her back in the hospital for three months.

Two of those months were spent in a medically induced coma, during which she remembers nothing except that her dreams were gray, devoid of any color.

During the coma, she had a stroke that's forced her to re-learn to walk.

Earlier this month, a shunt doctors had placed near her brain to ease the headache-inducing swelling became blocked, requiring another trip to the hospital. She's still there and expected to be released on Thursday.

“It’s like a comedy, I swear. I can’t catch a break but I’m coming through it,” she said.

Among the many affected by Carnithan's struggle is her son, Cody Qualls.

A 24-year-old forklift operator, he’s been passing out fliers announcing the fundraiser to just about everyone, including the hospital staff who have treated his mom. He's looking forward to the next time he can eat his favorite meal cooked by his mother: cube steak and mashed potatoes.

“I go home and I’m used to her being there,” he said. “To tell you the truth I don’t like to go home.”

Tickets to a Gift for Gail are $20 in advance and $25 at the door, which includes food, draft beer and music. Raffles and door prizes are also planned. Tickets can be bought by contacting Jacolyn Maher at 773-952-8337. Donations can also be made by visiting YouCaring.com and searching "A Gift for Gail."