Gwen Martin is a survivor. First, it was multiple sclerosis that upended her sense of well-being. Then, it was a heart attack. Most recently in 2017, breast cancer came into her life.
Survive and thrive with the right attitude
All of these challenges have tested the cheery 57-year-old, but Gwen says that her husband and family, her senior housing community, and her faith in God have helped her overcome these and other obstacles.
“It took me years to accept that I had MS, “ says Gwen, who was diagnosed with the nervous system disorder in 1991. By 2012, Gwen relied on a wheelchair to get around, and she hadn’t walked in years. But when her caregiver heard about a new therapy machine at the Good Samaritan Society — one that might allow her to walk while using it — Gwen stepped up to the challenge and gave it a try.
I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m walking for the first time in years.' And that’s where I am today. I’m still using it!” – Gwen Martin
Gwen is an inspiration to the staff and other residents at Good Samaritan Society – Hot Springs Village in Arkansas. She shared some of her tips for coping and keeping a smile on her face when the going gets rough. Here are five of them.
“I will have a hard time picking something up or I find myself not being able to do what I could do last week,” says Gwen. “That is a point of disappointment, despair. Do I just throw in the towel and say, ‘Hey, put me in a nursing home or lock me in a storage cabinet?’ No. There’s nothing I can do to bring myself out of that slump, but I wait it out. I go with the feelings. I let my body and let my mind go with it. And you know what? It’s never lasted more than a couple of days.”
It could be easy to feel sorry for herself more than occasionally, but Gwen knows that a positive attitude and a sense of humor help her stay healthy and involved. “Laughter releases all the bad feelings and makes you feel positive,” she says. “As long as you have it, be it once a week or once a day or once every three days, there is still something good. But if you never laugh, you’ve given up. It’s almost like being dead.”
Gwen credits her parents and her care team with keeping her in good health and good spirits, and says that spending time with people who have a can-do attitude makes all the difference in her daily routine.
She also turns to her husband of over 30 years, Dan, for his encouragement and love. “He understands sometimes all I want is a bear hug and to be left alone to cry. Other times he’s like, ‘You know you can do this, get off your butt and do it!’ When I tell him, “No, I don’t feel like it,’ he says, ‘Is it your brain, or are you being lazy? Because if it’s just being lazy, I’ll do it with you. C’mon!'"
“I still have both arms, they just may not function like I want them to,” says Gwen. “But I can still hug, I still laugh. I can’t wear makeup, or fix my hair anymore, but I can offer anyone a big smile, and a positive attitude, and I’m an excellent listener. So with those three things, I go through life saying, ‘That’s me! Take it or leave it!’”
Gwen grew up in the church, but fell away in her 20s. When she realized how much she missed having a faith family, she found a church that revitalizes her spirit and helps her reflect on her life.
In 2017, when she discovered she had breast cancer, her faith helped her find peace in the new twist. “I told my mom and Dan, my husband, ‘Look, my Savior and I know exactly what’s coming. We’re happy where we are, and if for some stupid reason I don’t come out of this, we’re OK with it. I’m at peace.’”