Gayle Madden - Living Each Day to the Fullest
● By Jennifer Highet
Life LessonsJanuary 2015
Story and photos by Jennifer Highet
One sunny afternoon last November, Gayle Madden participated in an author’s fair at the Mt. Shasta Mall. She brought a box of her newly published book, "An Imperfect Life," and hoped to sell a few copies. She didn’t expect crowds at her table, or that she would, in the first hour, sell every book she had, including her own copy. “I would have been happy even if we sold four or five,” she says with a laugh. “I am humbled.”
To see her smile and hear her speak, one would never know that she is living on borrowed time. Diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer in 2011, Madden was given only a few months to live. The news astonished everyone who knew her; she led a very healthy life. She practiced yoga, hiked, went on 100- mile bike rides, and ate well. How could this have happened? That is a question she explores in her memoir, a book that is about so much more than cancer.
While undergoing surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, she redoubled her efforts to live each day to the fullest. And for a time she was cancer-free. It seemed she’d looked death in the eye and triumphed.
Raised in Redding, Madden taught middle school for 22 years. She met her husband one sweltering summer’s day while rafting on the Sacramento River. Having heard her lament the luscious berries they were passing, a handsome fellow rafter offered a small bundle of the fruit he had picked upon landing. That first meeting with Michael produced what Gayle terms “twitterpation.”
Married in 2004, the couple has visited 23 countries, with Switzerland being a favorite. “Not only because of the Alps,” Madden says, “but two of our best friends live there.” Staying with friends meant living “among the locals,” a very pleasurable experience.
Since the return of her cancer, there’s been no more world travel. However, she’s “given up the idea that a desired outcome needs to look a certain way. As I continue to live my life, I’m open to new adventures and ideas. I’m inspired by the suffering endured by the people who have passed before me."
Michael has been her biggest supporter and caretaker, though he grieves because he cannot fix this illness. Finally, she asked him if he’d done the best for her that he could, and he said that he had. “Then there is nothing more you can do, but love me.”
Madden is fiercely independent, and learning to rely on others is difficult. She maintains a positive attitude “by being able to receive the love and support that is being offered; by asking for help when I need it; by inspiring others to live a more satisfying life; by being gentle with myself; by loving life so fiercely that I am willing to experience all of it—even death.”
One way she’s inspired others is through her blog, La Dolce Vita. Followers from all over the world have shared her triumphs and sorrows over the last three years. “It’s given me confidence to be who I am. I’ve carried that freedom over to my book. I have unashamedly exposed who I am inside. It feels good to be happy with myself."
Madden spent three years working on her book. “I have a story to tell: the story of man’s eternal wrestle with life vs. death and how each person must ultimately choose. Will one choose to live until she dies, or will one choose to die until she dies? I have chosen to live until I die and part of living is to inspire others to do the same.”
Writing a memoir while enduring a terminal illness led to profound insights. “There are many ways we twist events and reactions into self-doubt and self-recrimination,” Madden observes. “We strive to be perfect in an imperfect world, in an imperfect life, because we blame ourselves for not being worthy. It is only when we shed our misbeliefs that we truly begin to live life. It is only when we embrace ourselves, love who we are—unconditionally—that we truly begin to love. Then, and only then, will we be true lovers of life.”
Madden’s book “An Imperfect Life: A Memoir About Life,
Love and Laughter—But Most of All, Love” is available at
Bleu Pom inside the Oregon Street Antique Mall.