Advice from a woman who survived COVID-19, the 1918 flu — and cancer

woman survive covid-19, 1918 flu and cancer

If you could get some life advice from someone who seems to be able to survive every ailment that life throws their way, would you accept it? Well, you’re in luck: here is some advice from a woman who survived the Spanish flu, cancer, and now COVID-19.

Life Advice from a Woman Who Has Survived it All

Born in Worcester, Massachusetts on January 18, 1918, Gerri Shappals certainly came into a turbulent world. Despite having reached 102-years of age, she really doesn’t see herself as old. She has lived through many hardships and health scares and has come out on the other side cracking jokes and making others laugh. (1)

The Spanish Flu

With World War I still ongoing, the future was uncertain. Eleven months later just as the war was ending, Gerri, her teenage brother, and her mother all came down with the flu of 2018, also known as the Spanish flu. (1)

Though her brother’s case was mild, doctors warned that she and her mother were likely to die of the disease which killed approximately 675,000 people in the U.S. Baby Gerri was so ill that her parents didn’t even bother to pin her diaper when they changed her because she was too sick to move. (1)

Miraculously all three Shappals survived. (1)

“I really think that having the 1918 flu strengthened everything about me,” she told the Washington Post. “I never had colds or illnesses until I got cancer, and even then I pulled through. It’s either that or Mother Nature thinks I died in 1918, so she ignores me.” (1)

She spent the rest of her childhood growing up in a time where kids around her were getting scarlet fever and the measles, and of course the Great Depression. (1)

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Gerri survived not one but two bouts of cancer. (1)

She went to college, became an elementary school teacher and then a principal. She met her husband in Washington who was in the navy in World War II and had two daughters. (1)

Unfortunately, her husband passed away in 1983, just a few years before Gerri Retired.

After her retirement in the late 80s, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a lumpectomy and went through radiation treatment. (1)

She beat breast cancer, only to be diagnosed with stage three colon cancer just a few years later. She had surgery to remove the cancer and yet again survived. (1)

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You’d think that at 102 years of age, after two world wars, multiple economic collapses, the global flu pandemic, and two battles with cancer, you would have survived it all and will ride out your later years in peace and tranquility.

Unfortunately, not for Gerri. When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, not even Gerri was spared.

After feeling ill for a few days back in May, she began to have a spiking fever. Gerri was taken to the hospital, where it was confirmed that she did, in fact, have COVID-19. By the time her test results came back, however, she was already feeling better. (1)

Her family was shocked that someone of such advanced age was able to beat a disease that was taking the lives of thousands around the world, many of whom were much younger than Gerri. (1)

Gerri’s Secret to Longevity

When you ask her, she’ll first tell you that she must have slipped through the cracks somewhere in the Grim Reaper’s book. (1)

Then, she’ll tell you what she really credits her ability to survive even the toughest of illnesses (1):

  • A strong immune system
  • Avoiding excessive worrying
  • Red wine

Sounds like good advice from a woman. She can often be heard saying:

“Jesus did not change water into wine so that I could look at it.” (1)

Lisa Valcourt, executive director of the Huntington at Nashua retirement and assisted living home where Gerri now lives in Nashua, New Hampshire adds that her energy and sense of humor also helps keep her spirits and health high. (1)

“She’s been through so much in her lifetime,” Valcourt says. “When you look at everything that she’s been through and her positive attitude that she’s maintained, it makes all of us want to be stronger.” (1)

Her best advice for those younger than her, especially for those just entering into adulthood, is to stay positive and always be honest with themselves. (1)

“Most people are innately good and sympathetic,” she says. “They want to do the right thing, but it’s easy to be sidetracked by selfishness and emotion.” (1)

Gerri is living proof that a positive attitude and the ability to laugh at life will take you a long way. If there was ever advice from a woman that you’d want to take, it would be hers!

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