Life’s Blessings: Raceland resident continues to make lemonade out of lemons

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Everyone’s heard the saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Well, for Raceland resident Gail Zeringue Cedotal, life has handed her plenty of lemons.

However the always-joyful and bubbly 74-year-old hasn’t only made lemonade out of her lemons. She’ll even ask you how sweet do you want it.

Neither fighting two bouts with cancer nor losing a husband and a father far too soon has gotten the infectiously upbeat senior down.

“To me, life is what you make of it,” Cedotal said. “People say, ‘How can you smile? You’re so happy all the time.’ Well you know what, I’d rather be around a person with a smile than a person that’s down in the dumps all the time, because you’re not going to make it any better by hanging your lid. You’re just going to make the people around you miserable.”

When she was 14-years-old, her father died after being struck by lightning on her family’s farm in the St. Charles community of Lafourche Parish.

Her mother then decided she didn’t want to live on the farm anymore, so she moved the family to Raceland. There, Gail fell in love with and married her high school sweetheart Jessie Cedotal.

Years after doing some square dancing in high school, the couple decided to take it up again.

“[In 1980] we heard a song one day on the radio and said, ‘Oh, we’d like to do that again.’ Well, they were starting a class so we started and we square danced together he and I as partners until 2000,” Gail Cedotal explained.

The Cedotals served as president of not only the local square dancing club but also the Louisiana Square Dancing Association while also taking on and even teaching clogging – a type of dance where shoes are used as coordinated percussion to the music playing.

Gail and Jessie Cedotal enjoyed moving and grooving, even after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1995. He continued dancing with Gail until 2000 and died in 2001. Gail continued square dancing, but it just wasn’t the same.

“I still square danced cause we had a guy in our club that didn’t have a partner so him and I became partners,” Gail Cedotal said.

During that time, Gail also cared for her mother, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and passed away in 2004.

Gail said she felt lost after her mother’s passing. For the first time in nearly a decade she didn’t have anyone to take care of. That was, until December 2004, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She soon had a mastectomy and needed chemotherapy. She credits the then newly-formed Lafourche on the Move program, a workout program for seniors in Raceland, as well as a similar program in Bayou Blue for getting her through those tough days even thought she couldn’t always attend.

“I started going to Bayou Blue, and I did that until they started [Lafourche on the Move] in September [2004] so I was doing this one and the one in Bayou Blue because Bayou Blue was Mondays and Thursdays. This one was Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Then I was diagnosed with the cancer, had to undergo chemo, so I wasn’t here all the time because when your blood counts are down they tell you stay away from people so you don’t catch something,” she said.

After her recovery, Gail said she was at a loss again. No one to take care of. That’s when another one of her passions came up to occupy her time – traveling. After going on plenty of camping trips with her husband when he was alive, Gail got her feet wet to the hefty traveling that was to come with a trip to Niagara Falls.

“Got on the bus with close to 50 people, didn’t know a soul, but we had fun,” she said.

That was only the beginning, and the next times, she wouldn’t be traveling alone.

“In 2006 my cousin called me and said, ‘We’re going to Hawaii [with] several people from the Raceland area and we’re going to cruise. If you find someone to go with you it would be cheaper and you’ll know somebody on the trip. Why don’t you come?’” Gail Cedotal explained. “So I called a friend of mine [Rose Sampey]. She had lost her husband and asked if you’d like to do that. She said, ‘Yeah I’ve never been there’ so I went to Hawaii. When we came back she called me a couple of weeks later and said, ‘Father Danny is putting a trip to England, Scotland and Ireland, and I want to go. Would you repay me by coming with me?’ I said, ‘OK. Hey, I didn’t do nothing last year. I was at the doctor’s office all year-round, so I deserve two trips in a year.’”

Cedotal tries to do one big trip per year with Sampey, and fellow friend Eileen Guidroz has joined some of the excursions, which have also included an Alaskan cruise, a New England Cruise and a Pigeon Forge, Tennessee lodge.

These trips surrounded a second bout with cancer for Gail Cedotal in 2009 – lung cancer this time.

“They cut a little piece out and said that this was the treatment for this type of cancer. I didn’t have to undergo treatment with that so I got over that pretty quick,” she said.

Now, Gail supplements her yearly trips with a singing role in the St. Mary’s Nativity Church choir as well as her continued participation in Lafourche on the Move workouts – all with a contagious grin and disposition that makes everyone happy to have been around her.

“I’ve had a pretty pleasant life despite all the misfortunes that came around but everybody’s got their problems and like I said life is what you make of it. I try to stay happy,” she said.

Gail Cedotal’s trip to Hawaii was one of many excursions she has gone on over the last decade. The local woman said she’s made the most of life, despite having to deal with many difficult situations.