If there is one thing breast cancer survivors seem to have in common, it is their refusal to wallow. And Paula Gill is one prime example. Since being diagnosed with, and overcoming, Stage III breast cancer, Gill has thrown herself into fundraising for and spreading awareness of the disease — spending much of her free time on these efforts rather than asking “Why me?”
“It’s my therapy,” she said of her work fighting the disease.
Gill was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005.
“I had just gotten back from a mission trip to Ecuador when I felt that I had a lump,” she said. “I had a nurse practitioner friend look at it and she insisted that I have it checked. I was actually diagnosed with it on Memorial Day.”
Gill, a dentist with an office in Manchester, was shocked to hear the news from her doctor.
“I was 42 and had never had a mammogram because my Ob/Gyn said there was no need,” she said. “It wasn’t in my family and I had no history of it and was really not at risk. I had asked (my doctor) every time that I had gone and she never scheduled me for one. Everything felt fine and it was all great.”
After her initial shock, Gill said she felt a range of emotions.
“I was angry because I was going to have to alter my life,” she said. “There were a lot of people who depended on me. I had to make sure I was there, that I was going to make it through. After that, determination just kind of kicked in and I just put myself in ‘I’ve got to get this done’ mode.”
Gill had a lumpectomy and, two weeks later, started chemotherapy.
“They let me do it as quick as I could as long as I wasn’t sick,” she said. “I had mine about every three weeks ... Radiation was every day, Monday through Friday. It was in Lexington, and there was a little group of us women that met every day. We got to be pretty good friends, actually. We would have our coffee. We all had our little capes on, our little ponchos. One lady said, ‘We’re just the poncho pals.’”
Gill had another support group to rely on, as well — one that was named in her honor just after she underwent her first chemotherapy treatment.
“We formed the Peegees after my initials and we had a T-shirt made for the Race for the Cure in October,” she said. “We did several parades, had fundraisers, had a a fashion show where all of the models were cancer survivors, had a golf tournament at Crooked Creek. Today, the Peegees have donated more than $5,000 to breast cancer awareness.”
While she found the comfort that came from spreading awareness extremely soothing, Gill said she still had worries. She was a single mother of two young boys and had her dentistry practice to keep afloat.
But things fell into place to calm those worries as well.
“I was driving down the road and said a prayer that I really needed some help,” she said. “My cell phone rang and it was a friend of mine from Louisville that said, ‘I think I have someone that can help you out in your practice.’”
Gill called the woman’s number and discovered she just happened to be visiting London.
“She was at Shiloh,” Gill said. “She asked me, ‘How soon do you want me to start?’ I said Monday. My practice didn’t have to close a day.”
After nine months, Gill returned to work. Today, she continues to be in remission and, in addition to working at her practice in Manchester, has opened Facial Expressions in London, where she specializes in facial and dental aesthetics.
Despite the fullness of her work schedule, Gill is still very active in spreading awareness for breast cancer. She and her fellow Peegees will participate in Race for the Cure in Knoxville Oct. 24. She sells “Save the tattas” paraphernalia from her office, the proceeds of which go to the American Cancer Society. She was appointed to the state breast cancer advisory committee by former Gov. Ernie Fletcher to ensure women in southeast Kentucky have access to treatment. And she volunteers through the American Cancer Society to be a counselor.
“I’ve had several calls from people diagnosed with breast cancer who want to know what it’s all about,” she said.
While her climb back to health has had its challenges, Gill said she feels gratified from the experience.
“I plan on continuing my efforts to raise awareness in the future and look forward to a day when breast cancer is a thing of the past,” she said.
To register for Knoxville’s Race for the Cure, visit www.komenknoxville.org. Donations to help cure breast cancer can also be made by visiting the Web site or by contacting Paula Gill at 330-0097.
Staff writer Tara Kaprowy can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
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