Throwing the Book and a Hook at Breast Cancer

Throwing the Book and a Hook at Breast Cancer

Life is full of surprises

By Gary S. Hatrick

Paula S. O'Neil, 63, has been a public servant for nearly four decades.

The St. Louis native came to Pasco County in 1987 with seven years of public service already under her belt. Her retirement in 2019 after three terms as Pasco County Clerk and Comptroller was the culmination of 39 years of such service known for honesty, hard work and community involvement.

“I went over to the clerk’s office in 2002 and I was elected in 2008.  I remember sitting in retirement seminars and thinking 'I'll never be here for 30 years,' and I ended up being there 32 years, O'Neil recalls with a chuckle.

Some surprises are pleasant and some are not for O'Neil also did not know that before her time of service was completed she would fight a battle for her very life.

In 2013 she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“It starts out in the doctor's office,” O'Neil said. “I didn't have an area that was bothering me. I wasn’t concerned at all. I knew I'd be back in an hour at the office. I had meetings the rest of the day. You don't expect things to be bad and there, all of a sudden, you're hit with that news and everything's different. Everything has a different flavor. It's like life starts all over. None of the meetings mattered compared to figuring out if I was going to live or not. You want to know right away how bad it is, but they don’t know until they do tests and it takes a while for a diagnosis. Waiting for those things is difficult.”

She had worked with cancer patients before, but O'Neil found that working with people with cancer and being one were two different animals. She was thankful for the contacts however. “There's nothing like experience on something like that,” she said.

O'Neil emerged victorious from her ordeal. “I had six surgeries and chemo, but then you know, you still go back. You join the club so you get to go back a lot. They check everything. I just go back for annual check-ups now.”

As Pasco County Clerk and Comptroller, O'Neil went public with her diagnosis two weeks after she received her diagnosis. Over time, being a public figure, she had a lot of people call her. Scared people. People who had also been diagnosed with cancer.

She had kept record of her experiences and she began to put them together to help those who called. “I knew they were scared,” she said. “I was scared and I called people who had been through it. I thought 'I'm a pretty good researcher and I keep good records so I thought I should put all this in a book.”

The result was the first edition of “Fighting Cancer Like A Girl” published in 2018. She produced 1,000 copies. They all sold and have helped people all over the U.S. and the world. So now, she is publishing a second edition.

“This is a revised edition and it will be available for pre-sale August 14 on, then it will be out in September.  It's only going to be available from Amazon,” she said.

O'Neil gives a brief synopsis of her book. “The first part is about my experience, then I have a section on the material I found for a reference guide. All the terminology is really greek to you. Unless you are in the medical field all those terms are new for most people. There’s a caregiver guide because a lot of people don't know how to help and then things I did in the community that others could do to help other people.”

There are some areas that are pretty emotional in there. I cried writing it, but I felt like people need to know that I was scared. It’s OK to be scared, but there's a better day ahead. Knowing there’s more to life than those words: ‘you have cancer” gives you hope for the future,” she added.

If there is anything she wants to emphasize, it is getting check-ups for early detection.

The cancer survivor is happy to tell you she is 63 years old and still going strong. “I'm so happy to be alive,” she says excitedly. “My mother died [of cancer] at 56 and that was the age I was diagnosed with cancer. Now I have a third grandchild on the way, she should be here at the end of the month. I could have missed all of that. I could have missed all my grandchildren if they hadn't found my cancer. I'm happy to be alive. Every year I celebrate my birthday because I'm still alive.”

O'Neil hasn't stopped in the business world either. She is using her years of experience in the business world to help others as a side job. “I started a consulting business so I'm doing a lot of work with that and it's been great. I have contracts in the justice field and with private attorneys. I'm coaching and training for some companies, I'm a John Maxwell certified trainer so I'm coaching through his program. There's a lot of things like that I can offer. I love it!”

Paula has a passion to educate the public and provide encouragement by sharing her personal cancer journey. Dr. Paula S. O’Neil, Ph.D. shares her experience including diagnosis, treatment, and the complications cancer fighters may face in the treatment maze.

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