It was a busy day at Pioneer Tire Center.
While working the counter, Eileen Gile thought she was having a heart attack.
“I felt something on my left side. JJ Lester, he was there and (my son) Victor (Borland) was there and he was overrun with business – one of us had to be at the store – so he said, ‘JJ could you run my mom to the emergency room?’” Gile said.
She saw Dr. Marshall Roach at the Stillwater Medical Center Emergency Room. She was impressed with the service, saying, “It was amazing how fast I had things on me,” but the results were unexpected.
“Everything in my heart seemed good. Dr. Roach said, ‘How are you feeling,’ and I said, ‘There’s something wrong on my left side. It hurts.’ He said, ‘I think we better get a mammogram.’ So we did.”
That mammogram showed a lump which led to a biopsy, which led to the breast cancer diagnosis.
“Then when it comes back and you hear cancer, it’s just the end of the world. You think, ‘Oh, my gosh, I don’t know about this,’” Gile said.
Next was Dr. Christopher Puckett, oncologist at SMC.
“It was a decision to try to find out where I should go, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, MD Anderson, here, but I had heard such good things about the clinic here, and I thought how much more convenient to have treatments here and everybody was wonderful out here,” she said. “I had six chemo treatments and 38 radiation treatments.”
It was far from easy. Gile had always been the picture of health. Loved going to work. Loved meeting with her friends. It was hard on her husband, Tom Borland, who passed away in 2013. As Gile talks about her experience, she doesn’t sugar coat it.
“I had a really rough go of it. It took about a year of my life, not totally, but I didn’t feel very good. I worked part time. After you get a treatment of chemo, you feel pretty good the first day. Around the second or third day, oh my goodness, everything tasted like metal. I lost 20 pounds,” she said. “I shrunk four inches because I had bad bones from all the treatment and I had to have vertebras replaced in the back, a lot of scoliosis resulted from treatment.”
It also strengthened her resolve. Taught her more about compassion. And the value of friendship became immeasurable.
“You do have a lot of after effects, but you know, I belong to a bridge club of eight ladies, and we were just looking at us, and four of us had breast cancer. We were good support for each other. I did go to quite a few support group meetings. Did the Relay for Life a couple of times. Everybody was so kind. I was blessed I have such a wonderful friend group,” she said. “We were out at Panera Bread one time, I really didn’t get too emotional about it out in public, and this lady came up to me who knew me and she was, ‘Oh, I am so sorry. I just heard about what you’re going through,’ and I got teary. I went back to the booth where my friends were setting and my friend looked at me and said, ‘Eileen, just suck it up,’ and we got so tickled. We’ve laughed about, and still do.”
Her family and friends meant everything during that time. And, her experience has given her wisdom that she is more than happy to impart. For young women with an uncertain future, she says, “don’t hesitate if there’s any question if something is wrong. Do self exam. And let your doctor know about it.”
To women who have had the diagnosis she says, “If you’re dealing with it, the support group is a wonderful thing to have. We think we’re the only ones going through it and we’re certainly not. It’s just amazing to me the people that I saw at support groups, who I didn’t dream were going through this. It makes you a little more compassionate with people.
“I would suggest people who do have it, reach out and don’t try to deal with it yourself. You need people. It was about the third chemo treatment that my hair started coming out. A wig is a wonderful thing, don’t hesitate to get a wig, keep yourself so you do want to go out. You need to keep yourself as active as much as you can.”
And to family and friends who want to be there in support, “It was nice to have somebody bring in food once in a while. Keep a stiff upper lip, don’t let it be a morbid thing, because most often we’ll get through it. Just keep your friends around you and your family around you.”