Thank you for visiting the website of:
PO Box 86
Jackson, SC 29831
Abigail Ruth Mills
February 23, 1976 - February 14, 2007
Diagnosed with ovarian cancer: October 26, 2006
Photo taken November 14, 2006
The Gail Mills Story
JACKSON, SOUTH CAROLINA - Sitting in my home office writing this, I look around the room that was once Gail's nursery... wonderful memories of bringing this precious little bundle home from the hospital ... the white wicker bassinette sitting just behind where my chair is now. Fast forward with me the pre-school years of being a stay at home mom, dancing across the kitchen floor with Gail standing on my socked feet, piano lessons, tricycles, lemonade stands, bicycles, Brownie scouts, cheerleading, band practice, ball games, children - then teenagers hanging out at our house. Thirty years of holidays, vacations, laughter, a few tears. A special mother/daughter relationship - a bond like no other... unconditional love.
Gail graduated from Silver Bluff High School with honors in 1994 and was attending USC in Columbia when she was diagnosed with ovarian cysts. The cysts were surgically removed and everything seemed perfectly normal for years. Gail continued attending college, transferring to USC-Aiken before graduating in 1999 (she jokingly said she was on the five-year plan). Gail worked at Publix in Aiken during college and her Target career began with the opening of the new store in Aiken shortly after graduation. "Abi" as she was called by her Target team, later made career moves to Charleston, Summerville, then Florence, SC.
While some women may have changed doctors for convenience after they moved, Gail trusted her doctor in Augusta and continued seeing her for yearly examinations. In 2005, when Gail was 29 years old, she wasn't feeling well and thought she had ovarian cysts again. At her next appointment Gail asked the doctor for a sonogram and was told that the pain she was having was "probably scar tissue" from her earlier surgery and a sonogram was "not necessary." Gail and I discussed this at length before she drove back to Florence. I wanted her to make an appointment with her internist for a second opinion, but Gail had been seeing her gynecologist for many years and trusted the doctor's diagnosis of "probably scar tissue." Gail told me, "but mom, she's the doctor" ... and with that confidence she returned to Florence.
The pain and discomfort did not go away. Gail went to a chiropractor near Florence for back pain - and had spa massages, too. Her paternal grandmother had recently been moved to an assisted living facility near Aiken and Gail desperately wanted to be close by to visit - so in the summer of 2006, Gail transferred from Target in Florence to the Aiken Target even though it meant stepping down from an executive position. She was finally nearby - close to family and friends and working five days a week and in retail THAT is practically unheard of. Everything was wonderful... and we were looking forward to the holidays already. No more rushed traveling to spend holidays or days off together. Gail settled in to the new job, enjoyed being within minutes of nieces and nephews, church, friends and family. She joined Curves - and was named their 'biggest loser' of inches and pounds her first month. Gail at times seemed tired, but she attributed that to the new job - at least that's what she told me. She went to a prompt care medical facility with back and body aches the week before her upcoming gyn appointment. A friend and Target team member later told me that Gail was having extreme pain at work the weeks leading up to the appointment. And I was unaware of the over the counter medication Gail was taking for upset stomach, etc.
In October 2006, four months after Gail moved back to Aiken, at what was scheduled as a routine annual physical, a “mass” was found. Within a week, Gail had major surgery - and the mass was soon diagnosed as small cell ovarian cancer, stage IIIc. Rounds of chemo quickly followed and I was thankful that, even though Gail kept her apartment in Aiken, she wanted to stay with me during this time. Gail was able to focus solely on following doctor's orders and family members made sure she had what she wanted or needed. Her faith remained strong and she knew she'd "be ok" regardless of the outcome. Gail asked me one day, "What if the chemo doesn't work?" We discussed not being able to imagine what life would be like without the other one here... how difficult it would be... and that regardless of which of us went first, we'd save a place for the other one in Heaven. That may not have been the perfect answer - not that there is one - but I never expected the two of us to have a conversation like that. The bottom line was we knew that regardless of the outcome of this battle with cancer, we'd see each other again.
On February 14, 2007 -- less than four months after her annual checkup -- Gail, my only child, became one of the estimated 15,250 women who lost their battle with ovarian cancer in 2007. I had a choice - I could grieve myself to death or I could make something positive out of this horrible experience. I did what Gail would've done if the roles were reversed... I chose to make a difference in ovarian cancer awareness.
Two months after Gail passed, a Relay For Life team was formed by family, friends and co-workers in Gail’s memory. The Relay theme that first year was "Night of A Thousand Stars" so we named the team after Gail's favorite television show, Grey's Anatomy -- wearing teal scrubs, tweaking the logo a bit and focusing entirely on ovarian cancer awareness. Our team, Gail's Anatomy, celebrates the cancer fighting warriors; we remember those that have passed; and we fight back by telling others about this disease. Through 2019, our Relay team has raised more than $25,000 for the American Cancer Society. Even though we continue to participate in the Relay For Life each year, we quickly learned that in order to really make a difference, we had to do more. Our initial plan to participate in a one time, one night Relay For Life event grew overnight to a year-round passion to educate others. Each year Gail's Anatomy strives to do more throughout the year to increase the visibility of teal and to educate women of all ages about ovarian cancer signs and symptoms and the importance of early detection. We are successful in doing that because of the generous support of friends, family, schools, colleges, physician's groups, local businesses, local and state government - and the many new friends we have met at our events or who have contacted us after learning about our mission.
Gail did everything right. She had gynecologic exams every year since she was 18 years old. She even went to the same doctor. Gail had none of the risk factors; there was no known family history of ovarian or breast cancer, but this horrible disease introduced itself to our family. Gail discovered after her diagnosis that she had all the symptoms of ovarian cancer except one. We both thought that a yearly physical and pap test would detect any potential female problems. We can't change the past but we can certainly make a difference now by taking steps to educate others. Don't let this happen to you. Pay attention to your body - you know yourself better than any one or any doctor. NEVER take "it's probably" as a diagnosis of anything.
If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms for more than two weeks, follow the recommendation of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and see your physician immediately. Insist on a CA-125 blood test and a transvaginal sonogram. Early detection saves lives. Together we can make a difference in the fight against ovarian cancer. Let's begin right now with you.
Thank you for reading Gail's story.
Gail's mom, Debbie
Go to the subpage tab "Activities" at the bottom of this page to learn more about what is being done to promote ovarian cancer awareness.
Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer may cause several signs and symptoms. Women are more likely to have symptoms if the disease has spread beyond the ovaries, but even early stage ovarian cancer can cause them. The most common symptoms include:
Pelvic or abdominal pain
Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
Urinary symptoms such as urgency (always feeling like you have to go) or frequency (having to go often)
These symptoms are also commonly caused by benign (non-cancerous) diseases and by cancers of other organs. When they are caused by ovarian cancer, they tend to be persistent and represent a change from normal − for example, they occur more often or are more severe. If a woman has these symptoms almost daily for more than a few weeks, she should see her doctor, preferably a gynecologist.
Others symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:
Pain during sex
Abdominal swelling with weight loss
However, these symptoms are more likely to be caused by other conditions, and most of them occur just about as often in women who don’t have ovarian cancer.
Source: American Cancer Society
Symptom Diary developed in the United Kingdom by Ovarian Cancer Action
This Symptom Diary developed in the United Kingdom by Ovarian Cancer Action is designed to help you communicate clearly with your doctor, (preferably a gynecologist) about symptoms that are persistent (for more than a month) and may be indicative of ovarian cancer. We encourage you to use the Diary as a tool to more accurately describe your symptoms to your doctor. The Diary should reveal persistency and severity.
Using this Diary will help your doctor understand your symptoms, and whether ovarian cancer should be a consideration in your diagnosis. Early detection may lead to a better chance of a positive outcome.
Remember that ovarian cancer is not common but neither is it rare. Women are advised to remember that the presence of symptoms may not indicate ovarian cancer, but the persistency of symptoms requires closer investigation. Early diagnosis improves your chances for a positive outcome, so it is important that you tell your doctor if symptoms are persistent and different from what is normal for you.
What are the risk factors for ovarian cancer?
A risk factor is anything that changes your chance of getting a disease like cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. For example, unprotected exposure to strong sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancer. Smoking is a risk factor for a number of cancers.
But risk factors don't tell us everything. Having a risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not mean that you will get the disease. And many people who get the disease may not have had any known risk factors. Even if a person with ovarian cancer has a risk factor, it is very hard to know how much that risk factor may have contributed to the cancer. Researchers have discovered several specific factors that change a woman's likelihood of developing epithelial ovarian cancer. These risk factors don’t apply to other less common types of ovarian cancer like germ cell tumors and stromal tumors.
Visit the American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org for more information.
What are the key statistics of ovarian cancer?
The American Cancer Society estimates for ovarian cancer in the United States for 2019 are:
About 22,530 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
About 13,980 women will die from ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. A woman's risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 78. Her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 108. (These statistics don’t count low malignant potential ovarian tumors.)
This cancer mainly develops in older women. About half of the women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are 63 years or older. It is more common in white women than African-American women.
The rate at which women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer has been slowly falling over the past 20 years.
Visit the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Statistics Center for more key statistics.
How can you support ovarian cancer awareness?
ORDER A T-SHIRT DESIGNED BY GAIL'S ANATOMY SUPPORTING OVARIAN CANCER AWARENESS!
All donations support the Gail's Anatomy year-round awareness campaign!
$25.00 (short-sleeve) each if mailed via US Postal Service
$30.00 (long-sleeve) each - if size available
$20 (short-sleeve) each if purchased at local awareness event and requires no shipping
($25 for long-sleeve)
Youth: Small, Medium, Large
Adult: Small, Medium, Large, XL, XXL, XXXL
To order a shirt, mail check payable to Gail's Anatomy along with name, address, shirt style(s), size(s) and phone number (for use only if we have a question about your order) to:
PO Box 86
Jackson, SC 29831
Order will be mailed within 2 weeks of receipt of payment.
"TEAL IS REAL"
Gray short-sleeve shirt (limited supply of long-sleeve t's available)
Front: Palmetto with teal ribbon and TEAL IS REAL
Back: "It's more than a ribbon, it's a mission. Ovarian Cancer Awareness"
Teal short-sleeve shirt - scan on back directs to this website
"Nothing could be finer than a cure in Carolina"
dark blue short-sleeve shirt with white palmetto and teal awareness ribbon
(ribbon is actually TEAL, not blue as shown in this picture)
"fight like a girl"
Brown short-sleeve tshirt with teal imprint on front and sleeve
Life changes so quickly....
10/14/06: Gail and her dad, Jimmy, getting ready to enjoy a Saturday afternoon in Athens cheering for the Georgia Bulldogs. Picture taken the weekend before Gail's checkup.
11/14/06: Gail and her mom, Debbie, the day before her first chemo treatment (photo courtesy of Denise Jane Portrait Design).
Ovarian Cancer Awareness Postage Stamp
Make a difference - please sign the petition