An inspirational granny is sharing her breast cancer experience to help others.
Gail Copeland has been honoured as an online community champion for Macmillan Cancer Support, winning praise from the charity for her “very upbeat and positive attitude”.
A regular volunteer chatting to the charity’s online community, the 62-year-old came into her own during lockdown, putting all her energy into supporting others by sharing her own cancer journey and offering a listening ear.
And her dedication to others is all the more remarkable as Gail, who hails from Dalbeattie and was brought up in Castle Douglas before moving to Dumfries, is recovering from a heart attack she had last year.
She said a Macmillan nurse first told her about the online community as a way to meet other people who are in the same situation: “I started logging on and found myself answering other people’s questions and feeling immense support from others.
“It helped me massively and it feels good for me now to be able to support other women.
“We don’t meet or see each other but you really appreciate the profound power of words when someone reads your response and thanks you for answering.
“The online community is a lifeline for a lot of people, especially if you live alone. There’s an awake group for those who can’t sleep in the wee small hours and the conversation isn’t always about cancer. It’s often used as a support network for people to reach out and feel less isolated.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learnt during my journey it’s that every single person with cancer has a unique story and there are lots of us who want to connect and support each other.”
Ellen Bergdahl, team leader for the online community, said: “Gail is a fantastic volunteer. She has a very upbeat and positive attitude.
“She understands what others are going through and selflessly shares her own experience with others. We’re very lucky to have her as a volunteer.”
Gail’s cancer was discovered when she went for a routine mammogram appointment.
She said: “Straight away they picked up on an abnormality and I was sent for a biopsy.
“Ten days later the results showed a small growth in my right breast that contained a form of lobular breast cancer.
“That screening saved my life. I would encourage every woman to have it done.
“A few minutes of feeling uncomfortable whilst having your boobs squashed between some X-ray plates has to be worth it if it can save your life.”
She added: “The waiting in between the mammogram, biopsy, scan and then being diagnosed and offered treatment is absolutely horrific. You are in limbo and in disbelief.
“I remember at that time telling my husband Alexander that I just didn’t want to talk or think about it.”
Gail was given a few options but said: “I was fixed on having a mastectomy and just wanted to be clear of it.
“The surgeons were fantastic and gave me all the information I needed.
“I was fortunate in that I could have a lumpectomy without having a mastectomy and didn’t need chemotherapy as the cancer was not in my lymph nodes.
“I went on to have 20 sessions of radiotherapy and was put on hormone blocking medication. It was a horrible time but thankfully today I remain free from breast cancer but attend for yearly mammogram check-ups.”
Gail said: “Having breast cancer came as a huge shock and was so unexpected to me because no-one in my family has had it. Having that check-up was the best thing I could have done.
“I know people are frightened of the unknown but cancer is not necessarily the death sentence that it was years ago.”
Gail, a retired nurse who was part of the Sonas team in Annan for many years, said she has been “very lucky” to have her family including two sons and a grandson offering her love and support throughout.
But she added: “There was a period after the treatment had ended when I felt really low and I know that many others feel the same, especially when they have had breast surgery and are sore, exhausted and minus a breast.
“A lot of the people who supported you, such as your medical team, are suddenly not there all the time and you feel alone.
“Many people with cancer also talk about the magical high they experience after being given the all-clear and then this sense of feeling a bit lost.
“They can’t understand why they feel this way and think they should be feeling joyous.”
So Gail joined the Macmillan breast cancer support group which meets at the Cairndale Hotel in Dumfries.
She said: “I went along and ended up having a right good cry. They explained that it was normal and okay to feel like this and I wasn’t being silly.
“The support group and the online community have really helped me.
“If you’re facing cancer or love someone who is, there may be times when you need to talk about things or just hear from those who’ve been there.”
Details of the Macmillan online community are at www.macmillan.org.uk.