Monday, January 22, 2018
Health

Pasco clerk's breast cancer fight makes fashion statement

Armed with pink boxing gloves, the woman on the white T-shirt appears to pack quite a punch.

"Fight Like A Girl," the shirt says, a reference to beating breast cancer.

If the face looks familiar, it's because it is. It belongs to Paula O'Neil, Pasco County's clerk of the circuit court. Visit www.pascoclerk.com and her smiling face pops up there.

O'Neil, 57, who in May announced she had breast cancer, is among the "warriors" in the Pink Army, Florida Hospital's latest campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer and encourage early detection and treatment.

O'Neil was the keynote speaker at the hospital's recent Women's Health & Wellness Day event at Saddlebrook Resort. Her speech struck a chord with Maureen Moore, communications director for Saint Leo University. She suggested the hospital sell shirts with O'Neil's image to provide mammograms to uninsured, low-income women.

"I was honored they chose me," O'Neil said. "I want to do whatever I can to spread the message about early detection and getting tests done."

O'Neil, whose mother had breast cancer and who was a regular participant in fundraising events, went public with her cancer, announcing it in an email titled "Choosing Happiness."

She picked the Bee Gees' 1977 disco hit Stayin' Alive as her theme song and promised to "fight like a girl and win."

The shirts sell for $12.99 and are available in the hospital gift shop and the Health and Wellness Center Logo Shop or by calling the Foundation office at (813) 929-5497.

The shirts so far have raised about $600 for the mammography fund, according to hospital spokeswoman Tracy Clouser.

"Only about 75 Paula shirts are left," she said. They'll be on sale until Nov. 30 or until they sell out.

In the Pink Army campaign, each "soldier" completes missions to move up the ranks. These missions include things like getting a mammogram, recruiting friends, attending events and throwing a "pink party." Once completed, each mission allows soldiers to get Pink Army rewards.

Those who sign up also get dog tags, which get them discounts at more than 100 retailers including many stores and restaurants at the Shops at Wiregrass. Purchases of Pink Army gear and donations benefit the Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel Center for Women's Health to provide mammograms to underinsured or uninsured women.

O'Neill underwent a mastectomy and a series of chemotherapy treatments. On Oct. 15, she got to take part in a tradition at Moffitt Cancer Center by ringing a large bell after her last chemo session.

"I rang it loud and long," she said.

O'Neil, who continued to work during her treatments and even received the Lady Justice Award from the West Pasco Legal Support Association, said she has one reconstructive surgery remaining.

She was able to save most of her hair through the use of a chilled, insulated cap worn during chemotherapy.

"I'm really in a good place physically," she said. "I'm getting stronger and stronger."

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