Gail Copeland of Dumfries Becomes an Online Community Champion For Macmillan Cancer Support

62-year-old Gail Copeland, from Dumfries, was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2017. Gail is a regular volunteer on Macmillan Cancer Support’s online community and when the lockdown kicked in, Gail put all her energy into supporting others and is now one of the charity’s online community champions.


Gail, who is married to Alexander, who’s also 62, was scheduled for a routine mammogram appointment at her local hospital, she said: “I would never miss something as important as my screening.

“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.

“I was given an MRI scan – a very interesting experience. Your breasts hang out into a couple of cups, it made me want to laugh at the time but I really was scared to death and think it was just my nerves.

“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.” Unsure what to do next, Gail was given a few options before deciding on what route to go down with her cancer, she said: “I was fixed on having a mastectomy and just wanted to be clear of it – that’s all I could think about. The surgeons were fantastic and gave me all the information I needed.

“I was fortunate in that I could have a lumpectomy and would not require chemotherapy as the cancer was not in my lymph nodes. I went on to have twenty sessions of radiotherapy and was put on hormone blocking medication.

“Thankfully today, I remain free from breast cancer but attend for yearly mammogram check-ups.”

Gail found herself chatting to a Macmillan nurse at one of the clinics she attended. She mentioned Macmillan’s online community as a way to meet other people who are in the same situation. Gail said: “I started logging on and found myself answering other people’s questions and feeling immense support from others. It helped me massively and it felt good to be able to support other women.

“I was soon invited to become a Macmillan community champion.

“I’m now active in the breast cancer group and pop in and out of the carers group. People are often frightened or apologising for being silly, so I’m there to reassure them that what they’re feeling is perfectly normal.

“I was in disbelief when I was first diagnosed with cancer and I told my husband I just didn’t want to talk or think about it.

“Now, the online community is the only place I know where I don’t have to explain myself to anybody because they know what’s happened to me. 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.” Feeling incredibly down after her own radiotherapy, Gail said: “There was a period after the treatment had ended when I felt really low. Following breast surgery, you are sore, exhausted and even minus your breast. A lot of the people who supported you, such as your medical team – suddenly they aren’t there all the time and you feel alone.

“I heard about a local Macmillan breast cancer support group, so 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.

“Many people with cancer 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 – this happened to me.

“The online community is a lifeline for a lot of people, especially if you live alone – it offers twenty-four-hour support. There’s an awake group for night owls 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.” Gail feels very proud to be a Macmillan online community champion, she said: “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. They often tell you how nice it is to know there’s someone listening. No one is left there wondering if they’ve gone unheard and alone.”


Ellen Bergdahl, Team Leader for Macmillan’s online community, said: “Gail is a fantastic volunteer. She has a very upbeat and positive attitude which is very welcome within the community. 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.

“I’d recommend to anyone out there that has some free time to give volunteering a go. It’s incredibly rewarding, you can really influence and change people’s lives, including your own.”

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. The online community is full of people who understand how you feel, because they’re facing cancer too: http://www.macmillan.org.uk

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