Kindergarten Teacher Embraces Life

Clare Gill reads a book to her kindergarten students

Clare Gill is a kindergarten teacher at the Clarke School in Canton for children who have hearing loss. Many have cochlear implants, and all are learning to listen and speak. Clare thrives in the classroom and loves teaching her young students about the world. In 2017, when she was just 32, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She chose to have all her medical care at Emerson, including chemotherapy, multiple surgeries, and radiation. Today, Clare is doing well and living life to the fullest.

I felt a lump when I was in the shower that wasn’t there before. I told my best friend, Toni, and she made me call my doctor, Amy Churchill, MD, at Acton Medical Associates. No one in my family has breast cancer. I was not an at-risk person. I was young. My doctor referred me to Emerson’s Hermel Breast Health Center for a mammogram and ultrasound. Kelly Gould, LPN, the patient navigator, told Toni and me that we would get through this one step at a time.

The next day, my mom and I saw Andrea Resciniti, MD, my breast surgeon, for the first time. I loved her right away. She is so warm; we had a great connection. Her whole office staff got to know me and my caregivers. I did not want to go into Boston for treatment because Imade so many positive relationships with the Mass General Cancer Center at Emerson Hospital–Bethke team. I wanted it to be a personal experience.

At the beginning, I was very scared. I remember Dr. Resciniti put her hand on my arm and said, "You are going to be OK." We held on to this through my entire treatment process.

When I received chemo, there were so many friendly people in the Naka Infusion Center who supported me. Jon Dubois, MD, my oncologist, was very reassuring. He is on the cutting edge of the latest cancer research and connected me with Dr. Aditya Bardia, MBBS, MPH, a research oncologist at Mass General in Boston, to get me into a clinical trial.

Paul Costas, MD, my plastic surgeon, helped me find some comic relief to get through my fear of surgery.

John McGrath, MD, my radiation oncologist, is like a big teddy bear. I would look forward to our appointments. Every time I see him, I give him a big hug. He genuinely cares about people, not just about their treatment and recovery.

I literally had the best team ever. Emerson has so much to offer beyond excellent medical treatment. Ena Sandler, MS, RD, LDN, the nutritionist, provided us with great tips to keep me well-nourished to fight the cancer. Eriko Frank, LICSW, the oncology social worker, is amazing. She appeared at just the right times in my treatment. The volunteers who came to do Reiki treatments are so kind. They even take care of the caregivers — Toni enjoyed the Reiki, too. I can’t overstate what a positive difference these people made in my treatment and recovery.

I returned to work at Clarke in the summer of 2018. I am so happy to be in the classroom teaching these amazing young people who have overcome significant health issues of their own. They inspire me to love life and stay positive. The connections I have with my Emerson team and my students are what keep me going. I am very grateful for my entire support system.

Clare’s Tips for Handling Cancer’s Emotional Challenge

Finding out you have cancer can put you and your loved ones on an emotional roller coaster. Here are some helpful tips from Clare on how to handle this challenge.

• Allow people to support you.
• Be patient with yourself.
• Live your life — do not let the diagnosis consume you.
• Do something fun to raise your spirits and keep you going, like visiting a museum.
• Do things to make your life easier or happier — stay at a hotel or with family during treatments. Order takeout, whatever you need to do.
• Let yourself feel your emotions — whether you are sad or happy, feel the feelings that come up.
• It takes time for people to build their stamina back up after treatment. Be patient.
• Learn facts about the cancer and treatment options.
• Keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings.
• Take care of yourself — rest, eat a healthy diet, and stay physically active.