Paula Hutchinson is a fighter.
Known at Helping Strays as the organization’s president, the 49-year-old Columbia woman continues to show excitement for activities and fundraisers taking place through the shelter.
At home, she is a loving wife to Kevin, the mayor of Columbia, and mother to Brannan, 20, Morgan, 17, and Cameron, 15.
But another piece of her identity rarely spoken of is her ability to endure challenges and the harsh realities of life. Paula, a breast cancer survivor, went through six weeks of daily radiation treatment — 42 treatments total — to recover from an illness that threatens the lives of one in eight women in the United States.
“I think the big thing is staying positive,” she said.
She received her cancer diagnosis in September when she went into her doctor for a mammogram after discovering a lump in one of her breasts — the mammogram revealed lumps in both breasts.
“It was a little bit of a shock,” Paula said of the diagnosis in a recent interview with the Republic-Times, but her rather calm demeanor seemed to indicate the experience did little to diminish her spirit.
In November, she went in for surgery for a double lumpectomy to remove the cancer from her body. That would be the only time her cancer would hinder her routine.
“I’ve really not missed any work other than the surgery,” she said.
The only other obstacle she faced was not being able to leave the area while undergoing her radiation treatment. For someone who travels 50 percent of the time as a marketing manager at EMC Insurance Companies, the understanding and flexibility her company provided were essential at such a trying time.
Paula also leaned on Kevin as her rock through the experience, who in turn described her as “one of the strongest people I’ve ever met.”
“I have never met anyone stronger who’s dealt with anything better than she did it,” he told the Republic-Times.
Now fully recovered, she is focusing her energy on bringing awareness to the need for early detection, or looking for signs of breast cancer before the illness spreads through a person’s body.
“I feel I was lucky because I caught it early,” Paula said.
One of the perks behind discovering the cancer before it spread was that she would not need to undergo any chemotherapy. Chemo is considered a much more intensive cancer treatment with side effects ranging from hair loss, nausea, fatigue, appetite changes and the like.
“My doctor gave me the option whether I wanted chemo, and he pretty much said I didn’t need it,” Paula said.
Radiation included minimal side effects for Paula, including some hair loss and skin burns where the radiation was administered.
“It’s like having a really bad sunburn,” she said.
Mammographysaveslives.org states that mammography has helped reduced the number of deaths occurring from breast cancer by nearly 40 percent since 1990. A mammogram is a medical breast exam that uses an X-ray to identify abnormalities or signs of cancer, which is not recommended for women under 40.
Women ages 20 to 39 should receive an annual clinical breast exam done by a trained health care provider, as well as administer a self-exam once a month.
“I’m shocked at how many women are in their late 40s and haven’t had their mammogram,” she said.