ASHCAMP — Eastern Kentucky residents are rallying behind a cancer patient who wants to participate in the Kentucky Oaks parade at the Kentucky Derby.
Ashcamp resident Paula McCarty is among hundreds of cancer survivors in Kentucky who are seeking to fill 141 spots in the Kentucky Oaks Survivors Parade on May 1.
People who visit the Kentucky Derby website may vote once each day for cancer survivors. Those who receive the most votes at http://kentuckyderby.com/survivors are chosen.
McCarty said a person who has cancer is reminded of it every day.
“You can never rest from it,” she said. It’s your whole world. Your whole life centers around it.”
She said participating in the parade would help take her away from the “hustle and bustle of cancer and chemo.”
She is fighting her second battle with ovarian cancer. She was first diagnosed in 2007 and underwent chemotherapy and surgery. The cancer returned last February.
She was nominated to be a part of the parade by Registered Nurse Kenetha Rose, who works in the gynecology oncology department of the Pikeville Medical Leonard Lawson Cancer Center.
Rose nominated McCarty because she’s passionate about educating the public about ovarian cancer.
“As a gynecology oncology nurse, I want to make people more aware of ovarian cancer and other kinds of female cancers, and Paula has that same kind of passion I do about making people more aware of ovarian cancer,” Slone said. “She’s just a very wonderful, genuinely good person.”
“Even though she’s battling cancer, she’s still very active in the community and her church,” Slone continued. “She’s very inspirational, she really is. It would be good for people from this area to see someone like her walking in the Kentucky Derby parade and being involved in an event like that to raise awareness for ovarian cancer.”
McCarty is passionate about educating people about ovarian cancer because she knows what it does to people and their families.
“I’ve always said I may have cancer, but cancer does not have me,” she said.
McCarty used to own the Paula K. Shop at the Southside Mall. She had to close it after her second ovarian cancer diagnosis, but she refuses to stop doing things she loves because of cancer. She still sews, offers piano lessons and takes care of her family and home.
“I want people to know that you can still function when you have cancer,” she said. “Even though it hurts, even though I’m sick, I do everything I’ve always done. The kids have to be picked up and taken places. You have to get up and get dressed. You’ve got laundry to do, the dishes. Life goes on. Sometimes I need help, and sometimes, I have to have more help than others, but it doesn’t stop me. Life goes on.”
She is writing, “Six Years Later,” a book about her experience with cancer. She also hosts “Women Supporting Women,” a support group for women who have had cancer, at 7 p.m. on the last Thursday of each month at the Elkhorn Community Church. Her daughter started the Paula K. McCarty Ovarian Cancer Foundation and hosts a “Teal Everyone Knows” 5K race every May.
“I’m very open and I have been the whole time,” she said. “A lot of people are very secretive with their illness, whether it’s cancer or whatever. My philosophy is the more specifics they know, the better they know what to pray for.”
But that’s not her only reason for being open about her struggle with cancer.
“More awareness is needed for ovarian cancer,” she said.
Slone said ovarian cancer is often called the “silent killer” because the symptoms include many of the same symptoms women experience when they are having a menstrual period.
“Most of the symptoms women experience are things they experience every month, so they don’t know anything is wrong,” Slone said. “Most of the time, we find it incidentally, and it usually isn’t found until it is in advanced stages.”
When she was diagnosed the first time, McCarty had three young children.
She believes God saved her for a reason.
“He didn’t waste his time that first go around,” she said. “He didn’t waste any time in sparing my life. That was seven-and-a-half years ago, and it has swept me off my feet this time. I really believe my mission in life is to help others who are in this same devastating situation.”
Her second diagnosis came unexpectedly.
“This time it was every evasive, very extensive,” she said. “I found out last February and I was only sick the month before. It had to have been going on for a year or more and I had no clue. That’s the nature of ovarian cancer.”
McCarty said tumors have covered her liver and surgery is not possible. She takes chemotherapy to keep them from growing.
She wants to thank every person who has offered a helping hand or prayed for her and her family: her husband Joey; her daughter Kasey (Jordan) Hall, a University of Kentucky student; her daughter Hollie, a University of Pikeville student who plans to work at a cancer center; and her son Joshua, an East Ridge High School sophomore who wants to study electrical engineering in college.
“It’s just so overwhelming, the support we’ve received from not just our church, but from the community,” she said. “The food, the prayers, the cards, the gifts I receive in the mail — I don’t really have words to describe how much I appreciate it and how much it means to me.”
Voting for the Kentucky Oaks Survivors Parade is open through March 31. Survivors who participate in the parade receive free tickets to the horse race.
McCarty’s votes grew from more than 3,400 votes on March 18 to more than 4,000 votes on March 23. The highest number of votes given, as of March 23, to any one participate was 72,579. Officials will select the top 141 contenders for the parade.
To vote for McCarty, visit the Nominee Profiles link at http://kentuckyderby.com/survivors. Survivors are listed in alphabetical order and local residents may vote once daily for her.