A huge smile formed on Debbie Mills’ face as soon as she saw the water of the Newberry Street fountain in downtown Aiken turn teal on Friday.
“I couldn’t help but think about the thousands of people who will see this and wonder what it’s all about,” Mills said.
Mills is the founder of Gail’s Anatomy, a Relay For Life team that was organized to spread awareness about ovarian cancer. September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and teal is its signifying color.
City Council approved turning the water in all three downtown fountains teal as well as the placement of teal ribbons on trees and lamp posts. On Friday, Gail’s Anatomy members, city representatives and other supporters grabbed a bottle of teal dye and together poured it into the Newberry Street fountain.
“It’s just gorgeous,” said friend and supporter Tabatha Benack, co-owner of Power Cuts. “It’s the perfect color.”
The city has turned the downtown fountains green for St. Patrick’s Day and orange for Halloween, according to Public Service Director Tim Coakley, but Gail’s Anatomy is the first outside group to add color to the water.
Gail’s Anatomy was also established to keep the memory of Mills’ daughter alive. Her only child, Gail, died of ovarian cancer on Feb. 14, 2007 at the age of 30. Gail always received her annual check-ups and there was no history of the disease in her family but a mass was found four months before her passing, Mills said.
An estimated 15,250 women lost their battle to the disease that year.
“But Gail was more than a statistic, she was my daughter,” Mills said through her tears Friday afternoon.
Mills decided to take the experience of losing Gail and share the story with others in hopes to save lives. Mills said early detection is key.
Ovarian cancer is often considered a silent disease – the symptoms are vague and it’s difficult to detect.
Tying up ribbons and turning the fountains teal is just one way to gain attention and get people to ask questions, said Gail’s Anatomy Co-captain Alicia Owens.
“This is huge – this is big for Gail’s Anatomy,” Owens said about the fountains, adding that they started out making small ripples in a big pond, but those ripples are starting to reach more and more people.
Aiken City Mayor Fred Cavanaugh helped turn the Newberry Street fountain teal on Friday. Cavanaugh is all too familiar with the disease himself, as his mother-in-law lost her battle to ovarian cancer at the age of 52.
“I think this is a wonderful thing to do, a wonderful cause. This is about awareness,” Cavanaugh said. “This will be a reminder when people drive by and see the teal.”
URS sponsored turning the Newberry Street fountain teal.
“We’re very proud to be a sponsor and a supporter of ovarian cancer awareness and the American Cancer Society,” said URS Spokeswoman Amy Joslin. “It’s a great cause for the city to stand behind by allowing them to turn the fountains teal.”
Mills thanked all of Gail’s Anatomy’s supporters, including Coakley for meeting with her several times to make sure that the color was just right.
In Jackson, Mills’ hometown, billboards and teal bows are displayed. Desserves in downtown Aiken is offering teal cupcakes this month and other businesses are showing their support, as well, through various displays.
Lastly, teal “Cure Life” shirts designed by Allegra are for sale for $25 if mailed or $20 if picked up at a Gail’s Anatomy event. Proceeds go towards research and awareness efforts.
To order a shirt or for more information on Gail’s Anatomy and ovarian cancer symptoms, visit www.ovariancancerawareness4life.org.