The first time she had cancer, Paulette Zinkann was just too busy for it. It was 1995 and she was 39 years old, working as a preschool teacher.
Her breast cancer was found and diagnosed from a mammogram. “My doctor walked in and said, ‘You’re not going to die from it. We’ve got to cut it out. You’re fine.’ I went on my merry way, raised my kids, and got them through school.”
Ironically, right after that diagnosis, cancer also became the focus of her career. Zinkann is the oncology manager at Eastside Medical Center. As a cancer registrar, she documents and reviews over 700 cases of cancer a year.
But in 2008, when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, all that knowledge about cancer treatment and protocols went right out of her head. “I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to expect. I was stupefied at what had just occurred.”
“The main thing is I have been so humbled by this. I see it every day. I see people that have cancers that are so much worse than mine. When you abstract a chart, there are a couple that just stay with you for the rest of your life,” she says.
“Cancer makes you think. It makes you realize that you cannot do everything, that you’re not immortal, that there are plans for you.”
Zinkann’s plans involve what she describes as a “dedication” to cancer that takes her from behind her computer. “I visit patients on the floors. I get to speak with them, and I get to hear their thoughts and their feelings.”
Zinkann is a committed advocate for the American Cancer Society, traveling to Washington to meet with elected officials to fight for funding. Locally, she’s active in Gwinnett’s Relay For Life and is the team captain for Eastside Medical Center.
“Don’t be afraid of cancer, no matter what stage because it can take your body, but it can’t take your soul,” reminds Zinkann. “Get up every morning and be grateful that you’re vertical. Give and get a pie in the face — because it’s going to make you laugh.”