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Lifestyle // Good Neighbors
Christina O’Connor

Christine George, Jermel-Lynn Quillopo and Tina Viernes

Photo courtesy Jermel-Lynn Quillopo

Last fall, things were going well for 30-year-old Gail Sugitan Gabriel, a Farrington High School grad who grew up in Kalihi. After graduating from UH-Manoa and then living in Las Vegas for a few years, she had relocated to Northern California to work as a registered nurse at a rehabilitative care center and reunite with her longtime boyfriend.

But that fall she caught a cold, and when the cold turned into a cough that still hadn’t cleared up by winter, Gabriel saw a doctor. Her flu-like symptoms turned out to be adenocarcinoma, a form of lung cancer. She was diagnosed in February – just a few months after she started feeling symptoms – and the cancer was already in stage four. Gabriel is currently undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatment in California.

Back home in the Islands, Gabriel’s friends are organizing a series of events to raise funds to help her pay for treatment. Earlier this month, some friends organized a Zumba benefit, and on June 1, three more friends – Christine George, Jermel-Lynn Quillopo and Tina Viernes – will host a First Friday event from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Chinatown boutique Milk & Honey. It will feature food, drinks and entertainment, as well as giveaways from Bubbies, BLT Steak, local artists and more. All proceeds, including any boutique purchases made during that time, will benefit Gabriel. “Seeing how much people support her and care for her … she is very appreciative,” Quillopo says of her friend. “Gail says she feels that she is very blessed. She is just such a wonderful person, she really is. For me, as a friend, she has always been there for me … I have always known her to be the girl that you can go to when you’re crying, or when you’re frustrated with something. She has always been such a great friend. And so, with all of us friends and family, we want to pitch in and help her in the same way that she has helped us.”

Gabriel seems optimistic. “This experience has inspired me to be an oncology nurse. I want to help others with their fight with cancer,” she says.

Still, Quillopo says Gabriel has admitted that there are hard times. For one, she desperately wanted to come home for treatment, but the doctors would not permit her to travel.

“Being without her family and friends who are here and whom she grew up with kind of gets her down a bit,” Quillopo says. “With these types of events that we are putting on for her, we just want to show her that even though we are thousands of miles away, we love you, we care for you, we’re here with you.”

Milk & Honey is located at 1128 Smith St. in Chinatown. The event is free to attend. For more information, email George at info@milkandhoneyhawaii.com or Quillopo at jquillopo@me.com.

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