If you met Laura Mack today, you would never know that she is emerging from the most difficult point in her life. Laura remembers her first visit to BVMI well: it was on August 4, 2014, her sister’s birthday. She knew something felt wrong, but couldn’t tell why. She left her appointment that day feeling better that doctors were now looking into her symptoms, and went on to celebrate her sister’s birthday later that evening.
Two days later her life was forever changed: on August 6, Laura found out she had ovarian cancer. One moment she was celebrating a normal life event, the next she entered into the hardest, longest battle of her life.
If you haven’t already heard her story and would like to, you can listen here.
A few months ago, Laura got the news that she had been wishing for since she first got her diagnosis: she is in remission. These days, her concerns no longer are about getting to chemotherapy, attending doctor’s appointments, and having enough downtime. Laura instead spends her days thinking about what games she’ll play with her nieces, what time she’ll grab a cup of coffee with her dad, and what classes she should take next semester.
This past April, Laura enrolled in an Occupational Therapy program at Eastwick College. For Laura, her mom’s training as an Occupational Therapist was crucial to her healing. Her mom was able to help her learn how to open bottles of water and tie her shoes at a point when Laura was so weak from chemo that day-to-day tasks seemed impossible. Laura now wants to be able to help other cancer patients in the same way that her mom did.
Laura had hardly completed her chemotherapy before her classes began. She felt sick and weak. “Although it was nice to go back, it was incredibly difficult. I had so many symptoms as a result of the chemo. Forgetfulness was huge; it was practically a disability. I could read a paragraph and then look up and have no clue what I had just read. I thought to myself, ‘how am I supposed to get through this?’”
At first, Laura did not want her cancer to define her. However, she came to the realization that her experiences were her strength. “The first professor I had at Eastwick was spectacular; I was meant to be in that classroom. He supported me and understood me. The class was about anatomy and physiology.” Laura felt that the class was therapeutic: “I got to see and understand how miraculous and spectacular the body is and can be. It was so hard to talk about child-bearing when the realization that I could never have kids was still so raw. It hurt. But, it helped heal me.”
In her spare time, Laura coaches a softball team consisting of pre-teen and teenage girls. Her sister, father, and she make a dynamic trio. “I get to tell these girls what I wish I had known when I was their age,” Laura elaborates. “I tell them ‘Learn from me! Life is short; don’t make the same mistakes I did.”
While Laura was battling her cancer, her sister was pregnant with her first child. Laura realized that because she was never going to be able to have children that this child, her niece, was going to be special. Reagan was born when Laura was at her weakest point emotionally and physically during her battle: she had just lost her hair and was far along with her chemotherapy treatment.
“Reagan was and still is my rainbow in my raincloud,” says Laura. Today she spends her days watching both Reagan and Avery, her sister’s second child, born just a few weeks ago. For Laura, these bonds are both strong and strengthening. They are one of the reasons why Laura went back to school. “How could I tell them ‘go to college, get a degree’ when I dropped out? If they are already mimicking what I am saying, I can’t even imagine what behaviors they are taking in and observing. Everything I do, I do for them.”
Inspired by the care that BVMI gave her, Laura is looking into launching her own foundation: Tell 10 Women. Laura is working closely with Dr. Sharyn Lewin, the oncologist to whom she was referred by BVMI. BVMI is fortunate to have a network of practitioners made up of people like Dr. Lewin, individuals who agree to see BVMI patients for free and typically provide services that our healthcare center cannot offer on-site.
Laura’s goal with Tell 10 Women is to further educate women, particularly college-aged students, on women’s health. For Laura, this is important because there were questions she never thought to ask her general practitioner or her gynecologist. Because of the care and education Laura received at BVMI, she now knows how important it is to ask doctors certain kinds of questions. “I want to impact as many lives as possible,” Laura says. “In my situation, so many people touched me. People have incredible strength, incredible kindness. Everything I do now is for everyone that saved me: BVMI, Dr. Lewin, my family. Failure is not an option. Everything is for the people who got me here, to where I am today.” Laura believes that Tell 10 Women is about doing for others like what others have done for her.
One of Laura’s goals with Tell 10 Women is to get the word out about BVMI. Laura wishes that everyone knew about organizations like BVMI. “Everyone falls on hard times at some point, I know I did,” Laura describes. “I am so thankful to everyone at BVMI, from the women who filed my eligibility paperwork, to Dr. De Simone, who was the one that discovered the cancer.” Laura believes that there are not many people like the ones you find at BVMI. “Not only do the doctors and nurses give their expertise, they give their time – precious time away from family, friends. There are no words to describe the extent of this selflessness and this generosity. The people at BVMI have made me more mindful of how I want to donate my time and to give more of myself to others.”
When Laura found out she had cancer, she thought she was never going to feel joy again. “Look at everything I came from. I have never been so happy in my life. I have never felt this way.” Laura explains that this newfound happiness comes from the kindness that others have shown her.
“This whole new life is mine, is because of BVMI. Why do people ever say that the sky is the limit? It’s not true. Because of BVMI, I am limitless.”