My name is Laurie Waldron. I am a lifetime Winnipegger, active mom to my 23-year-old son Mathew, and I have been fortunate to work for IG Wealth Management for 30 years.
EVEN MOMMIES MISS THEIR MOMMIES
My story begins at the age of 14. I was young, naïve and didn’t have a care in the world. This is when I first learned that my mother had ovarian cancer. I was on a summer trip with my parents and they both told me while we were driving to our destination. Of course, at that age, I wasn’t quite sure what that was, but I knew it wasn’t good.
I lost my mother to this disease 6 years later when I was 20 years old. What I witnessed and learned during those six years was how strong my mother was. She went through so much and fought so hard but during this whole time, handled the situation with such grace. When I look back at our time together, we had many special conversations. We talked about life, my future, what my wants and desires were, if I wanted to marry and have children, go to school or what I thought my professional life would turn out to be. It was important to her to hear that and I now realize how important it was for me to tell her. She told me about her mother, my grandmother who I never met. My mother lost her own mother to ovarian cancer as well when she was about 30 years old. She teared up and said to me, ‘Even mommies miss their mommies sometimes’. I now understand exactly what that meant – I now feel that way too.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
As tough as that was, heartbreaking and sad, we carried on. How better to honor a person’s life than to live yours as best as you can. When I was 49, my older sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. She caught it very early, it was small and contained, but it was aggressive. She chose a lumpectomy and radiation as treatment and it was recommended that she have chemotherapy as well due to the aggressiveness. I was at the appointment with her when she learned the news. I held her hand while she cried, when they told her she would lose her hair. But what I witnessed as she started her journey was a woman who handled her situation with such strength and grace.
She chose to shave her head before chemo started. I went with her to that appointment too. She didn’t cry, she was smiling. I was so impressed. I was amazed at how well she handled the situation. Her treatment started. The difference between what my mother and what my sister went through was immeasurable. How much things have improved in 30 years is so incredible. My sister wasn’t nearly as sick, and her suffering was nothing like what my mom experienced. CancerCare was also part of my sister’s story. They were so amazing and offered so much support, comfort and assistance as part of her care.
Unfortunately, my sister didn’t have the luxury of benefits at her job. Although they were very supportive and allowed some time to be away, she still went to work during chemotherapy. She is a single woman and still managed to take care of all her responsibilities. I can’t even begin to express how incredibly strong I think she is and how proud I am of her.
What an inspiration – what incredible examples these two women in my life showed me.
A year later, I turned 50 and I got my letter in the mail to have my mammogram. I made my appointment and I went. Am I ever glad I did. Guess what? I got a call and was asked to go to the Breast Health Center for an ultrasound.
The first thing I did was call my sister. I was so scared. I knew nothing at this point, but the reality was that a callback meant that something wasn’t right. I went to my appointment and within the first 2-3 mins of the ultrasound, the doctor told me that a biopsy would be required. Tears started to fall. I cried all the way home and had to wait almost six weeks before getting my results. My results were not good. I had breast cancer. Ductal carcinoma. It was small, but it was also aggressive like my sister’s, a Grade 3. Now decisions had to be made. I chose to have a lumpectomy and radiation as well and it was also recommended in my case to have chemotherapy. I was going to lose my hair too. Why is that the first thing that women think of? I just find out I have cancer and I must have surgery and chemotherapy and radiation, and I am thinking about my hair?
I then got down to the business of planning. I had amazing examples to follow. I went through my surgery and decided I was also going to shave my head before chemo started. I will be honest and say I did not handle this as well as my sister. My girlfriend came with me to my salon at night when it was closed. My hairdresser poured us each a glass of wine and she held my hand when he started to shave my head– I cried. But surprisingly afterwards, I felt empowered. I made this decision, I took the control, not cancer – me. I went to work the next day with my head shaved and the support from my colleagues was incredible. Although I have amazing benefits at my place of business, I chose to go to work through my treatments too. It gave me purpose and I wanted my life to be as normal as possible. I even asked if all my radiation treatments could be first thing in the morning, so they wouldn’t interrupt my day too much. I completed all my treatments in June 2018.
…AND IT’S AGGRESSIVE
Due to my family history, I began the process of genetic testing at the time of my diagnosis. It was confirmed in July 2018 that I am BRCA1 positive. I carry the gene mutation meaning my cancer was due to heredity. I had an 80% chance of developing breast cancer and 65% chance of developing ovarian cancer in my lifetime. To give perspective, the general population has about a 10% risk. I also have a 50% chance that I have passed this gene onto my son. This was again, not good news.
In November 2018, I opted to have prophylactic ovary and fallopian tube removal, essentially a full hysterectomy. This action alone reduced my risk of breast cancer by 50%. However, after careful consideration, I have also elected to have a bi-lateral mastectomy with implant reconstruction. In view of my situation, its the path that makes the most sense and not only lowers my chance in developing breast cancer again but gives me peace of mind.
I JUST WANT TO BE NORMAL
I faced and am facing this challenge head on. My surgeon told me at the time of my diagnosis “this will probably be the most difficult period of your life, but I expect that you will survive this and be playing with your grandbabies one day”. I took that to heart. My attitude from day one was that I just needed to go through all these steps and then my life can go back to usual. I made that choice to believe that and stay focused on the end goal. I also had a lot of people in my corner though. The love and support of my family and my friends gave me tremendous strength, it was humbling, I am truly blessed. The backing I received from my colleagues and my work was also so appreciated. I was never alone.
CancerCare was also incredible. They were so accommodating and offered me so much by way of information, support, education, counselling and understanding. Every healthcare professional I encountered was incredibly caring and kind. We truly are lucky to be living in Winnipeg, MB, Canada.
CancerCare’s multidisciplinary approach to patient care attracts experts in medical, radiation and surgical oncology, hematology and the best and brightest scientists, passionate nursing staff and other dedicated health-care professionals. Their mission statement is ‘to reduce and, where possible, eliminate the burden of cancer on the people of Manitoba through exemplary programs of prevention, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, continuing care, research and education.’ The financial assistance provided by the donations of Manitobans to the CancerCare Manitoba Foundation is vital to undertake leading-edge research and providing this quality care to Manitobans.
Every fundraising event matters; every dollar raised counts. I participated in the Ride for Mom for the first time in June 2017. Who knew at the time that in the following year, June 2018, how personal this event would become to me.
My girlfriend said to me at the time of my diagnosis, “this is just a moment in time”. I have recited that to myself many times. Everyone has a different journey but we all share the same goal – to survive cancer the best way that we can. I hope my example offers others the hope and courage to go through their journey. Courage doesn’t mean that we aren’t afraid. Courage is the willingness to act in spite of fear. I chose to take control, to look forward, keep positive, have faith and take one day at a time. I have almost reached my goal, I am almost at that finish line and my consolation prize … my hair is growing back, slowly but surely!
My advice – you don’t know how you can get through but always keep believing that you can, always keep your faith. Sometimes you must fight through some bad days to earn the best days of your life. Let faith be bigger than your fears.