Laura Whitaker is a 50-year-old mom who battled stage 2 breast cancer for one year. Today, she is cancer-free and an adamant spokeswoman for AVON 39 The Walk to End Breast Cancer. This is her inspiring story, as told to Samantha Peters.
When I was diagnosed in June 2015, the news came completely out of the blue. I had a distant cousin with cancer, but nobody in my immediate family. I never had any abnormal physicals or symptoms, so from one year to the next, I went from being perfectly healthy to having life-changing mammogram results.
I remember the doctors telling me they wanted to do a biopsy, sort of leading me to believe that it was cancer. My initial reaction was alright, “I’m scared, but we caught it early.” We just kind of handled it. The treatments were something that had to be done.
What came as the greatest shock occurred after the surgery, when the doctors told me my cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and I would need chemotherapy. I had a lumpectomy–the operation that removes the tumor but saves your breast–in July. My chemo went from August to December, then in March, I underwent radiation.
How I coped
At the time of my treatments, I had one son, Logan, who had just finished college and my other son, Dallas, who was starting his senior year of college. My husband and I played my diagnosis down for them, but of course, they were scared. I discussed the idea of not going through chemo because that freaked me out, but they were adamant that I go through it in order to fight my cancer. Logan lived at home and was very private about his emotions. I found out later that he was doing a lot of his own research, but I never really saw that in him. He just kind of stayed strong around me.
Dallas called me probably more than he would have called me during college. He even dyed his beard pink in October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in my honor. Imagine! A big football player with a bushy, pink beard!
Beyond my boys, my husband really helped me get through everything. He brought me to my treatments and surgery. It was really important that I didn’t miss my son’s football games, so I would have my treatments on Monday so we could travel down to Virginia on Friday. He did all the driving–anywhere from 5 to 8 hours one way, depending on where the game was. He would pack me up, put my blankets and pillows in the back seat, and get us down there. We would come home Sunday night, and Monday, he would bring me to treatments.
Throughout all this, I was working four jobs, including running the family real estate business and being a sales representative for Avon. All of the companies I worked for allowed me to work from home, so I didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn and go to an office somewhere. I was really lucky—if I wasn’t feeling up to work, I could push it aside to the next day.
There were times when I wish I would have taken a leave of absence, but looking back, it was good to keep my mind busy. It was better than sitting home and dwelling over my diagnosis.
The good news
By June 2016, I learned I was cancer-free. It was a huge relief to know that the treatments had worked and that I could start moving forward. But the moment wasn’t a big to-do or anything like that, because it was the news that we expected. Throughout the whole process, I looked at my cancer as something that I had to go through. It wasn’t going to beat me, I was going to beat it, and I never really looked back. I had a very positive attitude, and it helped that I had a lot of positive people around me.
Armed with the good news—and both kids out of college—I decided to take part in the AVON 39 The Walk to End Breast Cancer for the first time last year. I thought it was a good opportunity to regain my strength and give back the support that I had been given by raising funds and awareness for the cause.
My first 39.3-mile walk in New York was pretty difficult. But it was such a phenomenal experience that even though we were exhausted by the end, my team and I immediately said we were going to do it again.
I can’t even describe the overall experience—there was just so much inspiration. Even strangers would come up to me, thanking me for my work and telling how they had been affected by breast cancer. That made all the pain easy to handle.
My favorite part of the walk came when we passed all the people clapping and cheering—it actually brought tears to my eyes. Towards the end, when I really couldn’t walk anymore, another participant offered me the best advice: “There’s beauty in knowing your limits. Don’t feel bad if you can’t walk any further.” And that really stuck with me. I thought, “You know, she’s right. I’ve already made it really far, so it’s okay that I don’t finish the last six miles.”
For this year’s walk, I’m featured on the digital poster campaign and couldn’t be more excited. Every time someone I know sees my picture out there, they post it on Facebook and say, “Hey, look who we saw.” I’m just happy that I can be somebody that encourages others to say, “Let’s sign up for this.”
This time around, I’m determined to finish the walk because I’m a cancer warrior: somebody who is strong, who is a fighter, and who doesn’t let the disease stop them. I’m not afraid to ask for help, because letting people carry me in my weak moments doesn’t make me any less tough.
For anyone who is diagnosed with cancer, I encourage you to stay positive. Talk about it—by doing this, you find so many people who have gone through or know somebody who has gone through cancer and can give you advice. Remember, you’re not alone, and there is an end to your battle. The treatment is hard, but then all of a sudden it’s over, and you can get back to yourself.
Next: See the most inspiring cancer patient makeovers!
Cancer Makeover 1
Jerry Shepherd, a mother of two, was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after she found out that her own son was diagnosed with Leukemia. After three years of treatments, she was completely cancer free and her son was in remission. This brave mother shared her story with The Today Show and they decided to treat her to a makeover that shocked her entire family.
Cancer Makeover 07
When Stacie VanLaere was diagnosed with breast cancer, her sister surprised her by submitting a letter to Hello Gorgeous and getting her a complete makeover. She was treated to a manicure, pedicure, facial, and a brand new outfit.
Cancer Makeover 06 Copy
Brenda was diagnosed with stage four bilateral breast cancer and it spread to her liver. Doctors have told her that she will never be off of medication, but she doesn't let that affect her positive attitude. Giving her even more of a reason to smile, a few volunteers from the Look Good Feel Better Organization gave her an amazing makeover.
Cancer Makeover 04
Gintare Shanciute, a teenage cancer patient, was treated like a top model and received a total makeover during the Children's Cancer Unit's Style Academy Makeover Day.
Cancer Makeover 17
While cancer patient and mother Tansi Mclnerney was going through her treatment, Look Good Feel Better teamed up with Mrs. Australia International, Piper O’Neill, to give her a makeover and help boost her confidence.
Cancer Makeover 15 Copy
After Hannah was diagnosed with kidney cancer, she was forced to miss out on school events and lost all of her hair because of chemotherapy. But after spending over 15 weeks in the hospital, she reached out to a famous stylist named Tokyo Stylez to help her look fabulous for prom. To her surprise, he actually showed up at her door with an entire team of stylists to give her a prom makeover!
Cancer Makeover 05
The Children's Cancer Unit Charity enlisted the help of volunteer beauty experts to give young cancer patient Megan Olge the most stunning free makeover.
Cancer Makeover 4
This enthusiastic cancer patient Abby, didn't let her illness get her down. She got all dolled up before heading to the hospital for her chemo treatments.
Cancer Makeover 16
Kelly Harrod has been battling cancer for over eight years. It began with breast cancer, but then it spread to her lungs, bones, liver and brain. To help raise breast cancer awareness, a local makeup artist decided to give her a makeover.
Cancer Makeover 2
This proud mom refuses to let her chemo treatments get the best of her. So whenever she gets the chance, she goes all out with her wigs and makeup.
Cancer Makeover 14
The Children's Cancer Unit Charity treated Orlagh MacCartan, a teenage cancer patient, to a beautiful makeover by the Style Academy Model Agency.
Cancer Makeover 09
Mary, who was undergoing chemo, got a surprise makeover and red carpet treatment by Hello Gorgeous after she was nominated by a family member. She was treated to a full spa service that included a facial, manicure, pedicure, makeup services and hair care.