Laura can still remember the day her parents informed her they would be moving out of the country to pursue a missionary life. At the tender age of 5, her family moved from Hickory, North Carolina to Costa Rica for several months of training and language development. At the end of their allotted time, they moved to the area that would be their new home, Lima, Peru. At the time, Lima was engulfed in political chaos and violence, shrouded with the terrorism of the Shining Path. “The world as I knew it changed very quickly,” Laura said. “Despite everyone questioning my parent’s decision to take us into such a dangerous environment so far from our usual comforts, I can remember my dad’s calming words of reassurance, ‘keep the faith, God will sustain us.'”
Trials, challenges, and wonderful experiences were always a part of her experience growing up in another country. Despite the surrounding social climate atrocities, their family always felt safe, and they eventually fell in love with their new home of cinderblock walls, high shared fences, and flat rooftops that were all adorned with shattered glass as a deterrent for would-be invaders.
Laura attended Colegio Franklin Delano Roosevelt, The American School of Lima, which was an independent international school deep in the central city of Lima. She quickly became bilingual through cultural immersion. Her experience and her language abilities brought her back to the US in time for college, where she attended Appalachian State University, majoring in Spanish Education. It was during this time she met her future husband, Derek McClure, now a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) here in the High Country. She later obtained her Master of Arts in Higher Education, with a focus in Spanish. She taught in the Watauga and Ashe County school systems for several years, helping to expand cultural understanding through the Spanish language. Today, Laura lives with her husband and two daughters, Abby (11) and Sarah (9) in the outskirts of West Jefferson in Ashe County.
On December 9th last year, Laura visited the Wilma Redmond Breast Center in Boone for her annual mammogram screening. While sitting in the waiting room, her thoughts shifted between her husband’s upcoming Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) graduation and her last minute Christmas shopping list. Hearing her name called by a smiling radiologic technologist awakened Laura from her thoughts.
On the way back to the exam room, she was informed that the Breast Center had recently installed a new state-of-the-art 3D mammography machine which is able to more accurately detect abnormalities. Laura, whose mother is a breast cancer survivor, was pleased to learn of the upgraded equipment. Less than ten minutes later, the pain-free scan was complete and Laura was ready to move on to her next errand. That was until she was notified by the Breast Center that an abnormality had been detected and that a follow up screening was recommended.
“I was terrified,” said Laura. “In that moment, while trying to hold back tears in my car, I debated whether or not I should tell my husband before his graduation or my kids before Christmas. As a mom, you want to shield your family from everything, but I also knew I had to get answers.”<
In those quiet moments of uncertainty, Laura reflected on her father’s words of reassurance, “…keep the faith, God will sustain us.” She decided to share the news with her husband and together they wept.
Into the storm
Few words were spoken as Laura and her husband drove with fragile hearts to The Breast Center the following day. Unfortunately, the second mammogram and additional ultrasound confirmed the abnormality. Laura’s radiologist recommended that she schedule an appointment at Watauga Surgical Group, and aided in a quick referral process.
“At that point, Derek’s past work experience with Watauga Medical Center became an influential factor,” said Laura. “Before he became a FNP, Derek used to work in many departments of the hospital over years, including the operating room. Now, as a healthcare provider, he continues to keep a positive relationship with all the providers and specialty offices in the area. He reassured me that the hospital and the community surgeons were top notch.”
A few days later, Derek and Laura met with Dr. Anne-Corinne Beaver at Watauga Surgical Group and Dr. Damon P. Anagnos of Blue Ridge Plastic Surgery Group to make an individualized plan for Laura’s treatment that could put her new found diagnosis behind her as soon as possible. After performing two biopsies, Dr. Beaver confirmed that the tumors were malignant and that the results would need to go before the Tumor Board. The Tumor Board, which meets weekly at Watauga Medical Center to discuss cases, consists of a radiologist, pathologist, and several surgeons including Dr. Beaver, as well as the Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center‘s medical oncologists, radiation oncologist and nurse navigator. Together, they discuss each case to develop a comprehensive treatment plan. In Laura’s case, surgery was recommended.
In considering mastectomy, Laura also considered the multiple new techniques of breast reconstruction that might meet her individual needs. Ultimately, she would choose immediate reconstruction to allow her to get back to her life as quickly and smoothly as possible.
“The timing was horrible,” said Laura, who tried to compartmentalize her emotions. “Here we are, scheduled to fly out in two days as a family to watch Derek defend his doctorate project and cross the stage, suddenly hearing this life-changing news. As a weight was finally lifted off of his shoulders, our family gained another burden. It was supposed to be an exciting time…our children’s first airplane experience, a chance to connect with a dear childhood friend from Peru now living in Wisconsin, and a time to enjoy the passing of a milestone in our life’s adventures.”
Hoping to keep some joy for the children, the decision was made not to share the cancer news with her children until after the Christmas holiday. “We broke the news while walking in the Ashe County Park. It was hard to explain in concepts they would understand. They were so worried that mommy was not going to be okay.”
During the weeks that followed, though already confident in her care plan, Laura sought a second opinion from a large healthcare system located down the mountain. After enduring a battery of tests and consults, the results confirmed that surgery was the best option for treatment. While either institution could have performed the procedure, Laura felt at peace with the decision to have her double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery closer to home at Watauga Medical Center. Laura’s first surgery was successfully completed on February 12th without any complications.
She was now cancer free.
“Despite the horrific diagnosis of cancer, my experience with Watauga Medical Center as a patient was wonderful,” said McClure. “Prior to surgery, Dr. Beaver prayed with me and I honestly felt at peace. When I woke up, Derek and my children were there to greet me. Nursing care was incredible and attentive. Everyone was so patient and caring as they let me have time to try to figure out this new me.”
Over the months that followed, and the second part of her reconstructive surgery later, Laura’s perspective on life changed. While gingerly regaining her strength, she observed that life does not slow down – not even for cancer. Despite not having to endure infusion chemotherapy or radiation, she battled constant pain associated with the reconstructive process and looming depression. Throughout it all, she found solace in her family’s support, her mother’s encouragement and her unwavering faith.
Looking back, Laura credits the Breast Center’s new 3D mammogram technology for its early detection of her cancer and the rapid coordination into the surgeon’s office by the radiologist. She is also thankful for Dr. Beaver (her surgeon), Dr. Damon Anagnos (her reconstructive surgeon), the Tumor Board at Watauga Medical Center and all of the medical staff who provided her with compassionate care.
Today, nearly a year after her diagnosis, Laura considers life even with all of its trials to be a miracle. The former “missionary kid” now plans to use her experience to encourage other women to keep the faith when facing cancer.
On Friday, October 28, community members and employees of Cannon Memorial Hospital in Linville and Watauga Medical Center in Boone will once again gather to help raise awareness about Breast Cancer. To learn more about Pink Day visit apprhs.org/pinkday.