Life was good. At the age of 57, Laurie Black was a new grandmother and avid sports fan enjoying every bit of life. Between spending time with her new granddaughter and working for their family-owned business, Laurie was so busy she hadn’t realized she was overdue for her regular mammogram.
“I was six months late and even though I had yearly mammograms since I was in my forties, this time I was just so busy,” said Laurie.
With no pain, no change in shape or discoloration, Laurie wouldn’t have even thought about it but she described an “odd” feeling when she performed her routine self-breast checks.
This questionable concern is what led her to get her mammogram. Within days, she received a call from the radiologist. They wanted to give her an ultrasound-guided biopsy. The results turned her concern into reality — Laurie was diagnosed with HER2+ breast cancer.
“My whole world was rocked. It was the last thing I expected to hear. My husband, John, and I just sat quietly together and absorbed the information. Once things settled down, I started making phone calls to family and friends.”
Laurie was referred by her primary care physician to Robert Snyder, MD, general surgeon at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. He discussed the possibility of doing a lumpectomy – or removal of the malignant tissue while conserving the mass and contours of the breast. Before he did anything, he wanted an MRI for a more precise view. Much to Laurie’s surprise, they found another mass, twice the size as the other. They decided together that Laurie would have a double mastectomy in addition to chemotherapy followed by radiation. “Dr. Snyder is such a kind, warmhearted person. He listened to everything I had to say, all of my concerns and respected everything I asked. My options were all outlined for me based on my results.”
It was a new day and although still somewhat apprehensive, Laurie faced her diagnosis head on. She pulled up to 1775 One Healing Place – it was a place Laurie had never seen before, one she dreaded to go. As she walked through the sliding glass doors, everything changed.
“I remember the first time I walked through the doors of the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center I was immediately welcomed. It wasn’t like walking into a doctor's office, I felt like I was at someone’s home. I could tell that everyone’s goal was to help me get through this and, just within days, they all knew my name. My initial fear faded and I started to feel much better.”
Laurie started her experience at the Cancer Center by meeting with Karen Russell, MD, FACP, medical oncologist to review her customized plan of care.
“When I first met Dr. Russell, we sat and got to know each other while talking through my treatments. I shared I was a big football fan and also explained I wanted to learn about my care in the most simplest of terms. I was so impressed when she literally got a pen and paper out and drew my plan of care out into a play diagram. She explained my cancer in football terms and walked me through everything. I just felt like she understood me and I walked away knowing exactly what was going on.”
Neoadjuvant chemotherapy, a type of medicine administered before surgery, was provided through a port, or small implanted IV access site in Laurie’s chest. Her chemotherapy lasted for 10 hours at a time, given every three weeks for a period of four and a half months. Her body had a positive response to the medication and allowed her to progress with additional treatment. Laurie was then sent to Ovidiu Marina, MD, radiation oncologist, to begin her radiation treatment.
“My radiation was every day for 33 days. For someone who doesn’t like being still… this was the hardest part of my treatment. Dr. Marina encouraged me by sharing all the positive benefits that would come out of this, how it would help lower my chances of reoccurrences. He was such a warm, funny person and I respected how family oriented he was. Plus he had really great style! I just found him to be so relatable.”
Thrown a true curveball, Laurie reflects on the life lessons she learned along the way.
“My cancer journey looked daunting at first, but looking back on it, because of the support from my family and physicians, it was very doable. Throughout this experience I have learned that tomorrow isn’t promised and it’s important to live in the moment. I spend more time with my family and continue to be kind to everyone I meet. It’s so nice to know you can get the most advanced cancer care right here in Tallahassee through the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center. I want other people to know you do not have to leave home to seek treatment. We have the best care right here.”
Laurie will continue her cancer journey with breast reconstruction performed by Alfredo Paredes, MD, plastic surgeon at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. Once her reconstruction is complete, Laurie looks forward to living her life as fully as she can.