Many dates stand out in my mind. April 20, 2012 is really what I identify as the beginning of my cancer journey. Yes… there were red flags that something was wrong leading up to this date, but in the early morning hours on April 20 last year I woke up with sharp chest pains that increased every time I inhaled. I wasn’t in excruciating pain, but my body had started doing enough odd things that I knew something was wrong. As I got into my car to drive to work that morning, I decided to call my parents more than 500 miles away in Kansas to discuss the pains with them. My parents are usually pretty good at telling me I’m being a hypochondriac and not to worry about whatever XYZ thing is wrong with me. However, this time they calmly informed me that going to work was a bad idea and I needed to go to the ER. I quickly made a right instead of a left at the intersection I drive through every morning, and followed their advice. I soon heard the words “you have a mass” for the first time. Those words lead to my first biopsy on April 24, 2012 which  led to a second biopsy, which eventually led to my diagnosis on May 11, 2012. Thinking about myself Before Cancer (BC) and After Cancer (AC) is very bizarre.

Before April 20 last year, the major struggles in my life revolved around my sense of purpose. I really didn’t know what I wanted to “do” with my life. I had a lot of interests pulling me in a lot of directions and I really struggled with making the wrong move. I was balancing graduate school and a full-time job, volunteering on the board for the LSU Austin Alumni Association and planning a vacation for when my husband would return home from deployment that summer.  I had just started doing crossfit twice a week in the mornings before work, and had been really impressed with how much strength I had left from doing personal training several months before. Like most of my adult life I remember always feeling extremely busy.

Looking at my life AC, a lot of the surface value things are still the same. I’m still working the same job, I have yet to return to grad school but have plans to finish up a few projects within the next few months, and I’m trying to amp up my fitness level. However, there are definitely some differences. My husband is now back and we’ve spent more time living under the same roof in the pass 11 months than we had during the first two years of our marriage combined. I feel more stability in my personal life now than I have since before going to college. I just achieved a major fitness goal by finishing my first race last weekend at the Austin 10/20. However,  I find that my motivations are so much different. While I’m still volunteering, I’m exclusively volunteering with cancer awareness related organizations/events. A year ago, I also never could have imagined that’d I’d be speaking in front of large  groups of healthcare professionals or with the media about my experience as a young adult cancer survivor. Not once but multiple times within a two month time frame. It’s all very surreal.

When I decided to start working out on the reg when my husband deployed in 2011, I did it because I wanted to lose weight without much thought to my long-term health at all. Now I am very aware of how fragile life can be, and plan to do everything I can to stay healthy– for my family and for my future. Although I’ve never been an extremely fit person, when I began team-in-training I was at the lowest fitness level of my life– with the exception of when I was actually going through treatment. Various steroid/hormone treatments I had due to cancer coupled with months of low activity led me to gain about 20 lbs. something I’m still struggling with. More frustrating was my overall lack of energy and strength. I’ve definitely seen a marked improvement in both, and the fact I was able to achieve personal records for both distance and speed time and again during this recovery period has been amazing. I am looking forward to achieving more and more personal records, including completing my first half-marathon in June with my sister Theresa and with my team-in-training. More importantly I have fundraised more in the past few months than I have in my entire life BC for a cause I’m so passionate about. I really never worry about what my purpose in life is anymore, because I’ve found it. Cancer advocacy and fundraising will always be a part of my life until there is a cure… and even after because cancer survivorship issues will probably surpass my lifespan.

I spent the weekend of my annivERsary doing a great combination of things both the AC and BC Laura loves. We met up with our church friend on Friday to watch 42, an amazing movie by the way. I also found an amazing photographer through Shoots for a Cure, a nonprofit that offers free photography services to cancer fighters/survivors and their families. Much to Rene’s dismay I love documenting our lives a couple times a year when possible. Luckily I have a sister that is a professional photographer so she helps out with that a lot. Unfortunately,  she lives in Wichita and despite her best efforts can’t always document our lives at my beck and call. However, I was so excited when I found Laura Reed with 2E Photography. Laura (not only sharing my first name) is also a cancer survivor, she is from Louisiana and does endurance events to benefit cancer awareness causes. Sound familiar? I really wanted to get photos done while the Texas bluebonnets were still blooming, and with the season quickly coming to a close, I was worried no one would be available. Luckily, Laura was able to work with our schedule. She met us in Georgetown bright and early on Saturday morning and we had so much fun (even Rene!) I’m sure I’ll be posting the finished products as soon as they are finished, so stay tuned!

After we wrapped up the photo shoot, we ran some errands and visited with a travel agent to discuss our possible (and long awaited) vacation we never got to take when Rene came home from deployment. Afterward we went to the LSU Austin crawfish boil to hang out with some fellow Texas Tigers and then met up with Team-In-Training for our mid-season party. Earlier today I volunteered with a group of TNTers and Rene to work at the Round Rock Express game, our local minor league baseball team, to raise money for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Despite some occasional stress, this weekend I spent a lot of time appreciating and thanking God for this amazing support system in my life. As rough as cancer was, I’ve met so many amazing people and strengthened so many relationships because of it.

Tomorrow I will be hosting a fundraiser at Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers in honor of my 26th birthday (which will be the day after on Tuesday) and my annivERsary. Then I will be headed to Las Vegas for the OMG Stupid Cancer conference on Thursday to connect with other young adult cancer survivors and supporters!

In the mean time, please consider showing your support by making a donation to my team-in-training by visiting my fundraising page here. Every dollar brings us closer to finding a cure!


Lassie Love

To say I was involved in college, doesn’t even begin to scrape the surface. I held leadership positions in at least four student organizations (that I can think of), memberships in several others, wrote for the student newspaper for awhile, worked as a resident assistant for three years and held a variety of internships. I also, of course, managed to make time for tailgating and football on Saturdays in the fall, and did my fair share of partying. Though there was definitely room for improvement in my GPA, I was still accepted into the #1 advertising school in the country (which I chose not to go to for some reason) and also received assistantships/scholarships to several other graduate programs. You’re probably thinking, “Man, this chick is really bragging on herself.” However, I have a point and I’m about to get to it.

Though this is really a topic for another blog post, my advice to anyone about to start college is to 1) live on campus at least a year, and 2) get involved with student organizations. Not only are these tips statistically proven to increase graduation rates and GPA, but they also provide students with the opportunity to learn essential professional and relationship building/managing skills that will be used the rest of their lives. I can also trace back roughly 2/3 of my relationships and extended network back to these two tips.

I spoke a lot about the friendships I made through the Manship School of Mass Communication in an interview a few months back. However, before we get to today’s guest blog post, I really need to spotlight one of the student organizations I was in. I pledged the Army Scotch Guard, a non-greek sisterhood and service organization, my first semester at LSU. I can’t even begin to cover the importance of which my experiences with Scotch Guard have played in my life. Scotch Guard was founded by a Scottish man, which explains why our mascot was the Scottish terrier, we wore plaid uniforms and we called ourselves “lassies.” I became obsessed with all-things Scotty-related and eventually got my adorable fur-baby, Frasier, as a consequence.

The photo below was taken the day Rene & I picked Frasier up from the breeder in Oklahoma, Thanksgiving Weekend 2010. Note the Scotch Guard sweatshirt I’m wearing.

puppy frasier 2

Rene & I were also married by a Scotch Guard alumna as well. Several of my best friends are people I met through Scotch Guard (I’m even serving as a bridesmaid in one’s wedding in March.) Since Scotch Guard is affiliated with the ROTC, many Scotch Guard lassies are also either in the military or are military spouses, so I often find myself turning to them for military-related support and advice. Another lassie, Britni, coincidentally moved to Austin around the same time as me and was a tremendous support throughout my cancer journey. She even walked on my Light the Night team in November.

I can really spend all day talking about how the relationships I forged through Scotch Guard have benefited my life. However, the point is that relationships are important and you never know what role people will play in your life when you first meet them. My advice to other cancer fighters/survivors is not to be afraid to reach out to those old friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, or anyone else you think might be able to help you… no matter how long its been since you last spoke or saw each other (or even if you have never met). Support is everything. And they will most likely be happy to help.

Which brings me to another fellow lassie– Megan. Megan and I met in 2005 when I first joined Scotch Guard. She was a few years ahead of me, so we didn’t get to know each other extremely well before she graduated. However, one thing I always remembered was that she was a passionate volunteer for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I had a vague recollection that she may have been some type of cancer survivor, but I honestly was foggy on the details. When I found out I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in May, I immediately thought of Megan. Luckily, we had remained Facebook friends in the six years or so since we had last seen each other (gotta love social media!) So I sent her a Facebook message that went sort of like this, “Hi Megan, I know I haven’t seen you in many years, but I think you might have had some sort of blood cancer (maybe?) and I just found out I have Hodgkin’s. Please help! P.S. Congrats on the marriage! Lassie Love!”

It turned out that Megan had actually also been diagnosed with Stage IIB Hodgkin’s Lymphoma about 10 years before at age 17. From that very first Facebook message, Megan gave me amazing information and advice. Among many many things, she gave me some insight on what to expect from the ABVD chemotherapy we both had (constipation anyone?) and also referred me to a great program with the American Cancer Society called Look Good/Feel Better. One of Megan’s sage pieces of wisdom is very fitting for this blog entry:

“It’s so so so important to have as many resources in your back pocket as you can when you go through something like this. Take hold of all of the supportive people in your life and make sure you are still doing some things that bring you a little joy each day.”

She’s still playing an amazing role in my life today, and even arranged an opportunity for me to speak at the New Orleans’ LLS chapter’s Fertility Forum for cancer patients & medical professionals in March.

Fertility Forum Save the Date 2013

Megan is now a 27-year-old clinical psychologist and very graciously agreed to do this guest blog post for me. Hopefully others will benefit from her experience like I did!

Q&A With Dr. Megan:

Megan Armstrong

Please give me a timeline of when you started suspecting something was wrong, receiving the diagnosis and treatment.
I started to suspect that something was wrong around Christmas-time in 2002. I just felt “weird.” I had a fever and a dizzy spell that came without explanation. Not too long after that, I started to notice that there was a lump on my neck. It wasn’t very large and really could have been mistaken for swollen lymph nodes due to an infection. First step was to see my primary care doc. I believe I tried two rounds of antibiotics to get rid of the “infection.” That didn’t work so I was sent to an ENT. He wanted to just wait, so we watched and waited for quite a while. I honestly can’t remember how long it was, but I do know that looking back, my parents were infuriated that he wasn’t aggressive enough. I eventually saw another ENT (same hospital) and had a needle biopsy in early March. We received a call that the results were “suspicious,” so I was scheduled for surgery.  I underwent surgical biopsy of the lymph node and by that time, it had grown in size, and was noticeably larger. I was diagnosed a few days later.
What were your initial feelings/reactions to receiving the diagnosis?
Honestly, when my family and I got the call that it was cancer, I really think we felt relieved. It was, of course, a somber moment. I remember my mom answering the phone, me running around the corner to watch her expression, and her telling me the answer just by the look on her face. I never thought I could feel devastated and relieved at the same time, but it’s possible. When I say relieved, it was a feeling that, “FINALLY, we know what it is!” It had been almost THREE months of waiting. More than anyone, 17 year olds really hate waiting because we’re all about immediate gratification! Now that we knew what it was, we could figure out a plan of attack. I became the most outwardly upset at my first visit with the oncologist. The chemo process sounded so scary, though I was very intrigued to hear that I could EAT while getting chemo! The worst part was hearing that I would indeed lose my hair. Hands. down. the. worst. part. I knew that it would likely happen, but having it confirmed was awful. I cried and cried. I cried so much that the nurses let me use the internal staff elevators to go throughout the hospital for my various tests so that I wouldn’t have to see anyone. For their kindness and patience, I am so thankful!
Has being a cancer survivor guided your life choices in any way? If so, how?
100% yes. You know, I’m a fortunate person because I’ve always been bright and motivated. I knew that one day I would do good things, but now I feel that I do and will continue to do GREAT things. Leaving high school, my intention was to study nursing at LSU. After a semester, I realized it wasn’t what I really wanted, so I had to do some soul-searching. I thought long and hard about what I really loved and what I’d be good at. I started to remember how much I loved my Psychology class in high school and it went from there. Throughout graduate school and beyond, I made the decision to become a psychologist who provides care to cancer patients and their loved ones. It has been an amazing and incredibly fulfilling. To be completely candid, sometimes I feel like I endured cancer so that I could serve a purpose on this earth – to improve the lives of those who are suffering from similar illnesses. That may not be completely true, but it’s at least my way of thinking about it. Perception is everything. 🙂
Do you assist oncology fighters/survivors in your profession? How so?
Currently, I do not in my paid profession. I had the unique opportunity to take a research position working with patients who have HIV/AIDS. I believe that while there are some differences between the diseases, there are some significant similarities. I absolutely love what I’m doing and I’m happy to have expanded my practice to other chronic illness groups. I do volunteer quite a bit with Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, so I am able to maintain a presence in the cancer community in that way.
What type of challenges do you think are unique to young adult cancer survivors?
I think living with cancer at a young age is unique because it occurs at such a pivotal developmental time point. At times, young adults fall into an unfortunate gap. On one hand, you are no longer a child, and while you get support from your parents, you don’t want to rely too much on them because you are at the stage of wanting to differentiate yourself and become autonomous. On the other hand, you don’t feel completely like an adult either. You’re just at the point of trying to figure out who you are. Cancer gets in the way of that process. Ultimately, that can be a good thing, but in the moment, it is NOT pleasant!
What is your biggest piece of advice to young adults that are first diagnosed, in treatment, and in recovery? (You can separate these out if you need to!)
The first thing I’d say to young adults at first diagnosis is – It CAN be done. I was treated in a hospital for adults and was by far the youngest patient there. I never saw ANY examples of young patients and didn’t know of any young adult survivors. For those who may have a similar experience, I want them to know that you CAN get through this. Throughout this process, be mindful. When I say be mindful, pay attention – make the choice to pay attention to the small pieces of light and goodness that are happening. At times, it won’t feel like much is good. I look back and realize how many people sent cards/flowers or said prayers. I was/am so loved. Much like everyone who is caught up in the day to day, I have to remind myself to be mindful of those things. Oftentimes, when we are thrust into a difficult situation, it’s easy to only focus on what’s going wrong. I am in no way saying that cancer is great and fun – NO WAY!! I just want to point out that there is potential for a great personal growth. Having cancer as a young adult means you are an ordinary person faced with extraordinary circumstances – just try your best. You will never be perfect at coping with it, so accept that.
Please describe any challenge you might still have 9-10 years out of treatment.
My answer for this would be the same as it is for 20, 30, 50, 70 years out of treatment. I’ve learned that if you are diagnosed with cancer, cancer will forever be a part of your life.  Some days I think about my cancer experience and some days, I don’t. I tend to think about it more if I have an follow up appointment approaching soon. I struggled quite a bit the first 5 years out because I was hyper-vigilant about any little body ache/pain I felt. If this is you, you’re not alone! I can say that it gets better over time, but it will never go completely away. I’ve accepted that. The farther you get away from it, the easier it becomes. Overall, I’ve embraced that I’m a cancer survivor and I”m proud of it!!!!

25 Again

So its somehow been more than a month since I last posted! I had a pretty long break (about six weeks) between chemo and radiation. I could feel myself becoming more and more energetic and feeling like a normal 25-year-old again. Some of the things I was able to partake in during the break in treatment were:

1) Shaving with a normal razor!

I’d been using a special razor to shave my legs since chemo puts you at a high risk for infection, failure to clot properly, etc. Despite the fact I was losing hair everywhere else, my knees were starting to look like twin cacti and it was driving. me. crazy. Luckily, I’m back to using the faithful Venus razor. Unfortunately, I now have several spots I can’t shave due to a ridiculous rash brought on by chemo, but alas, at least the knees are under control now.

2) Eating!

Not only do I feel like eating more since I’m not feeling nauseous, but I’m also able to eat a larger variety of food! As I’m sure you remember from my early chemo entries, I wasn’t allow to eat fresh or raw foods and I had to sacrifice some of my favorite foods. After I got the green light from my doc to eat fresh foods again, the first place Rene and I went to was Taco Bell.


Totally sexy, I know 😉

Taco Bell also happens to sponsor the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, we made sure to donate while we were there.


We also had a sushi dinner with a few proud Team Laura representative the Friday after. It was probably the most satisfying meal of my life.


3) Drinking and being social

Although there wasn’t really a rule against drinking during chemo, it wasn’t something I often felt like doing. I also figured with the large amounts of drugs in my system, it was probably wise to stay away from it. So with the exception of a rare glass of wine, I pretty much abstained from alcohol throughout chemo. Luckily the end of chemo coincided with the beginning of football season, so we’ve enjoyed throwing a few back at the LSU & SEC Alumni- Austin events.


Rene, me, and my sister Theresa at the SEC Picnic in August

My friend Britni invited me to an Austin Beerworks brewery tour last week and I was actually able to go and partake in the festivities!

One of the silos at the Austin Beerworks Brewery.

Some other fancy beer making aperati.

4) Travel!

Although I still haven’t planned any huge trips (and won’t be able to for awhile), I’m more able to travel on the weekends. Rene and I went to Big Bend for Labor Day and had an amazing time. I have to say, traveling west from Austin is so much more relaxing than traveling east, south and north. When I travel in the other three directions in Texas, I feel like I constantly run into traffic and/or people try to kill me in their Texas-sized trucks. Traveling west toward Big Bend, we had zero traffic issues and once we hit I-10 we could legally go 80 MPH, which was pretty awesome too. We camped while we were in the park and got to see some pretty amazing sites.

the open road to Big Bend

Old farm equipment from when ranchers bravely settled in Big Bend about a century ago.

“The Window” rock formation at sunset.

Enjoying a smooch.

Our surprisingly comfortable but tight sleeping quarters in the tent cot. I definitely recommend sleeping off the ground as we saw many a gigantic bug, including a tarantula at our campsite.

The Rio Grande at Santa Elena Canyon. Mexico is in the background.

In other travels, we also won last minute tickets to the LSU vs. Idaho game a few weeks back through Gameday for Heroes. This is a great organization that receives and organizes donations form ticket holders and universities, and then distributes them to military service members and veterans. If you happen to have tickets you don’t plan to use, definitely consider making a donation to this organization. It came at a perfect time because I was in a total funk that week and feeling very homesick. I had to cancel a planned Memorial Day weekend trip to Louisiana because of cancer junk and then a Labor Day weekend trip because of Hurricane Gustav, so my toes were just itching to be back on Louisiana soil. It was sadly only for a weekend since both Rene & I had work the Friday & Saturday before, so we only spent about 36 hours total in Louisiana, but it was well worth the trip.

Cosmically, two Louisiana National Guard units were honored during half-time at the game for their response to Hurricane Gustav. Because of this, many of Rene’s ROTC buddies were also in Baton Rouge for the game, including Rene’s good friend, former roommate and best man, Jean-Claude. Sadly my phone was on the fritz, so this is the only pic we got of him while we were there!

I also met Kelsey for the first time while I was there. We somehow avoided meeting one another in college despite having the same major, graduating the same year, and having 45 or so mutual friends on Facebook. We happened to get cancer around the same time and became friends and supporters via the internet. You can follow Kelsey’s progress in the fight against ovarian cancer at Oh my Poisoned Apple.

Cancer friends and survivors.


That’s about all I have time for right now, but in a few days (I promise) I will give y’all a thorough update about what life is like during radiation.