Independence Day is typically a day of celebration including fireworks, barbecues, and spending time with loved ones. But when 39-year-old Laura Orfield-Skrivseth found a lump on her breast on the morning of July 4, 2015, the celebration was severely dampened.
Just two months prior, she had her annual physical including a mammogram, and the results had been clear. Finding a lump was clearly a surprise, but Laura decided to have it checked out. The next business day, she quickly scheduled a mammogram and biopsy. On July 9, 2015, she received the diagnosis of Stage II Breast Cancer.
As a relatively young, self-employed business owner with an entrepreneurial husband and three children ranging in age from 6 to 17, Laura says she has every reason in the world to beat cancer. From the moment of diagnosis, she says her goal was to do everything possible, in the shortest amount of time, to keep the cancer from spreading.
“My goal was to be done with all hurdles before my 39th birthday and my husbands 40th birthday,” Laura says.
One of the most stressful things for her family, she says, was the loss of control this diagnosis brought. She says she focused on working as much as she could to alleviate the constant mental dialogue that managing this invasive disease brought.
From a very young age, Laura witnessed her stepmother’s ongoing battle with breast cancer. Her stepmom was just one of the many family members and friends she would eventually lose to cancer. The traumatic and life changing consequences to family members, caretakers, & loved ones.
“Medical research has come such a long way in the last 30 years,” Laura says. “The increased control of side effects and shortened recovery periods are amazing. I only hope that funding increases to find a cure so others don’t have to undergo any of it.”
After utilizing social media to contact unknown relatives, Laura discovered at least two cases of cancer on her immediate paternal families’ side, at least seven cases of breast or other form of organ cancer on her immediate biological mothers’ side. She says this solidified the decision to complete genetic testing to see if she could pass the breast cancer along to any of her three children.
Laura started her treatment under the care of Dr. Joseph Leach in July 2015 at the Minneapolis Clinic of Minnesota Oncology and the team of medical professionals at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. She then transferred to the care of Dr. Kiran Lassi at the Minnesota Oncology’s West Health Plymouth location and Abbott Northwestern-WestHealth to undergo three types of chemotherapy as well as port surgeries. She wrapped up her final 33 days of consecutive radiation treatments in April 2016, only missing four days of radiation because of a major surgery to remove her ovaries, cervix, fallopian tubes, and uterus. Laura says that having estrogen-fed cancer at such a young age meant that she chose the option of having estrogen-producing organs removed, thereby also removing other potential cancerous susceptible organs.
Throughout those 10 months, in addition to surgeries and treatments, Laura underwent many medical appointments, x-rays, CT scans, heart scans, ultrasounds, bone-density scans, and a lot of lab work. Not only as part of the diagnostic process and to meet standard requirements before or at the end of various treatments, but also as a preventative measure and way of monitoring progress.
Laura’s follow-up care is with Dr. Uzma Ali and Sarah Jax, AOCNP at Minnesota Oncology West Health Plymouth location. She says she will be taking daily medications for the next three to five years.
“I found my team to be sensitive, knowledgeable, and medically current caretakers in a welcoming environment,” Laura says. “From the receptionist to scheduling, to nurses to physician assistants, and to radiologists, labs, surgeons, and oncologists.”
Laura main coping mechanism is humor. “It’s better to laugh than cry!” she says.
Laura’s immediate family has been a huge support throughout the battle with breast cancer, she says. From wig shopping to homemade noodle kugel, bringing lunches during chemotherapy, driving her to appointments, along with quiet games/puzzles/movies at home, ice packs and heating pads, back rubs, and calling the doctor for her. Laura says she came to realize that although she is a strong person, it never hurts to ask for help and accept it without strings attached.
When asked what someone could do for her, Laura says her reply was usually, “Take care of the caretaker. They are most often the most forgotten and they do the most. Simply check in with them via phone or text or email or social media, ask them how they are doing, make them dinner or take the little ones away for a playdate”.
“Those that have been a part of my life on my personal journey have shaped my worries, gratitude, appreciation, and future goals,” she says. “I told my kids and husband that I love them and want to share in every stage of their life milestones, so I'll be around a long time to annoy and drive them nuts!”