Three-time cancer survivor Laura Weisgarber shares her long journey with cancer and what she’s learned along the way.
It is estimated that there are over 15.5 million cancer survivors in the United States. Jackson resident Laura Weisgarber is one of them. In the spring of 1983, while a student at The Ohio State University (OSU), Laura traveled home for a weekend to attend a friend’s birthday. While home, she showed her father her new “trick.” When she lifted her arm, a lump would bulge from her neck. Concerned, Laura’s father told her to show her mother, who also happened to be a nurse. Laura’s mother took her to see a physician, and he immediately ordered tests, including blood work and an X-ray. The following week, Laura underwent surgery, and on April 30, 1983 she was told she had Hodgkin disease. She was just 19.
After her cancer diagnosis, Laura was hospitalized for three weeks, completed 30 rounds of radiation and three rounds of chemotherapy. She completed her classes from home and, in the fall, went back to OSU to resume her studies in accounting. Following treatment, Laura continued with regular check ups, and after eight years of being cancer free, she was cleared from further visits with her cancer physicians.
Life went on until her early 40s when a routine mammogram revealed an area of concern. “It was not something I had ever felt or knew was there,” Laura says. She underwent a lumpectomy and radiation. Once again, Laura beat cancer.
Laura was featured in a special 2015 Brave & Beautiful section of the Canton Repository. Read the story >>
Seven years later came her toughest year yet. In February 2015, Laura’s mother passed away from Alzheimer’s. Three days earlier she was told her job was moving to Columbus. And in June, another routine mammogram revealed what ended up being her third cancer diagnosis. Laura says she received a voicemail from Dina K. Rooney, a medical oncologist at Mercy Medical Center. “She said, ‘Call me no matter what. Here’s my schedule. Tell my service to get a hold of me.’” Laura says she knew then the cancer was back. “I didn’t even cry at that time. It was just one more thing I needed to deal with.”
This time Laura underwent a bilateral mastectomy, reconstructive surgery and chemotherapy. In the midst of it all, she started a new job.
Laura calls her medical team, which included Rooney, Gregory Boone, M.D., general surgeon, Michael P. McCormack, D.O., plastic and reconstructive surgeon, and Diane Wofsey, R.N., nurse coordinator of Mercy Breast Care Center, her “A team.”
Laura says the first time she was diagnosed, she kind of ignored it and just got through it. “That made it harder this time because you have to take the time to deal with what happened,” she says. “That’s something I give my doctors and Diane credit for,” Laura says.
For starters, Laura says she began journaling. “I would recommend that to anyone. Sometimes you can’t talk to family. But you can sit and cry and write it out. Some of them turned into prayers.”
She also started attending Mercy Medical Center’s Breast Cancer Support Group. “Diane does a great job with the group, and the ladies are fantastic,” she says. “When I started attending, I just let it all out. You try to protect your family.”
Laura also says Woody, her ‘child’ with four legs and fur helped.
“Cancer is not always curable. I was lucky that mine were. There are so many people that go through things worse than me, and that’s what I try to remember. I’ve been lucky. I have my faith. I have family. I have great friends. And I’ve got my little dog.”