Brave & Beautiful: They’re talented professionals, loving mothers, active volunteers. What unites them is a bravery only those who are fighting for their lives can understand.
Laura Weisgarber, Age 51, Jackson Township
“My journey started differently than everyone else. At the age of 19, as a freshman in college, I had Hodgkins disease. … 25 years later, I had breast cancer for the first time. … Seven years later, I end up with it again. It’s been a rough year. I had my job moved to Columbus, three days later lose my mother to Alzheimer’s. … and a month and a half later, get cancer.”
“I’m OK. I’ve got my dad and my brothers. And more friends than I ever thought I could ever find. I think I have a stack that’s over 3 or 4 inches tall of just cards. I have a brother who lives in Oklahoma City, and it’s killing him that he can’t get here. And a brother who lives in Ironton, Ohio. … He (made) a 41⁄2 hour drive because he wanted to hang out with me during chemo. And his kids just send me really sweet notes and text messages.”
“I’m the kind of person who’s been going to chemo treatments and going to work afterward. I don’t like to be slowed down. … I got very lucky. I lost my job and I ended up finding a job, in the process of all this, working for ICAN Housing, which is a nonprofit for homeless, and it’s like I found a different purpose again. A way to feel like I can do something. … The people that work there have such big hearts.”
“I’m a jewelry junkie. I went through my jewelry chest and found these little earrings that had been my grandma’s. They just sat there and collected dust forever. I looked at them and said: ‘She has to be with me.’ ”
“I went through a stage where, even before I was diagnosed, I told my doctor that if I ever got it again, I was just going to let it go. That my family would have to understand that it would be my decision. Something in this job changed that. It wasn’t that I wanted to die or anything, it’s just that you fight this battle of radiation and chemotherapy once, you fight the radiation again, and to be honest with you, I never dealt with any of it. I let my mother take over. I never went to a support group or talked to anybody about it until this time.”
“I love these guys (at Mercy). Dr. (Gregory) Boone is a hoot and can make you feel so comfortable. Dr. (Michael) McCormack is a perfectionist. He’s got a great heart. I have Dr. (Dina) Rooney as my oncologist, and well, there’s no one like her.
“Doing this three times. And for so long. I consider myself luckier than what some of these women have been through. It was so much easier than what they’ve processed. Just having my little four legs and fur to worry about (a Morkie named Woody Hayes) and my daddy. He makes sure to take me to every appointment. I mean, it was a hell of a blow to him. To lose my mom, and then. …I have cancer again. It was very tough. But we’re a team.”
Laura Weisgarber Gives Her Local Picks
By her own description, 2015 was a “rough year” for Laura Weisgarber.
Highlighted two years ago in The Canton Repository’s “Brave & Beautiful” section, the Jackson Township resident saw her job move out of town just days before she lost her mother to Alzheimer’s disease. A few weeks later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer—for the second time in the years since her battle against Hodgkins disease when she was a freshman at Ohio State University.
She was dealt a tough hand to play. But, Weisgarber is a survivor.
And why not? She also has had a lot to enjoy in her life. Love from and for her family. An affection for her four-legged “child,” a furry Morkie named Woody after OSU’s legendary coach Woody Hayes. And she has the support of a host of friends who helped sustain her through her fight against cancer.
Weisgarber found a job that gave her life meaning as well. She works as finance director for ICAN Housing, which seeks to obtain housing for the homeless who are suffering from mental illness. “I’m the bean counter,” the upbeat Weisgarber explains. “Everybody I work with does the helping. I find the grants to pay for it.”
The Stark County child, now grown up, found a home. It seems she always had it.
“As a kid, when I went to Ohio State, I didn’t expect to be coming back to Stark County. I did come back. I got my first job here. And now I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
Done with chemotherapy and “clean” of cancer, Weisgarber talks often to co-workers working with clients who have been diagnosed with cancer. She offers insight into questions about what to expect from cancer treatments.
Still, without that prompting, her mind seldom returns to her own battle against the disease. Her busy life has moved on.
“I went through it and did what I had to do. My family helped me through it. But, I don’t think about it much. It is what it is. And I’ve done this three times.”
FAVORITE THING TO DO:
“Spending time with family and friends. In the summer, it might be going on pontoon boat rides at Lake Cable. In the fall, it’s getting together and going to Winking Lizard, where my friend tends bar, to watch Ohio State games. It’s something different each season.”
“I have so many favorites. But, Bender’s would have to be my all-time favorite. Get the wedge salad and walleye.”
“When I was a kid, it was going to what was called the Jackson Fireman’s Festival. Now it’s called the Jackson Community Fest, and it means seeing old friends.”
FAVORITE PLACE TO SHOP:
“Chico’s, the clothing store at Belden Village Mall. I love going there. It usually hurts when I come out. At least that’s what my credit card says.”
FAVORITE ENTERTAINMENT SPOT:
“I like going up to Loby’s to have a drink and listen to music on the patio. A beer. Coors Light or Michelob Ultra.”
FAVORITE PLACE TO WORK OUT:
“That would entail actually working out. I enjoy walking around the neighborhood.”
FAVORITE VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITY:
“The Hall of Fame Festival. I volunteer for security, and I’m chairman of the First Play (committee). Other than that, I really enjoy the concert and the game and the enshrinement—all of it. I enjoy the whole thing.”