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Her Story: Laura McKay

Her Story: Laura McKay

{Forward&UP}

By: Bradley Jean

“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.” Psalm 107:2

I grew up in a tiny, brick church in rural Alabama, just outside of Auburn.  We sang traditional old hymns every Sunday and the little old Southern ladies were my Sunday School teachers. These gentle women told me the stories of Jesus every week and filled my heart with wonder and joy. These sweet threads of my past have opened my heart to tell the stories of today. Stories of a mighty God that’s still close and deep in our lives just as he was so very long ago.

As a child, my favorite stories of Jesus where the ones telling of those who would go through great measures to just see or touch him. Their hearts longed for that human connection or possibly a miracle. We are no different today. We long to be touched and healed through our pain and hardships. We need to see God in action. We desperately need others to lift us up and show us the way, when we can’t seem to find it. 

My dear friend, Laura McKay, is living out her healing and has turned her misfortune into a mission.  During her weakest moments, she showed those around her what it truly meant to be “strong and courageous.” Her light and positivity are inspiring, and she gives all the glory to the One that saved her.

Almost two years ago, Laura, 38 years old, was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a very rare form, which involved an entire year’s worth of treatments, a double mastectomy and a hysterectomy. Laura says, “There was no doubt in my mind that God’s hand was in all of this.”

Through her journey, she saw blessings, in all directions, and she counted them all. She is a gift herself. A blessing to those around her and proof that what’s in front of us, is best seen through the eyes of hope and prayer and faith. The strength of God in her life was very real, and so was the power of prayer.

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This is Laura’s story. One of grace and healing. One that continues on, as Laura lives out her story to touch the lives of others.

Laura’s journey with breast cancer started on New Year’s Eve, 2016.  Laura found a lump, in her under arm, and immediately knew she needed to see her doctor. Due to the holiday, it took a few days to get an appointment, but soon she was seeing her primary Obstetrician in Columbus, GA. The doctor, having a history of Lymphoma himself, sent Laura straight to a surgeon.

Laura’s surgeon decided to treat the lump for a week with antibiotics and then go from there.

The Antibiotics had no effect on the lump, and so the decision was made to have it removed. At this point too, the usual mammogram, ultra sound and CT scans were taken. All scans came back clear and Laura had surgery to remove the lump.

“At this point,” says Laura, “we were thinking it was nothing. Three to four days later I got the call from my doctor and he said, ‘I’m in shock, but it is cancerous.’”

Laura’s diagnosis was much different than most because her initial tumor was found only in her lymph nodes. All her routine scans came back clear, so the question was, from where is the cancer coming? Laura did all routine scans over again and this time they included a PET scan.

“I remember sitting there, waiting, to go in to have it and thinking ‘I do not belong here.’ I looked over at Jason (her husband) and said, ‘I don’t belong here.’ I was in a room with women much older than me and I really believed I didn’t belong.”

Laura says it was that very day, while waiting for her PET scan, that she and Jason had a tremendous peace come over them. Even though, at this point, they still had no idea what was to come, they knew it was going to be okay.

“From that initial break down after the phone call and from that point on, I know that God kicked in. He kept telling us, ‘This is going to be fine.’ And I knew it because we had so many people praying for us. We still had worries of course, and concerns, but all around, this peace settled over both of us.”

Every test Laura had came back clear, including her PET scan. The only place in Laura’s body where they found cancer was the one lump that had been removed. Laura’s surgeon said he had not seen anything like this in over 20 years. “After we sat down with the surgeon after all was looked through, he said, ‘this is treatable this is curable.’ At that moment I did not lose sight of the fact that many women don’t get the luxury of that diagnosis.”

 After all the findings and the diagnosis, Laura’s doctor was humble enough to recommend she get a second opinion. The couple decided on UAB in Birmingham and soon, they were setting up new appointments.

Laura had all new scans done at UAB and their findings matched to her previous doctors. “They see everything,” says Laura.  “I went to sit down with them, and you meet with 3 doctors at one time, it’s pretty overwhelming. They were very specific about what needed to be done.  Their recommendation was to treat it very aggressively and honestly, it was way more than what I thought it would be.”

Laura’s cancer was not very far along. Her case was odd because she should be a Stage 1 or 2, but really fell into neither. She assumed she’d have a little treatment but the extensive, aggressive plan they gave her, was hard to stomach. “I remember thinking ‘wow’…16 treatments of chemo, plus radiation. I wasn’t anticipating that. That was the second time I really broke down. But my goal was to do whatever we had to do.”

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At the time, Laura’s children, Jack and Claire, were 10 and 8. Laura, and her husband Jason, did not disclose any information to them until they were 100 percent sure of the facts and what was to come. When they finally talked to their children, Laura says they did not fully understand everything, and the topic of conversation was whether or not Laura would lose her hair.

“We had pretty entertaining conversation about that. I told them yes, I will. It was actually kind of funny. We laughed about it, and that’s just who we are. Jason led them into their roles of being more responsible and helping out around the house. Which they did…everybody took a little more ownership.”

Laura recalls looking onto her path ahead of chemo and the unknown. “My biggest goal and motivator the whole time, through treatment, was that I didn’t want to miss out on anything I didn’t have to.” With tears in her eyes, Laura says, “my prayer was always to let me be able to walk upstairs and tuck my kids in and not to miss a baseball game. And for the most part, I didn’t.”

Laura’s children, and her husband Jason, were her biggest motivators. She says there was definitely a change in perspective. “You only get so much time with your kids,” she says.  Laura wanted to be as positive and as well as she could, no matter what was ahead of her.

 “Positivity, affects us health wise in a very real way…I’d never let myself think ‘why is this happening to me.’ I’d say why not me…why not someone that can affect others through this in a positive way.”

Laura’s humility and grace were evident from the beginning. She focused on caring for herself and being with her family, while her friends were busy setting up meals, organizing car rides to Birmingham, and helping out with her kids. Laura’s response was always a simple, “thank you.” Her church family was covering her in prayer and a huge gift basket was put together for her. The hard road of chemotherapy was ahead, and it would last for nearly 5 months. But Laura was steady and strong. Laura says it was then, that she knew, when it was all said and done, she would return the favor back somehow. At the time, she didn’t know how, but she knew she had a purpose and a mission when she was fully healed.

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Laura says, “I never wanted anyone to feel sorry for me. It was important to me to get out and be healthy and show people the power of prayer at work.” Laura rested when she needed it but still did as much as she could for her kids. She was smart not to attend school functions, as that’s where all the germs were, but she opted for any outdoor activities which mostly included baseball games for her son Jack.

“When I’d get out, people would often tell me they were praying for me and I’d say ‘it’s working, keep them coming’. I wanted others to know their prayers were real and it meant something to me.”

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Laura says going through this with her husband was a blessing. “The way he handled it was far beyond my wildest dreams. He swooped in and did things he had not done before. It was seamless. This was what we were doing together.”

From day one, of her journey, Laura says her and Jason agreed that they would do whatever they could, in their power, to conquer this cancer. “One thing I want to stress to others is that we live in a time now where we know so much more than we did 20 years ago.  We can do so much to prevent. Early detection is huge. The difference in Stage 1 and Stage 4 is huge.”

Laura encourages all women to be sure and get their mammogram. Family history studies and tests are even easier than they were just 2 years ago. Laura told about the BRCA (pronounced bracka) test. BRCA is a test that looks for mutations in genes.  She says it is not expensive today and the actual test consisted of her swishing some liquid in her mouth and spitting it back into a cup, similar to mouth wash. Not invasive at all. Laura took her BRCA test after her diagnosis, mainly for her daughter Claire. Laura’s came back negative; however, she says anyone with a family history needs to do it.  

Laura did test positive for a newer gene, a gene that has an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

She says a big topic for them for some time was whether or not she should have a double mastectomy.  She says her doctors went back and forth and finally Laura confided in a nurse practitioner, who was about her age. “I looked at her and said ‘I just need to be told what to do. I need to know I’m doing everything possible. And if this can prevent anything, I need to know.’”

Her thoughtful nurse then talked to all physicians and it was decided that due to her age and the risk of her cancer returning, she would have a double mastectomy. Laura’s cancer was triple negative, which means it was not hormone driven.  It is more aggressive and has a higher risk of return, over a short period of time.

Laura also opted for a total hysterectomy, due to her high risk of ovarian cancer. “I just needed to know that when all is said and done I’ve done everything in my power and the power of modern medicine, with treatment and preventive care that I could.  And I am comfortable saying that I did. Where all those things pleasant?  Not necessarily, but I wouldn’t change a single thing about the way I did it.”

Laura recalls women who helped her on her journey, that too were battling cancer, and are no longer here. “There are women I met on my journey, that aren’t here anymore. They helped me, they talked to me. When you’re sitting in those chairs, no matter what cancer you have, you’re all the same…not everyone gets the outcome I did and I’ll never lose sight of that. There’s a reason I get to stay here and do more. The things I do are important.”

Laura says she is mindful of her time here and wants to use it wisely to give back. “I know now what I need to do for others,” she says. “Sometimes people don’t know (their mission) but I do. I had massive amounts of support. I’d often meet people that didn’t have that. It’s so much harder (for them). And I’d think ‘that’s not right.’ Anyone should have what I had.”

Now that Laura is well, she’s ready to take the next steps to help others fighting breast cancer. She says she doesn’t know exactly how yet, but God will map that out for her. “I know now without a shadow of a doubt that God has a pretty amazing plan for me.”

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“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Deuteronomy 31:8
 
{Forward&UP} is a mission meant to inspire and encourage women all over through the telling of our stories and the changing of our hearts.
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