30 DAYS/30 STORIES® 2022
There is a picture I have in my snapchat memories of me sitting in a room at a Med Express in State College. It is dated April 21, 2022, 6:06 P.M., and the caption is “I’m in so much pain” with the picture showing tears clearly filling my eyes and honestly at this point, I was probably full-on crying. I had been experiencing abdominal tightness and overall abnormality of my GI tract and bowel movements for a couple of weeks. I tried several types of laxatives, and they were not really working as they should have been. I also tried focusing on high fiber foods and paying close attention to my fluid intake. However, considering that my patterns had not changed despite my attempt at intervention, and I was experiencing increased discomfort and pain, I decided to drive myself to Med Express that evening. My body must have waited until the very last minute to show me that something was wrong, enough to feel in my gut that I needed to seek actual medical care. From the second I left my apartment and finally allowed myself to focus on this part of my life, my pain was just continually increasing. I had spent the previous weeks focused on exams, my mental health, and any other stressful event in my life, everything besides the pain. I felt like at that point I just knew something serious had to be going on. I just never expected to be dealing with this.
A Physician Assistant saw me at Med Express. When I told him about my past medical history (Dx of hepatoblastoma at age 3 and a half) and he assessed my distended and hard abdomen, I could tell he was alarmed but trying not to show it. Right after his brief assessment, he referred me directly to Mount Nittany Medical Center and suggested I did not drive there alone. So, one of my good nursing friends, Rachel, picked me up to drive me and continued to stay with me the entire time. The ER told me they wanted to do a CT scan of my abdomen, which meant I was lucky enough to drink that delicious shake (if you know, you know…it is not delicious), and my CT scan was scheduled for 11 P.M. The entire time my mind would wander away from the present, but I was thinking “oh maybe it is gallstones or
appendicitis,” and fearing that was the worst it was. Especially since the pain did not feel like it was even involving my liver and after being cancer free for 16 years, my mind was not even going in that direction.
I will never forget what happened after my CT scan around midnight on April 21 (or 22), 2022. Rachel and I were talking about the most random things: tattoos, the upcoming weekend because it was the Blue White game at Penn State, and just carrying on with normal, pointless, girl conversation. Her presence certainly distracted me from everything else going on, but I also never felt too panicked, until the doctor walked into my room. The CT scan was originally ordered to determine the status of my appendix, but when he started to walk towards my bed, pulled up a seat next to me, and muted the TV right away, I knew something was not right. I just knew in my gut. He began by telling me that my appendix came back unremarkable. He may have told me that gallbladder came back unremarkable too, and my blood work came back within the normal limits. Then he said, “but we found a large mass in your abdomen...” My heart sank completely. It was not the kind of sinking that you feel on a rollercoaster, or even the type you feel with heartbreak, nor like the feeling of getting in trouble or getting caught and knowing you did wrong. This was more like an explosion, not a drop. I do not wish that any person become familiar with the feeling I got after hearing him turn my whole entire world around. I was then just handed a paper describing all the structures this mass was touching/involving/originating from, and not knowing anything about this mass, or if it were something that would make me die soon. I would never wish that onto a single soul. Everything after that point until about 2 days later was a blur. I called my parents right after to tell them the heart-wrenching news, which I was barely able to choke out, and that they should meet me in State College. I was held overnight there while they sat next to me, and then before I knew it, I was riding in the back of an ambulance on my way to Hershey Medical Center.
One of the worst things that a parent can hear is, “Your child has cancer.” The worst thing a parent can be told is, “Your child has cancer again.” The first time we found out that Laura had cancer was Christmas Day 2005. Laura was 3 ½ and her younger sister was just 6 months. Her belly was distended and her face a little puffy, but she was displaying no other symptoms. Despite her feeling well, we decided to take her to the ER to have her checked out. A chest x-ray found a mass in her abdomen, and we were immediately admitted to LVH Cedar Crest. A subsequent CT scan and MRI confirmed our worst fears; our baby girl had cancer.
The next 6 months were a whirlwind of tests, treatments, and eventually a liver tumor resection. It was undoubtedly one of the most stressful times of our lives. But 5 years later, when we were told she was “cured,” all that chaos began to feel like a distant memory. Five more years passed and then five more after that.
When we got the call during the early morning hours of April 22, 2022, almost 16 years after Laura stopped treatment for hepatoblastoma, we were just not prepared to deal with this nightmare again. How could this be happening? She was cured 3 times over! Her doctors were just as baffled as we were and reached out to colleagues in Houston and North Carolina for second and third opinions. Her official diagnosis has been determined to be a neuroendocrine tumor and most likely is the type of cancer she had when she was younger as well.
Dealing with a child who has cancer as a toddler is much different than when that child is a young adult. However, even though Laura signs all of her own consent forms and can clearly verbalize all of her symptoms, she is still my baby and the sorrow one experiences when seeing their child in pain will never be different.
I am currently an upcoming junior at Penn State University Park majoring in nursing and receiving treatment at Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital at Cedar Crest. At the time I am writing this, I am in the hospital getting my third round of chemotherapy. We just switched the regimen, so I am now inpatient and will be here for a total of four days. I am curious to see, when this is being read by others apart from myself, how “future me” will be doing on this combination, and what any good news is that may come to be.
I do not know what it feels like to my parents, family, boyfriend, friends, or other people who have been supporting me and have come to know me through this. I do not know the weight or heaviness my diagnosis has had on them. I do not know how scared they have been about the future of my life, and if that fear still weighs on them daily. I do not know what it is like to be the loved one watching on the side, all I know is being right in the middle. I know I will never face this battle alone, and I really do love my life. As crazy as that may sound coming from a 20-year-old girl who was diagnosed not once but twice with cancer, lost out on her senior year of high school and the first year of college due to a global pandemic, one who spent weeks not too long ago going in and out of a fertility clinic and going through the egg retrieval process as a teenager, and who is now bald and has forced herself to be confident to the best of her abilities because what other option does she have? And well, I have no other option. I have been given this life, with the most beautiful people to love and be loved by, may I add, and with this life I am determined to live out every dream that pops into my head and spends enough time there to know it is not just a want of mine, but a need. It Is because I have no other option but to fight that I will get to live out those dreams and needs. One of my needs is making sure my story inspires others. Even if it just is one person who feels inspired by me at the end of this, I feel in my heart that inspiration is something that needs to come from this. So, I hope my story can inspire you.
We would like to thank PCFLV for all their support during these early months of Laura’s second battle. We are incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful organization to offer both moral and financial support and to be given this opportunity to tell our story through the 30 Days, 30 Stories® series.
Written by Laura and her mom, Heather
Please consider helping children with cancer and others in our community by scheduling a blood donation at Miller-Keystone Blood Center: https://donor.giveapint.org/donor/schedules/zip