When life threw a struggle at this young mother, she decided to fight back.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and we caught up with our very own Laura Puranen, Volunteer Services Engagement Specialist for South Alabama, to talk candidly about her victory over breast cancer.
You wouldn’t know it by looking at Laura, but this beautiful mother of three is fighting for her life each and every day. She remembers the moment like it was yesterday, “I was nursing my infant and I noticed a lump, it wasn’t normal and I just knew something wasn’t right.” Laura was only 34 years old at the time, six years younger than the recommended age of 40 when women should start getting mammograms.
Laura’s intuition was correct. During her initial appointment, the doctor performed a biopsy to determine if the lump was benign or malignant. When the results came back, the breast lump was malignant. It was Stage 0, a highly treatable type of breast cancer that usually requires immediate surgery and chemotherapy treatments. As one can imagine, this certainly wasn’t the plan Laura had envisioned as a wife and mother of three but she knew she had no other choice but to fight. Laura underwent a single mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery in winter of 2001 to prevent recurrence. Then came another blow, Laura learned that the same chemotherapy treatments that had saved her life had also changed her genetic composition and now she faced a new battle, Myeloid Leukemia, a blood cancer that requires daily chemotherapy treatments through oral drugs. Laura continues to battle cancer every day of her life but she refuses to let it control her.
When asked what lessons she has learned from her experience, Laura offered, “Time is short, it’s up to us to make an impact during that time.” She added, “push yourself! Don’t settle for excuses.” After she beat cancer, the first time, she traveled to Disney World with her drainage tubes discreetly in tow. She was determined to not let her cancer become an “excuse”. Today, Laura shares her story with others in the hopes that she can inspire women to “listen to your body and pay attention because it could save your life.” As a mother of two girls, she encourages and empowers her daughters to have open and honest discussions with their healthcare providers because they are there to help.
We ended our conversation with a poignant piece of advice from Laura, “Don’t take each other for granted, you never know what others are dealing with on the inside.” Her personal experience continues to inspire her professional and personal life.