Laura gets by with a little help from her friends
Tuesday, 25 July 2017
Laura Parkinson, a photographer from Lisburn, was just 35 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and despite the tough times, she is still smiling. As part of our Power of Friends series, we chatted with Laura about her experience, her time at the Cancer Centre and how her family and friends helped pull her through. This is Laura’s story.
“The 15th August 2016 is a date I will never forget. It was the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 35 years old. In that initial moment when the word cancer came out of the consultant’s mouth, I honestly felt a rush go through my body that I have never felt before. I thought I was going to faint. Like an out of body experience. I turned to look at my mum who was with me at the time and I will never ever forget the look on her wee face. I knew from that moment on my life was never going to be the same.”
I’m ok, if you’re ok
The diagnosis also came as a shock to Laura’s family and friends, but they soon rallied around to help.
“My family and friends were, as you can imagine, gutted when I broke the news. Everyone just couldn't comprehend that I, at such a young age, had breast cancer. However, after the initial shock, time definitely helped us all to accept it. I was diagnosed on the Monday, so my husband, Simon (aka Sparky) and I took the Tuesday off work to get our heads around it and we were both back to work on the Wednesday. You could have easily hide in a corner and felt sorry for yourself but we knew that was never going to happen. Also Dan, our 6 year old, didn't need his family crumbling around him so we went into process mode and did what we had to do to get through it.
“My husband always says to me ‘I’m ok, if you’re ok.’ I would be lying if I said there weren’t lots of tears to begin with, but as time goes on and everyone saw that I was still the same Laura, things very quickly got back to normal, well the “new’ normal.”
Laura with her son, Dan and husband Simon (aka Sparky)
First steps and more tests
“I had the lump removed a month after I was diagnosed but because my specific type of breast cancer and that my mum, Kathleen also had breast cancer 10 years ago, I was tested to see if my cancer was caused by a faulty gene. The results showed that I was a carrier of the BRCA 1 gene and while it wasn’t the news I wanted to hear, I knew it was better to know so I could make an informed decision about the future. My mum and sister, Jill were tested and it turned out that Jill also carries the gene. Jill is the most positive person I know, so to go through this with her makes it all a little easier. We’ve both decided to get a double mastectomy and we will be facing that together later this year.”
Laura with her mum and sister
Familiar places and friendly faces
As part of her treatment Laura had to undergo chemotherapy and radiotherapy and she soon found herself in the familiar surroundings of the Cancer Centre in Belfast.
“Coming to the Cancer Centre as a patient is scary, but it was made a little easier as we already knew loads of the nurses from when my dad had cancer and attended the Bridgewater Suite for 16 years. Sadly, dad passed away in 2014, but having those familiar and friendly faces helped make a strange environment a little less daunting. Everyone remembered us and were all asking about baby Dan, who is now 6, time flies. My family and I always say the Cancer Centre is somewhere you don't necessarily want to be but when you have no choice, it's where you want to be.
“Friends of the Cancer Centre also became like a friend to me. The day of my first chemo session I actually posted a photo on my Instagram raving about the fact you get tea and biccies on tap in the Bridgewater Suite. All these things mean so much, as you do a lot of waiting around when you are in for treatments and tests. I’ve also availed of the complementary therapy funded by Friends of the Cancer Centre at the Macmillan Support and Information Centre and even providing the little tubs of moisturisers after your treatment for use at home is fantastic. The fact that the charity’s office is also based in the Cancer Centre is amazing, as you feel there is always support should you need anything.”
Laura enjoying one of our cuppas while getting treatment
Life’s still good
While Laura’s life is never going to be the same again, she came to realise early on that life doesn’t stop with cancer and even through the tough times, there are still good days.
“You learn to adjust to living with cancer and you adapt your lifestyle accordingly. Your main focus is to get better, ride the wave and to fight like you have never fought before. I said to myself, for the next year, this was going to be my job, to get better, as I stopped working for the duration of my chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment. Throughout the entire journey there were of course lots of tears, however there are way more smiles! In a bad situation, that I came to call 'The Melt', things clicked into place which made everything that little bit easier. When I say things, it really came down to people and the support network I had surrounding me. My family, friends, work colleagues and all those cheerleaders throughout the country carried me through. I am very blessed to have a tribe of amazing people in my life who turn up. They didn't ask if I needed anything, they just turned up, took over and made sure I was getting through every step.”
One particular experience which stands out for Laura as a perfect example of how her friends rallied around was when she was whisked away on a mystery weekend.
“It started with a letter I got in the post saying ‘Dear Laura, please be at Moira Train Station on Saturday 8th April 2017 and get on the 8.13am train to Portadown. Further instructions will await you when you reach Portadown.’ So, as you can imagine, I was a little bit anxious but also really excited as I didn't have a clue who this letter was from, who would be on that train and what we were going to do for a day in Portadown!
“So I got on the train, the train instructor met me, blind folded me and gave me instructions on where to sit whilst I was documenting it all on Facebook live! Watching it back I laughed as I had to tell him to watch my fake eyelashes when he was blind folding me - mine hadn't grown back yet after chemo! I hadn't a clue who I was meeting so the adrenaline was up. So I waited in anticipation and when I was told to take away the scarf, it was all my besties standing in front of me! There were lots of screams, laughs, tears and excitement to say the least. So my train trip to Portadown ended up being a fab girlie day travelling first class down to Dublin which was filled with shopping, pampering, cocktails and yummy food! We had the best day and it was the perfect way to celebrate the end of ‘The Melt’.”
Laura and the girls on their weekend of fund in Dublin
Laura’s family and friends have helped keep her smiling throughout her treatment and as she gets set for surgery later this year, her tribe of cheerleaders remain firmly at her side. Friends of the Cancer Centre will be there too and with your support, we can help many more. Your support and friendship has the power to change lives and every penny you donate helps Friends of the Cancer Centre support people like Laura.
Why not show a special friend just how much they mean to you by dedicating a cuppa to them in our virtual coffee shop! Dedicate a cuppa here.