Super Survivor Shares Devastating News with Her Three Sons – Twice
Telling your children that you have a life-threatening illness is tough enough the first time. Laura Beth Pemberton had to do it twice.
Three years before she discovered a lump in her left breast in June 2017, which led to her diagnosis with HER2-positive breast cancer, a more aggressive form of cancer, she went to her physician for treatment for sudden severe headaches.
Instead of suffering from migraines, which she and her physician initially thought was the case, Laura had fibromuscular dysplasia, a vascular disease that leaves people vulnerable to stroke and severe high blood pressure in the prime of their lives. It affects younger and middle-aged patients, predominantly women.
In Laura’s case, the fibromuscular dysplasia had caused a bilateral carotid artery dissection, which means the major arteries on both sides of her neck had torn and not enough blood was getting to her brain. “That was really my first brush with death and facing a huge medical issue,” the 44-year-old Springfield mom of three boys recalled.
Laura Beth is one of three women randomly chosen as Super Survivors to be honored at this year’s Memorial’s Be Aware Women’s Fair. The ninth annual event will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, in the Orr Building at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.
Super Survivors are women whose breast cancer journeys have been an inspiration to others. Their unique stories will be shared with fair-goers when the Super Survivors reveal their makeovers, courtesy of BJ Grand Salon and Spa, and their new outfits. Organizers have been selecting three Super Survivors to honor each year for the last eight years.
It took about a year before her symptoms were gone. During that time, she spent about a week in Memorial Medical Center and traveled to Cleveland Clinic to see a specialist, one of the few who treats her condition. She still takes blood thinners to prevent blood clots, watches her diet and limits her types of exercise.
Fast forward to June 2017, with that health scare under control, Laura Beth, who had no family history of breast cancer, discovered the lump while in the shower. Her “gut instinct told me it wasn’t right.” It felt too large to be nothing. She later learned the lump was nearly 3 centimeters, and she had Stage 2B breast cancer.
Her boys – Adam, 23; Matthew, 20; and Michael, 13 – “were very scared,” she recalled. “They had almost lost me before.”
Laura Beth knew that she needed to be strong for her sons. “That’s where your faith comes into play, and reassure them God’s in control,” she said.
Because of the aggressive nature of the cancer, Laura Beth started chemotherapy in July 2017 for every three weeks until right before Thanksgiving. She had surgery that December followed by six weeks of radiation therapy, five days a week for 30 treatments. She’ll begin a newly FDA-approved drug aimed at increasing the odds of keeping her aggressive form of cancer in remission.
Laura Beth benefitted from a wide support system as she traveled through her breast cancer treatment. A group of girlfriends brought meals and drove her to chemo sessions. They organized fundraisers to help her pay her bills. “They just literally took over to help me with everything they could. It was humbling.”
One friend in particular, Cindy Guyett, “somehow took me to every treatment and cared for me while I was sick.”
Laura Beth is an insurance analyst with Central Management Services for the state. She had only been on the job for eight weeks when she was diagnosed. Her co-workers rallied to support their new colleague. “I would find little presents, cards and anonymous monetary gifts on my desk constantly. I was blown away by their support,” she said.
Her ex-husband took over providing rides to get their youngest son to school and sporting events. “He and his mother were very supportive,” she recalled.
Laura Beth also started a Facebook page, Laura’s Lemonade, to outline her journey and keep friends informed. It has nearly 450 followers.
For other women facing breast cancer, Laura Beth said, “It sounds daunting, but you can make it through one step at a time.” Many other women who have survived breast cancer will be willing to take you through the process, she said.
Laura Beth said her faith and positivity were both central to her healing. “Even though you’ll have really bad days,” she recommended that they too would benefit by relying on their faith and staying positive.
“When you come through this journey, you’ll be such a stronger version of yourself that you won’t recognize who you are.”