The phone call that made time stand still
One woman’s breast cancer journey to survival
What is the one moment that changes a life forever? The loss of a loved one? The birth of a new life? Is there even just one answer?
Life is made of a million moments, and some immediately take hold of a person while others take their time to build into a life-altering crash course on what a person will have to live with forever.
Laurena Collins was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2018 at 42 years old, and she was recognized during the Power of Pink walk in May.
“I taught for one year in Exeter in 2001,” she said. “But, I have lived in northwest Arkansas all of my life.”
A former student of Collins was the person who nominated her for the Power of Pink.
“She contacted me through Facebook and asked if I minded that she nominated me,” Collins said. “I didn’t realize that the Power of Pink was such a big organization in Wheaton. I felt honored and thought maybe I would get blessed with a couple hundred dollars, support and prayer.”
In her mind, she was just happy to be a part of bringing breast cancer into the minds of people.
“I was shocked to learn how big the organization is and how much good it does,” she said. “For me, when I learned I had cancer it was very depressing. Once I was nominated though, I spent a lot of time on the Power of Pink website and see what they were doing. It was very uplifting.”
One thing that stuck out in Collins’ mind after the Power of Pink walk in May was one little girl.
“She walked up to me, and she was maybe 5 or 6 years old,” Collins said. “She gave me a prayer rock and asked if she could pray for me. That is a beautiful memory.”
Collins was working at the Department of Human Services in Fayetteville, Ark., and was finding it hard to take some time off to get to the doctor.
“I had tried to make an appointment with the breast center, but I didn’t know to tell them that I had felt a lump, and they told me they were full,” she said. “I had taken the day off to go to the dentist and decided to use my day and go to the gynecologist as well.”
Thankfully, during her appointment, the doctor did a breast exam and was immediately very concerned.
“She called the breast center and they had scheduled me in for the next day,” she said. “I was a little worried when I felt the lump, but I didn’t start getting really scared until the doctor was concerned and they got me in for another appointment the next day.”
Even though Collins was starting to be more concerned with her condition, she remembered her mom also had lumps in her breasts that never ended up being breast cancer, so she still felt fairly calm.
“The next day they did a mammogram and ultrasounds, I could see them measuring things on the ultrasound,” she said. “I was told to come back in as soon as possible for a biopsy, and that they were very concerned.”
Collins took the doctors’ concern and began to develop the idea that she would be diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I didn’t get depressed or even tearful yet, though,” she said. “The mammogram and ultrasound was on a Thursday, and Friday I went in for the biopsy.
“The biopsy was an extremely painful experience for me, I was awake, and the doctor said they would call me that weekend with an answer.”
Collins was driving around with a friend that weekend, the same friend that frequently comes to her house now and helps her after her treatments.
“The phone rang, and the doctor told me that I had cancer,” she said. “I think I started crying instantly, but I was driving. I took my friend home and started calling my family.”
It wasn’t hard to tell her family, Collins said. After all, her grandmother was a beast cancer survivor.
“She was crying on the phone,” she said. “I hated that I was so young and got this illness that was making even my grandparents worry about me.”
One in eight women get cancer, and Collins said she was just the one in eight.
“I personally think they should lower the age in which women can get mammograms,” she said. “I was on a website that has a support group for younger women with breast cancer, and a lot of women are getting breast cancer in their 20s and 30s.”
Collins said there was one woman on that website whose mother had breast cancer, and now she is in her 30s and she wants the test.
“It is expensive out of pocket, and a lot of women can’t afford it,” she said. “Insurance won’t always pay for it when a woman is under 40.”
During Collins’ breast cancer journey, she had close family members like her husband, grandparents and parents who stood by her. However, financially, it wasn’t as easy for her to get support.
“I have never had to use public transportation for a doctor’s appointment,” she said. “I have a number of friends that have really been here for me.”
Financially, the biggest support for Collins came from the Power of Pink organization.
“I have treatments through the end of December this year,” she said. “I start radiation this October, I will get that as well as immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is what I am doing now and it doesn’t make me feel good.”
Collins said she has always had a sensitive stomach, and the treatments for her breast cancer have not changed that.
“I have already had the mastectomy, and the pathology reports are coming back clear,” she said. “I think I have it beat. I still have some breast tissue left, as well as lymph nodes, and the radiation goes in and, from what I understand, fights it off for whatever is left.”
Taking preventative measures at this time is the hope in which each breast cancer survivor looks forward to.
“That is the word that keeps coming up — hope,” she said. “To have hope to beat breast cancer, to follow the doctors’ advice in hopes that you will beat it.”
Collins acknowledges that there will be days in every journey that are hard to face.
“It is a process that takes one day at a time,” she said. “Hold on to the hope that you can beat it.”
Hair loss is a brutal and unfortunate reality when battling breast cancer.
“That was one of the hardest things to deal with,” she said. “My hair, right now, is two inches long. Still though, I have always been a busty type of girl, and coming out of surgery and being incredibly flat chested was difficult, as well.
“I would tell someone going through this and beginning their journey that it is OK to have those moments of depression and exhaustion.”
The week following Collins’ diagnosis, she was extremely depressed for a week.
“You are going to have those moments — it is OK,” she said. “Go to your friends and your support system.”
Collins said everyone is so positive all the time, but to her it wasn’t only the threat of cancer that kept her up at night.
“I didn’t know if I was going to get any financial support,” she said. “The Power of Pink gave me that moment of thinking we were going to be okay.”
Collins had stage 3 cancer at the time of her diagnosis, and the doctors thought it had been in her body for six months, and yet it had already gotten into her lymph nodes.
“That was my first mammogram,” she said. “I didn’t get one at 40. I got mine at 41 years old.”
Collins prides herself on being a person who doesn’t smoke cigarettes, do drugs or drink excessively, yet she was one in eight women diagnosed with breast cancer.