What Now? Done with Chemo: Lauren’s Story
Lauren Wightman, a part-time librarian at Northampton Community College and an avid knitter, had always been good about having regular check-ups with her doctor. So in January 2008, it was no surprise, when after having a routine gynecological exam, she was told that everything was fine.
However, a month later, when she felt a lump in her breast, she returned to the doctor, and underwent many rounds of further testing. “When it seemed like I might get news of cancer, I broke down,” she says. “I was immediately directed to the hospital’s cancer support service, where I was given literature and referrals for resources. That’s where I found information about the Cancer Support Community.” But she didn’t go. Not yet.
And then, a month later, Lauren’s doctor gave her the news. Not only did she have breast cancer, but she had two different cancers, one in each breast. She was 45 years old. She also learned that she has the BRCA 2 gene, suggesting a hereditary predisposition to breast and ovarian cancer.
Lauren’s mother had had ovarian cancer for five years before she died in 2007, but didn’t have genetic testing. After Lauren’s diagnosis, her sister had a test—and she, too, has the gene. “Chemotherapy wasn’t the most difficult part of my cancer journey; being bald wasn’t either. The possibility of a recurrence does not frighten me. What scares me is that my two daughters, who are in college and high school, may have this gene; my brother may have it,” says Lauren, fingering the frames of her black glasses.
That April, Lauren had a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, followed by four rounds of chemotherapy.
It took about six months for her diagnosis to sink in. “I didn’t begin to come to the Cancer Support Community until I finished chemotherapy,” she notes. “All around me, friends and coworkers expressed their happiness about my treatment being over. But to myself, I thought ‘I’m done with chemo, so now what?’” Now her body would have to face cancer alone; the medical part was finished.
It was then that Lauren realized she needed to meet others who could relate to her experience. “I joined the Monday Night Support Group. I also attended a Fit and Fabulous session which was fun.” Her husband joined the caregiver support group.
Lauren turned 50 this December, a far more emotional time than she expected. “Not because of the ‘50’ thing; it was the news from my doctor that I was in remission coming close to my birthday. I was suddenly struck by the enormity of the past five years since my diagnosis–mastectomies, reconstruction, chemo, hair loss, tests, genetics. When I reflected on my cancer journey, what really hit me is how grateful I am beyond words for the community–family, friends, other survivors, medical personnel–that got me to this point of remission. I am blessed that the Monday Night Support Group, staff, and resources at the Cancer Support Community were in my corner throughout this journey.” Lauren smiles and runs her fingers through her black curls.
“If I knew someone with a cancer diagnosis, I would tell them, ‘If you don’t feel like you can handle it, you can reach out to other people.’ We have a great resource here in the Lehigh Valley.”