To That Sniper In The Woods

I am Laura Mac Jeffers and I’m 46 years young. I’m a 2-year breast cancer survivor. In the words of Dolly Parton, “it costs a lot to look this cheap!” My story is a success story as I, like many survivors, tend to regard it like a serious traffic accident. I have to read from this paper since I have a problem with short term memory and I have a problem with short term memory.

February of 2013, a week before Valentine’s Day, I felt a lump while showering. It didn’t go away after a few days so I thought now would be a good time for my first mammogram anyway.

I got engaged on Valentine’s Day and had my mammogram the next day. They kept me there for hours and I knew that wasn’t normal. I already had 18 year old implants and assumed one was just deflating. As if parking in the wrong parking garage and visiting 2 wrong buildings beforehand wasn’t enough! Survivors say “you just know” and I knew. A few days and biopsies later it was confirmed.

I got the news while at work so I drove home completely shaken with tinnitus so bad it could shatter glass. I got home, made a few calls to my family and friends, fell apart, then put my big girl pants on and said, “Ok God, I get it. Let’s do this and show ’em how it’s done!” Facing my own mortality I realized I have a lot to live for and I’m not going down without a fight.

My husband-to-be, Brent, is a technician for the band Journey and was on a flight with them to Australia that day, the farthest point he could possibly be from me. He vowed we will do this together and I actually apologized that he might be in for far more than he bargained for. And no, I do not know what Steve Perry is doing these days.

When first diagnosed with cancer, one of your first questions is how did I get it? You end up wasting a few days online and talking to your family and friends in hopes you can blame it on family history, your deodorant, birth control pills, walking your dog, whatever. My paternal grandmother had ovarian cancer but she lived until she was 86 so it’s a wash. Simply put, I believe we’re all born with the susceptibility to a number of diseases and it’s your unique environmental experiences that either enhance or suppress them.

My local Nashville doctor referred me to a surgeon who promptly scheduled a lumpectomy and appointments with oncology and radiology who were also male doctors with cold hands. I had the lumpectomy in March 2013 in Nashville. Two weeks later, I went to hear about their one-size-fits-all plan “everybody” gets and after absorbing all the info and taking a deep breath, I realized I put strangers in charge of my body and these plans might just kill me before cancer could ever have the chance, or a bus for that matter. I told them I have to think about it and I’m not signing anything today. This pivotal moment forced me to tune in to my body and take charge (and call my mommy!).

Maybe it’s just me but cancer seems almost embarrassing and humiliating because it generates unwanted attention and pity. I still feel paranoid like everybody can tell just by looking at me. I decided to take advantage of that spotlight and it opened up a floodgate of support. I knew I could draw attention to cancer awareness because it happened to ‘sweet little Laura Mac’ and I was so young. I’ve been sharing my story on Facebook from the get-go.

Meanwhile, a girlfriend of mine told me to get a second opinion. I thought, great, they’re going to tell me I have breast cancer too so what’s the point? Then the Cancer Treatment Center of America approached my company for advertising their “Get a 2nd opinion” campaign and I knew that was my directional sign. No doubt God was working through people he knew I respected. I believe we have many purposes in life – to serve each other – and instances like this are evidence.

CTCA treated me like a rockstar and gave me options. After thorough examination they revamped my treatment with the latest technology and research so I only had to do a mastectomy and reconstruction with no radiation. They provided every form of support from Nutrition to Faith all in one building and even flew in my caregivers for each procedure which included Brent, my sister Annie, and my close friends Tammy and Nathan. One round of chemo was recommended which I passed on because I thought it was like bringing a shotgun to kill a squirrel. To date I’ve had 4 surgeries – most recently my ovaries removed in December 2013 since it’s breast cancer’s sister.

Another good friend and fellow BC survivor gave me the best advice that I put to good use and still use today in other areas of my life:  Get in front of it.  After a few hair thinning surgeries, I got hair extensions and it changed the way I saw myself in the mirror.  ‘Get in front of it’ not only meant to get ahead of what’s on the docket, to me it also meant ‘stand up to it’ and face it head on, which of course I did and kicked it in the butt on the way out.

I was able to stay focused and driven because I had a wedding to plan for September that year which kept me attached to the Earth during the storm. I started eating right, exercising a little, got some Botox, the hair extensions, and a new rack…all just in time for the wedding! We had our wedding at the friend’s house who first recommended I get that 2nd opinion, the home of Jonathan and Elizabeth Cain. Jonathan is the keyboard player for Journey that Brent works for. It was an absolute fairytale wedding! Jonathan performed “Faithfully” for us and Brent performed a song he wrote for me called “Finally.” The only thing missing that day was a unicorn.

The most important thing I learned from living a lifetime in one year was that everything happens for a reason, everything.  From who will get a 2nd opinion learning from your experience to why you left the house late for that appointment only to find you would have been in that car accident you passed had you left on time.

When people ask me about my experience I know they don’t have time for this full story so I keep it down to just a few sentences. I say that I’m a breast cancer survivor and in fact I’m in better health now than I’ve been in 5 years. I’m now married to the man of my dreams and we just bought a new house. The only thing different – I crave red wine over white now.

To that sniper in the woods – ‘breast cancer’ we call it – if you throw me to the wolves, I will return leading the pack.