Years later, she can still hear those haunting words echoing in the doctor’s office, “You will never be healed.”
Laura Chapa was diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer in October of 2012 at age 32, six months after giving her to only daughter, Sidney.
She found the first lump in her left armpit area and thought it was due to exercising. Then, Chapa found a second lump and knew she had to see a doctor right away.
After multiple screenings, high tumor markers were found in her left breast and she decided she wanted to be treated at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Cancer does run in Chapa’s family, starting with her father who had head and neck cancer and eventually passed away from the disease. She also has two aunts who passed away from breast cancer and cousins who are survivors.
Because of her family’s history with cancer, Chapa would get a mammogram regularly to keep up with her health. She said her breasts were examined during her pregnancy and no lumps were ever found. The cancer spread quickly to her lymph nodes and liver.
“I wasn’t shocked because I knew there was a possibility I could get it,” Chapa said. “But even though it was expected, it was unnerving to hear that my disease can’t be cured.”
She underwent three types of Chemo after doctors found it wasn’t working.
Her left breast along with 19 lymph nodes were removed in June 2013. She had six weeks of radiation before a liver procedure was considered.
When it came time to treat her liver, the tumor had doubled in size. Three more Chemo treatments seemed to be the answer, but no change showed.
Staying positive, Chapa named her tumor Earl after a Dixie Chicks song and told her doctor all she wanted was the tumor gone and stood by the goal “Earl has to die.”
The tumor was finally shrunk and she had the liver procedure done in January 2015.
Since then, Chapa has been declared NED, no evidence of disease. She then had her other breast removed, a procedure she longed for since her left one was removed.
“I decided I didn’t want reconstruction because I don’t need them,” she said. “I’m healthy, I’m alive and that’s all I care about.”
For the rest of her life, Chapa is required to have a CT scan and bone scan to monitor the cancer.
Throughout her battle, she continued working at the Nueces County Keach Family Library as the Youth Services and Reference Librarian and only took days off for surgeries and radiation.
Although she was positive and accepted her disease, Chapa said she was worried about the reactions she would receive from the children.
“I lost my hair in January and I wondered ‘what am I going to tell them,’ but they took it in stride,” she said. “I didn’t get any questions and they didn’t treat me any differently. The stares and comments came from adults.”
Chapa said she felt better and began to beat the disease after she embraced it.
“After everything I’ve been through, I don’t care. Comments don’t bother me,” she said.
Another part of healing included her support which included her mother, sister, daughter and work family. When Chapa couldn’t work, she could depend on someone to fill in for her.
“My main concern was the kids. I didn’t want to leave them without a program or anything. Everyone at the library was so supportive,” she said. “My sister Liz also quit her PH program to help me get to appointments. I’m grateful to have my support.”
Chapa said the most important parts of enduring a battle against cancer is support.
“You need to find support and if you don’t have anyone, join a support group,” she said.
To raise awareness for the disease, Chapa has a Making Strides Breast Cancer Walk team, Metaviving. The walk will be on Oct. 17 in Corpus Christi.
Ultimately, Chapa said she tries to use her experience with breast cancer to help others battling the disease or just to understand it.
“For those women whose world is upside down because they’ve been diagnosed, you have to trust and have a good relationship with your doctor,” she said. “This isn’t anything you want to wish on someone. Go get check-ups and take care of yourself because no one else is.”
“Some women are embarrassed to talk about it, but I talk about it. I never hid it and I’m not ashamed,” she said. “If I can help someone or inspire others, I’m up for it.”