Laura Kane, 63, is a true embodiment of the phrase, "I am not my diagnosis." Despite facing a difficult diagnosis, she has been an exceptional example of hope and positivity. While she acknowledges that dealing with the side effects of her treatment is not easy, she makes it her mission not to let her circumstances keep her from enjoying life.
Life is always full of surprises. We may go about our daily routines without expecting anything out of the ordinary to happen, but life has a way of throwing unexpected curveballs. For Kane, she started to feel unusual, but she thought it was just the effects of growing older. She noticed she was a bit more tired than normal, and it would take her longer to finish daily tasks. At first, it wasn't alarming, but it started to get worse - to the point where she couldn't do simple household tasks, like emptying the dishwasher, without needing to sit down.
"I was diagnosed with cancer in August of 2021," Kane said. "Before that, I had my own business and lived with my daughter, son-in-law, and beautiful granddaughter, Laney. Life was good, but then I started feeling very fatigued. My daughter insisted that I go to the doctor. They did blood work and sent me to the emergency room because my hemoglobin was 4.5 when I was tested. The normal is between nine and 12. They gave me two units of blood and admitted me to the hospital on July 30, 2021. Three days later, after bone scans and bone marrow biopsies and a slew of other tests, my oncologist told me I had non-Hodgkin's follicular lymphoma."
Follicular lymphoma is a type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that grows slowly and is usually found in the lymph nodes and bone marrow. Since it is a lymphatic cancer, it has the potential to spread to any part of the lymphatic system. Unfortunately, there is no cure. Due to the complexity of the cancer, Kane began her treatment immediately and faced some challenges in the beginning. To add to her experience, she had the memory of losing her brother to the same cancer just a few years before. However, from his journey, Kane learned that she was going to fight this battle with all that she had.
"Eight days later and more tests, I had my first round of R-CHOP chemotherapy. The infusion was eight hours, and I made it through it, but I didn't feel great," Kane said. "Three days later, I asked my oncologist to go home, and he discharged me. I came to my appointment at the clinic the next day and passed out in front of my oncologist. He immediately sent me to the emergency room. I got another two units of blood and was admitted. I was in the hospital for a total of 42 days. They switched my chemotherapy treatment, and I got my second round. I lost my hair seven days later. I had blood transfusions every two to three days for a total of 14 transfusions. Chemotherapy is rough. And on top of that, you're still trying to process that you have cancer. It's harsh, but I'm alive."
Kane shared that it took her a while to accept what was going on because everything happened so fast. The side effects of the chemotherapy were so intense that she didn't have time to think about the situation.
“Accepting that I had cancer didn’t happen for a long time because when they start the chemotherapy it’s a 21-day cycle and you don’t feel better until day 20,” Kane said. “I spent a lot of time in bed curled up in bed, nauseous, and vomiting. They give you medicine to combat that, but those have their own side effects as well. When I went home, I was in a different state of mind. I went into my bathroom and I threw away my curling irons, blow dryer, brushes, and everything because I had no hair. I wasn’t able to think ahead enough and realize that it would grow back. It was too much, too fast.”
Kane's daughter shared that initially it was mentally challenging for her mom to cope. She found herself doing a lot of research on the cancer she had. However, the information she found online and on Facebook groups was often terrifying. They quickly learned that everyone's circumstances are different and having a supportive family is crucial.
"She joined some Facebook groups for people who have a similar cancer as her, but at some point, I had to say, 'Mom, you have to leave those groups,'" Janet Simpkins said. "It was messing with her mentally because so many people had negative experiences and it was putting her in a bad spot. I recommend finding someone that you can be utterly real with. There needs to be at least one person who can sit down with them and tell them, 'It's ok to not be ok.'"
The treatment she received helped her lead a normal life by managing the symptoms and slowing the progression of her cancer. On November 30, 2022, Kane received her last treatment.
“I went for a PET scan a month later and the tests came back that there was no evidence of disease, which is as close as my cancer gets to being in remission because my cancer is always active. It's just a matter of whose winning, and I'm winning," Kane said. "After that was completed, we started thinking about maintenance therapy as opposed to actively fighting the cancer, and that's when I acknowledged that I was going to get through this. I started to feel like maybe I did have a future."
Kane is committed to achieving wellness. Her goal is to attend her granddaughter's graduation in 13 years. As a part of her maintenance therapy, Kane and her family decided to adopt healthier lifestyle habits, including consuming cleaner foods. They have even started raising chickens to ensure they can access fresh eggs.
"We made a change in our household, so we all only eat organic, grass-fed meats, and wheat berries instead of flour,” Kane said. “If I make it, I can eat it. I remember thinking, I don't have a choice about chemotherapy because it's necessary, but I do have a choice about what I eat. So, the fewer chemicals and better the whole food, the better it is for me. I have the best life, so I wanted to fight to keep it."
Her journey would not have been possible without the care she received at JPS. Kane revealed that she was a self-employed part-time business owner and did not have health insurance. Since she lived in Parker County, she did not qualify for the JPS Connection program. That did not stop the JPS social workers. They assisted her in getting her forms signed and helped her get in touch with Parker County, who covered her medical bills. Kane is grateful for the care she received at JPS.
“I’m alive because of what JPS does,” Kane said. “I had the most fabulous doctors when I was on the oncology floor. The nurses were fabulous, they were so knowledgeable and caring. The hospitalist I had heard me. My oncologists heard me. I don’t have a single complaint about the care I was provided.”
Kane mentioned that her journey has taught her numerous valuable lessons about life. She has learned to appreciate small victories, no matter how insignificant they may seem because they are still a win, especially when you’re fighting cancer. She wants to show that her diagnosis has not stopped her. It may have slowed her down a bit, but she is slowly getting back to who she was before.
"When you're living like this, you forget that life goes on," Kane said. "It's a life-changing event for sure because my life is very different from what I pictured it being. When you're young, you think of what you're going to do when you get to retirement age, and this is not what I had in mind, but I'm better for it. I appreciate everything and everyone around me. Cancer doesn’t define me. I define it."