On January 3, 2020 Laura Allen got the call no one wants. It was from her doctor, letting her know she had stage 1 B breast cancer. At a time of year where people are focused on goal setting and fresh starts, Laura’s reality was one of shock and uncertainty.

Months prior, Laura had noticed a lump in her breast while breast-feeding her daughter, but assuming it was a clogged duct, she didn’t worry herself. When the lump persisted after breast feeding stopped, she told her doctor. Laura herself is adopted, so no family history is known as to whether she was predisposed to breast cancer, but the call came as a complete shock and kicked off a scary few months, made even more complicated by COVID.

Laura underwent 30 rounds of radiation and two lumpectomies, which ended in disappointment when doctors could not confirm clear margins. This news was made doubly worse when hospitals shut down because of COVID. Laura would end up having to wait an additional three months to get her final surgery, which came back with clean margins, but the experience was trying, given that her husband could do nothing more than pick her up and drop her off because of COVID safety precautions. While many of us find it hard to imagine the reality of breast cancer diagnosis with two young children, a global pandemic and the challenges that come with it, intensify the rollercoaster of emotions a diagnosis brings.

While relieved with the lumpectomy success, the post-surgical medications breast cancer patients take (often up to five years post diagnosis) have provided Laura’s greatest challenge. A social worker herself, Laura is familiar with treating and understanding mental illness. She herself, however has never suffered from anxiety or depression. The medications, which force early menopause and other intense bodily changes, have been grueling and Laura has found herself battling intense anxiety and depression. The anxiety, in particular has been her hardest struggle and she notes it was only exacerbated by her inability to parent how she always imagined she would. Her oldest was 4.5 at the time of the diagnosis, while her youngest was only 6 months: “I couldn’t hold my child. I couldn’t take care of her. Her first year of life was so hard. I missed so much time with her.” It has caused Laura a lot of guilt.

Despite the challenges, Laura is astonishingly positive and remains able to find the silver lining in most of her hardships. Of her battle with anxiety she notes, “As a social worker, I have treated so many people with mental health challenges and now I know what it actually feels like.” While before cancer she often found herself putting others first, she has prioritized her health and feels truly appreciative of this life she has been given: “I want to see my children grow up. I do associate with breast cancer, but I don’t want it to define my entire life.”

She also notes how incredible it was to connect with other women, also battling cancer, that she would have otherwise not met. She was blown away at the amount of love, whether in check in texts or dropping off meals, that was shown to her during her treatment. Of special note was her friend and Runway Alumni Model, Jocelyn Lee. Jocelyn was the first call she made after the diagnosis and her support led Laura straight to Dana Farber.

For those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, or are battling their own mental health journey, Laura wants them to know there is hope: “there is a light at the end of the tunnel and I want people to know that.” It’s why she is so motivated to walk in the 2021 Runway Show: I am a really shy person, so taking to the Runway is really uncomfortable for me, but I want to celebrate everything I have been through because it’s been really hard.”

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