In March of 2021 LaWanda retired from nearly 40 years in the defense industry. She looked forward to having more time to volunteer and fulfill her goal of mentoring at risk children. In July, she joined the Natick Police Department (NPD) to train as a 911 dispatcher. She was excited to launch the next chapter of her life. The universe had other plans and six days after joining the NPD, her doctor called to inform her she had Stage 2 HERS2+ Breast Cancer: “It was a devastating blow, as I had just had a physical and had passed with flying colors.”
LaWanda’s treatment plan was aggressive – starting with weekly chemo for 14 weeks – and she was unable to work during that time. She credits the NPD for granting her unpaid leave of absence until treatment was over and she could return to her training. She notes it was a decision that “allowed me to focus solely on my cancer treatments, health and wellness.” The effects of treatment took many forms. Firstly, by the fifth treatment, all of LaWanda’s hair completely fell out. Further she notes, “my weight was reduced from that of a robust queen size to a shell of a woman, who because of the fatigue, slept 2-3 days at a time.” Other side effects included inflammation, skin rashes, neuropathy in her hands and feet and extreme fatigue. She would go on to endure a partial mastectomy, 21 consecutive radiation treatments, a total left hip replacement, followed by 9 additional infusion treatments (which will extend into August 2022). She got to the point where she questioned how much more she could take and spiraled into a deep depression. She relied on her faith to get her though the darkness.
Other factors worried her as well, including the financial burden of treatment. She was grateful she had medical insurance and savings from years of working, but was worried about what would happen when the money ran out, but she notes, “I had never asked for help.” It’s a lesson she now emphasizes – when it’s suggested to ask for help, do it. LaWanda recognizes that people want to help and she was relieved when they indeed did. In February 2022, her help came in many forms including, the Ellie Fund (EF), which was facilitated through the social worker at the Radiology Oncologist’s office (longtime Runway advisor Joelle Connors!): “I was in tears, not because I got the help, but because I asked for the help and realized how much people wanted to step up.” The Ellie Fund helped provide months of financial assistance, which allowed LaWanda transportation to and from treatment and a budget for buying proper nutritional foods throughout treatment. LaWanda is eternally grateful for their help saying, “I thank the EF for their support, for recognizing that the struggles of Breast Cancer patients are very real and for stepping up to ease our pain.”
She also notes how impactful the team around her has been during this time. From Joelle Connors to her entire medical team, who she fondly refers to as her “cancer team,” her daughter Shamika and her nearest and dearest friends, all of whom she credits with “continuing to help me get to the greatest me ever.”
LaWanda’s electric energy is impossible to miss. Sit with her for sixty seconds and you feel enveloped in her warmth. It’s a feeling she is hoping to spread: “Although I continue to fight the fight, while on this journey, I want to inspire, I want to encourage, I want to motivate. Breast Cancer is what happened to me. It is not my identity. I remind myself every day I am on this journey – I am who God says I am. I am approved, I am accepted, I am valuable, I am a masterpiece AND I am a child of the Most High God!”