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Laura - Head & Neck Cancer

Laura - Head & Neck Cancer

Laura, tattoo enthusiast and mom of two teenage girls, traveled from Idaho to get treatment at our center for head and neck cancer. Read her answers to our 5 Questions and meet Willy!

What will you remember most from your treatments at SCCA Proton Therapy Center?

I will always remember the staff, all of them. You have managed to find and hire the best of the best. Starting with the gals up front (Jo, Sierra, and Jill) who were so caring and genuine in how they greeted each patient by name and meant it when they asked how you were doing each day. They even learned who my support people were that I brought with me. I spent a good chunk of time hanging out at the desk chatting with them and it was so refreshing to find such friendly faces and have such "normal" conversations. The nurses (Melissa, in particular) are extremely patient and kind. I had Melissa a majority of the time, but even the other gals that I had were amazing. They all took the time to check in and actually listen, even on non doctor appointment days. They were so attentive to making sure I was able to handle any side effect I may have run into that particular week. At no time did I feel like I was just a number and they were rushing me out to talk to the next patient. Then, the radiation gals (Erica, Meredith, Katelyn, Marie, and Skye) -- most days I felt like I was heading in to visit friends. I was so nervous about how I would handle the mask and mouth stent that I would need to wear for each treatment. I never thought I would end up laughing so much while I was in the mask. These ladies were warm, friendly, funny, and absolutely women I would love to call friends. They were a true bright spot. The time spent chatting while walking back to the room, chatting while setting up and one last check in before I left was soul refreshing. 

What do you tell your friends about proton therapy?

It sounds redundant, but I tell them how much I love the staff. I tell them about all the fun inside jokes and how cool the place is. From the lobby with the puzzles and games, to the really clean changing rooms, and finally to how cool the actual treatment rooms are. It is like no other medical place I have been. Each time I brought a new support person, they were offered the opportunity to look "behind the curtain." They were taken back and the whole process was explained and they were able to see me get set up for treatment. Having 16- and 14-year-old daughters, this was especially nice. They were able to see exactly what their Mom was doing each treatment. They had the process explained to them in a way that took the mystery out of it, which ultimately made it less scary for them.  

Laura and her daughters. 

What are your hobbies? Were you able to continue during treatment?

I love to quilt! Unfortunately, I was not able to do that while at my Dad's house, where I stayed during treatment, due to the logistics of flying with my sewing machine. I was able to visit a quilt shop and grab some fabric for when I was home, though. I mainly spent my time walking each day, and then my Dad saved some shows on his DVR for us to catch up on together.

What is the most interesting thing about you that would surprise your treatment team?

I am a pretty big over-sharer, so anything interesting about me I am sure I told each of them multiple times. While not surprising, the most interesting thing about me is my love for tattooing. All of my tattoos are custom and special to different parts of my life. I even have one of my tumor, "Willy." I have two more tumors to represent still..."Evelyn Evelyn" and "Norman." But, the surprising part is, that given a pair of pants and a jacket, you would never suspect that I have over 20 tattoos!

Laura's tumor is named Willy because her daughter and she named him while they waited for the biopsy results.....Willy (will he) be cancer or not? After the biopsy, and until Willy was removed, Laura had a constant taste of peanut butter in her mouth, so her tattoo shows peanuts surrounding him. Her other tumors have tastes, too. 

Laura shows off her socks in the lobby, waiting with her dad. 

Did you move to Seattle for an extended period of time for your treatments?  If so, were there any fun activities in the city you were able to enjoy?

I lived with my Dad in Des Moines for two months. As he is slightly outside of the city, so we didn't do a whole lot in actual Seattle. I made sure to head down to Pike Market and did several trips on the Link Lightrail. My Dad plays in a softball league and his team made it to the gay softball world series in Tampa. For a fundraiser they did a drag night at a bar in Seattle. It was a really fun night. While I was there (July-August), there was a time of really thick smoke that covered the city, so for sure we stayed inside during that week. My Dad has lived in Seattle and the Seattle area for 20 years and I have come up to visit regularly, so I have done most of the usual stuff. With that said, Sierra, the concierge, was on top of suggesting some fun spots to stop for food that was in the Northgate area.

I wanted to make sure I brought fun with me for my 33 treatments. I packed a whole pile of knee-high socks. I called it "fun sock day" whenever I wore them, which was every Friday and any special milestone... such as the first day of school, since it was the first time I ever missed it, my husband's birthday, ect. The staff had a great time with it, making sure to check which fun socks I had on and even asking if there was something special about them. On my last treatment, four of the radiation gals surprised me by wearing fun socks and two of them (the ones treating me that day) wore tiaras. It was so thoughtful and so special. It was touches like that that made me feel like the proton center and all the staff are forever special to me. They will all be missed and I even made sure to tell them two things: one, that I would be that weirdo patient who makes sure to come back and visit; and two, that I would make sure to figure out how to grow a prostate just so I could come back!

Laura and her RTTs celebrate her last day of treatment!

I know I said that I would love to call the staff friends, but if I am being honest, you guys all did such an amazing job, it is more like family. Thank you so much for the most amazing part of my cancer journey thus far. I will never forget my experience and look back with nothing but fondness and love!