Breast cancer survivor and Texas Oncology–Southwest Fort Worth patient Laurel Erb was diagnosed two and a half years ago with breast cancer. Now in the survivorship stage of her cancer journey, Laurel credits cancer for giving her life purpose, to help others along the way.
Here's Her Full Story:
It all started on an ordinary day when she received "that letter" in the mail.
"My husband Merle said nonchalantly, 'looks like your annual mammogram report', which I thought would be good," she said.
But the words "questionable results requiring further examination" gave her pause to reflect on her mother who died from breast cancer in 2003.
"I immediately called to make arrangements for a more detailed mammogram and sonogram, and took the first available appointment the following day," she said. "It was concluded I would need a biopsy."
With her husband and her sister, Dana, by her side, a radiologist performed Erb's biopsy. Even though Erb believed it was only a "false alarm," her radiologist recommended she see a breast surgeon because it seemed "suspicious."
When the results of Erb's biopsy came back, it was confirmed. She had cancer.
"Those words pierced my spirit," shared Erb. "I began to feel numb. Tears pooled in my eyes while my mind swirled with so many questions and disbelief."
Erb was surprised to find that her cancer was different from her late mother's.
"Mine was hormonal with a high proliferation rate, which meant it was aggressive," she explained.
As Erb continued listening to the details of her diagnosis, she said her back yard filled with doves.
"God's sign of peace," shared Erb.
"Cancer. It's a six-letter word that makes a big impact, and yet it's not even a sentence," said Erb. "I used to think of the word 'cancer' as a death sentence. But there is life after cancer. I'm proof positive."
Even after her cancer was confirmed, Erb never said, "why me?"
"I thought to myself, 'why not me?', after all, cancer is an 'Equal Opportunity Disease.'"
Oncologists as Educators and Guides
Erb was referred to a local breast surgeon as well as Texas Oncology–Southwest Fort Worth Hematologist and Medical Oncologist Christi Aitelli, M.D., who guided her through four rounds of chemotherapy treatment.
"I was referred to Dr. Aitelli at Texas Oncology and I praise God every day," said Erb. "She's empathetic; she listens to what I have to say. She's careful to make sure I understand everything. She's been that way from day one."
The location of her treatment was also important to Erb. "It was a lot more convenient that I could stay close to home (for treatment)," Erb said. "I have all of my family, friends, and church here. It's a huge support base, which is very important in your recovery. I'm really glad I stayed close to home. It's quite remarkable how easy it all was."
The Day of the Surgery
"Since the tumor was small, a lumpectomy was recommended," Erb said.
Surgery revealed the cancer had spread to two lymph nodes, and was therefore, stage II.
"Due to the lymph node involvement, 21 lymph nodes were removed for good measure," said Erb.
She completed four chemotherapy treatments under the care of Dr. Aitelli, followed by 33 daily radiation treatments performed by Texas Oncology–Southwest Fort Worth Radiation Oncologist Harold Freeman, M.D.
Erb was prescribed a hormone blocker that she would be required to take for approximately five years because her cancer was hormonal.
"I lovingly refer to the blocker as my 'too much woman' pill because I'm just too much woman," she said.
Living a 'New Normal' Life
"I have been cancer-free for over two years," shared Erb.
Her life after beating cancer includes eating right and exercising regularly. "I'm feeling great," Erb said. With more energy, she shared she even participates in line dancing two days a week with some friends at church.
As Erb reflects on her journey through 'Cancerville' – a term she coined during treatment – she realizes just how much her life has changed.
"I have a new normal which means no hot tubs, pedicures or manicures, and some restrictions on diet and air travel," said Erb. "I have lymphedema as a result of the lymph node removal, so I get to wear a beautiful sleeve on my left arm and gauntlet, which stimulates questions. But I see it as an opportunity to share what God has done and continues to do in my life.
Through this experience, I want to help others navigate the waters for hope, healing, and recovery."
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