Cancer Stole My Normal but the Cone Health Team Gave it Back
Laura Williston Kilpatrick grew up in Charlotte the only daughter of two veterinarians who encouraged her love of nature, art, gardening and animals. Laura went to UNC-Chapel Hill where she got a degree in psychology. Laura’s husband, Mike, grew up in Greensboro and played football at Grimsley High School, and later at Western Carolina. After high school, Laura went to UNC-Chapel Hill. Friends introduced them in 2009. Recognizing a kindred spirit, they fell in love and have been together ever since.
Laura and Mike got married in June 2011. They recently moved into their dream home. It has large hardwood trees and an antique tree swing, a sunroom for growing both herbs and flowers, cool restaurants close by and a grocery you can walk to.
In addition to sharing their love of dogs, the couple shares a love of yardwork and gardening. Laura's parents are restoring a farmhouse and, someday, the couple looks forward to their time tending to a kitchen garden of tomatoes and other vegetables as well as flowers – perhaps selling them from their own stand at a neighborhood farmers’ market.
Passionate about sharing her love of Baptiste yoga, Laura works as an ambassador at a local yoga studio and is working towards becoming a teacher. In fact, she has Mike going with her to classes these days and the couple now enjoys going to fun events around town, like ‘Yoga on Tap’ where class is held on the floors of local hot spots or breweries. The rest is her story…
Laura’s Dream Wedding
June weddings are beautiful, and especially so in North Carolina. Laura and Mike got married at a friend’s family’s vineyard in Mayodan.
From table decorations to the flowers she carried, everything incorporated into their wedding was natural and loaded with special meaning.
Laura wore the long, 20-foot veil she had used as a little girl when she played dress-up. Mike wore a charm close to his heart that Laura had given him. In it was a picture of his beloved grandfather. Mike presented his new bride to wedding guests from the bucket of a tractor which he drove through rows at the vineyard. On their honeymoon, Laura and Mike enjoyed zip-lining, hiking and snorkeling, along with many other adventurous sports while visiting the West Coast of Costa Rica.
Not Your Everyday Honeymoon
Life can throw you a curveball when you least expect it. That certainly happened to Laura and Mike. Laura started bleeding abnormally on the return trip from her honeymoon. After being referred to the Cone Health Cancer Center, it was determined that Laura had a large cervical tumor and an aggressive form of cancer.
Daniel Clarke-Pearson, MD, one of the nation’s preeminent gynecological oncologists and specialty surgeons, evaluated Laura’s case. He determined that a radical hysterectomy was needed immediately.
“At that moment, I didn’t hear that I had cancer. What I heard was that my ability to carry a baby would be gone," says Laura.
Taking Laura’s youth and newly married life into consideration, and knowing that she and Mike were looking forward to being parents one day, Dr. Clarke-Pearson worked with others on the care team to make sure Laura’s surgery was done in a way that left her ovaries intact, tucked up and protected from the radiation treatments for future egg retrieval/harvesting.
“When I met Laura, she’d just gotten back from her honeymoon. She’s a bright, energetic young woman. That’s an emotionally trying time to be diagnosed with a potentially fatal cancer. She had done everything right. She got regular check-ups. In fact, she had just had a check-up a few months before her wedding.“ says James Kinard, MD, Radiation Oncologist
After surgery, Laura was treated for 5 weeks with 25 treatments of pelvic radiation therapy, using the latest in new equipment and advanced radiation technique that would sculpt the radiation beam around vital organs and treat just the specific area.
"Cancer Stole My Normal but the Cone Health Care Team Gave it Back to Me."
Laura Williston Kilpatrick
“During my treatment, I was so sick, weak, and removed from what I had always known as "normal" that my 4:00 p.m. appointments at the Cancer Center gave me something to look forward to every day. Even though I was there for treatment, that 30 minutes that I spent with the radiology team was filled with conversations that a newly married 29-year-old should be having. It was the closest feeling to "normal" that I felt," says Laura. "In fact, every day I’d come home with lipstick marks on my cheek from Toni’s kisses. I treasured them.”
“Laura is a beautiful young lady with a beautiful spirit. When you have cancer, it can take away our inner being – that spirit that makes us who we are. A positive attitude is 99 percent of the journey. Laura had that outlook. She was bound to beat it (cancer).” says Robin Bass, RN. “When I see Laura now, it makes me smile to know that she made it through the battle…still a newlywed, happily married and moving on to the different chapters of her life.”
Normal sometimes happens on the way to getting the care you need. For Laura, she felt it from the moment she left her car with the valet parking team at the entrance to the Cone Health Cancer Center. There, Ashley and Hobie were always smiling and remembered her name. Hobie, over six feet tall, would not adjust the car seat to drive it, so she would smile to herself as he drove up with his knees in his face.
“They all gave me moments of normal during a time that is the furthest thing from normal,” says Laura. "As happy as I was on the last day of treatment, that day was also one of the saddest because I was leaving my team. They had become such a big part of my life. They gave me a Christmas ornament that will always be on our tree.”
Not Your Every Day Refrigerator Picture
After her surgery, radiation treatments and chemotherapy at Cone Health Cancer Center, Laura went through two egg retrieval/harvesting procedures at UNC Hospitals. During the first procedure, two of her eggs were retrieved.
Four eggs were retrieved from the second procedure. These eggs were then fertilized in vitro and frozen as embryos for the couple’s use in the future.
Today, this image of the six embryos is a cherished reflection of the couple’s love and determination to become parents.