A Shining Survivor

Editors Note: This article is part three of a series running in October to recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

By ANNIE MOORE
The Voice-Tribune Intern

Laura Chamberlin has been cancer-free for 1,006 days and she’s not wasting one of them. Chamberlin was diagnosed in 2011 with breast cancer, poorly differentiated ductal carcinoma grade III to be specific. Since her diagnosis, she has been through treatment, surgery, recovery, late night shifts at work and the emotional and physical process of being a cancer survivor. And she did it all her way. Now she wants to share her journey with the world in her new book “Underneath the Pink Ribbon.”

Through the chemotherapy treatments, double mastectomy and all of the doctors visits in between, Chamberlin remained determined to take control of her treatment and make it her own. Part of this was due to the cooperation of her doctors; Drs. Hatmaker, Hargis, Quintero and their teams. This included having a Bible under her pillow and her CD of choice (Simon and Garfunkel’s greatest hits) playing during the double mastectomy.

“One of the reasons I want to write this book, is to show the reality of it,” Chamberlin said. “And also, to empower other women. Even though there are these really aggressive ways of treating breast cancer, there are things you can do to empower yourself. And to make your healing unique and effective for you.”

Part of her mindset about her treatment could be attributed to her profession. Chamberlin is an art therapist, with her official Art Therapy Registration (ART). She works at Our Lady of Peace with teens and young adults who have experienced severe trauma in their own lives.

She has her masters in psychology, mental health counseling and art therapy. During her cancer treatment, Chamberlin worked third shift counseling youth sometimes from 11 p.m. at night to 9 a.m., which is a daunting work schedule to anyone, much more to someone who is in the middle of chemotherapy. But Chamberlin enjoys her work, even more so now that she is able to have a full-time position.

Outside of work she has a mission to share her story. She has recently compiled her personal journals during her treatment and put them into a book she hopes to get published. The book is called Underneath the Pink Ribbon, and provides an intimate, no frills look at her entire experience. She felt it was important to not sugar-coat the experience. One entry chronicled her struggle working those late hours during her treatment.

“September 12, 2011: I’m a little mad at myself. I left my third shift early because I was so exhausted I couldn’t stay awake. I left at 5:30 a.m. and I was supposed to be there until 9 a.m. My body was just so exhausted. I could go back to second shift. I don’t know what to do. Third shift is just so rough on my body. I don’t know if I can pull it together. I’ve got to keep trying though. During my shift I walked up and down the halls to try to stay awake, but I was still exhausted.”

Other entries are more somber and paint a vivid picture of her experience, no holds barred.

“October 7, 2011: Mostly, I’m just trying to survive it. Cancer makes you feel like a raw egg that’s been cracked open and is spilling everywhere, and everyone sees and knows.”

Many other entries include funny stories, and others contain drawings she did as part of her own art therapy. When things would be especially bad, she would write Bible verses in her journal to help reassure her. Verses like Matthew 10:16, James 1:22 and one of her favorites, Psalm 57:1 “Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast.”

Through her journals, Chamberlin also hopes to honor the journey that is breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery, something she feels is missing from today’s dialogue on the disease.

“We just want to celebrate the surviving,” Chamberlin said. “But we want to honor the suffering and the pain and really the depth of what someone goes through.”

This isn’t her only thought about revolutionizing the breast cancer world, not by a long shot. Chamberlin has ideas on how to not only change the discussion, but the treatment, the process and the support system. She even hopes to one day have a program where breast cancer patients and survivors can participate in art therapy with her.

One thing is for sure, Laura Chamberlin is an inspiration. In a month we dedicate to honoring those who are currently suffering from breast cancer, those who have lost their battle, as well as those who have survived it, Chamberlin’s story is right at home. Not only did she survive the disease, she is thriving. Aside from the pink ribbons, bras and charity walks, Chamberlin is a real example of the heroism that is the breast cancer fight.

Her professional life is dedicated to the service and aid to some of the most struggling and at-risk members of our society. And now she is expanding that reach to the world of breast cancer through exposing her own struggles and triumphs with the world, in hopes that other women are helped by hearing her story. Chamberlin’s book includes many quotes from songs by artists such as Simon and Garfunkel, one of which seems extremely fitting to her story.

“Sail on silver girl, sail on by. Your time has come to shine. All your dreams are on their way, see how they shine.”

This silver girl is shining her light on everyone around her, using her inspiring story to help others. You can find more information on her book, and donate to help fund its publishing at www.underneaththepinkribbon.com.