Health Care

A Survivor's Story: Laurie Keniry

This week, Laurie Keniry of Hilton Head Island tells her story.

I'm like that mammogram poster child. I was scheduled for a regular mammogram, and I literally thought about skipping it. I was 46 at the time, no family history. It was one of those things, "Oh, do I really need to go?" It was right before Christmas. Day after Christmas I got a call from the doctor saying, "Don't worry but they're calling everybody back because of this new digital mammogram." I had no lumps. There was nothing I could have felt. I went back for a second mammogram. I had to wait a few days, and the doctor called and said I needed a biopsy. It came back that I had cancer.

Everybody's journey is different. You may have a similar diagnosis, but decisions have to be made for what's best for you. The only option at that point was a mastectomy. I decided to do reconstruction at the same time. As we started to plan, my doctor (Dr. Richard Hussong) called me and said "Why don't you think about having the second breast removed." We talked about it. I decided to have the second breast removed. After surgery and the reconstruction they did a biopsy on those breasts and also found cancer in the second breast.

What I learned the most was that I was a very private person. I'm a teacher (at Hilton Head Island School for the Creative Arts). I have kids. I'm a single mother. We're a private family. What I had to learn was to accept help. We got through this with humor. Once we could laugh about it we knew we could get through it. My best friend, who's a teacher here, would write limericks. When we told the staff, some people started to cry. That's when we said, "Hold on, let's read this limerick." And people would laugh.

My neighbors started buying groceries. The staff here and our church family started providing meals. The school helped with fundraising. That was new for me -- letting go and letting people step in.

We decided to talk through it with the kids in my class. I taught third grade at the time. At first when I told them I had a few kids move away from me. (They'd ask) "Can I catch it?" I was open, without going into too much detail, that the doctors were going to cut it out. I felt that if they were mature enough to ask the questions they were mature to have an honest answer. I didn't try to hide it. I wanted the kids in the class and throughout the school to be able to ask questions. So often people hide. But I felt that wasn't what was needed. They needed to know when I left that day I was coming back. They needed to know that I was going to be OK.