Tumor Site: Breast
Age at time of Diagnosis: 29 years
Date of Diagnosis: June 2002
Location: Alaska, USA
M.D. Anderson and Providence(Ancorage)
Dr. Michael Burgess and Dr. Latha Subramaniam
Too Many to List
(Written by her friend Stephanie) She was of the majority who toil their lives away in relative obscurity,
who lead good lives, who make better communities and who touch those around them. Laura was a lifelong
Valley resident, a mother, a wife, a friend and a dedicated lawyer. Sadly, her life was cut short last
week at age 33 after surviving four years with angiosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Her obituary was
filled with praise for her good works, her love of the outdoors, her perpetual smile. But it was also
notable for what it lacked. She was not a grandmother. She had not retired from a long career. She had
not lived to see her daughter, Alexa, start school. I knew Laura McDonald as a friend. I met her
professionally when she worked as a reporter at the Frontiersman newspaper, but came to know her much
better as a member of a mothers' group formed shortly after our children were born in 2002. Swapping
stories about the trials and tribulations as well as the joys of motherhood drew us close. What I remember
most about her was her tall, model-thin good looks, her smile, and her unrelenting fortitude in the face
of challenges that would have had me wallowing in self-pity. Throughout those four years, she always tried
to minimize her problems. At one of our first playgroup dates, I remember walking with her in our backyard
and commenting on her 'new hairstyle.' At the time I had no idea of her cancer. Oh, she explained with a
smile, it's actually a wig and, 'Oh yes, by the way, I had cancer.' Hers was a very aggressive type of cancer,
one she discovered while she was pregnant. But she was in remission; her hair was growing back. Then doctors
found a tumor on her back, and a spot on her liver. I remember the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I didn't want to believe it. I thought, 'No, they'll take it out. It'll get better. Laura will fight it.' I
can't fathom the amount of pain -- physical and mental -- Laura experienced. I lost track of all the chemotherapy
and radiation appointments, all the complications. The pain was so intense at one point that doctors thought
she might have a fractured hip and talked about doing hip replacement surgery. Another time she came down with
shingles, an adult form of chicken pox. At her memorial service Sunday, more than 200 people packed the Palmer
train depot. They represented a broad cross-section of the Valley. There were fellow journalists, fellow lawyers,
a court clerk, firefighters and a Superior Court judge. Laura's father, Allen Mitchell, in a tear-tinged speech
said his daughter never wanted to talk about her cancer. She never asked the question: Why me? Others did. He did.
Rachel Levitt, Laura's neighbor and fellow public defender, her voice cracking, said Laura's being gone seemed so
wrong it was like looking up and seeing a hole in the sky. There was no reason it had to be Laura. A twist of fate
gave her a disease that could have struck any of us. Her death will not make the history books, but her epitaph will
be the best any of us could hope for: She lived well. She was loved by many.
Gemzar+taxotere while studying for and passing the bar exam. Her tumors shrunk to the point that she had surgical
resection of the liver tumor at M D Anderson in January 2006. An MRI in March of 2006 showed tumors returned to
spine and liver plus her pelvis. She then had 3 rounds of Doxil (no response) followed by 3 rounds of high dose
ifosfamide and much radiation to control pain in her spine and hips. Her blood counts prevented any further chemo
or other treatments.
She lived life to the fullest both before and during her treatment. She worked as a public defender up until
three months before she died. I remember once when she participated in a trial by phone while she recieving chemo.
She never complained and never asked 'why me'. Like all sarcoma patients she was tough and somehow found the
courage and strength to endure all that life threw her way...and it was more than I could have imagined.
The only way we live with the loss is through her daughter Alexa and to ensure that she knows as much about
her mother's courage as we can give to her.
Love them and be there for them. Sometimes when the going gets really tough, they may tell you to go away,
but don't, not even for a minute.
I miss you Laura, but rest in the knowledge that Alexa will
know you like no other little girl has known their mother.
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