September 21, 2023

What I’ve Learned - "I can do this...again"

Laurie was no stranger to cancer, having survived non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at 27. Even so, that experience did little to ease the shock of a breast cancer later in her life. What worked for her? “Putting one foot in front of the other.”

Although there are millions of people currently facing cancer, it can be a lonely experience. Not only is each cancer case different, but each patient's life beyond the waiting room is filled with unique strengths, challenges, goals, and relationships. In this series, we celebrate the people who are our patients and share what they've learned while charting their own path.

Laurie, a Harvard-trained anthropologist and non-fiction book author, was no stranger to cancer, having survived Stage IIIB non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1977 at 27. Even so, that experience did little to ease her shock in November 2005 when her annual mammogram came back abnormal.  "In my gut, I knew it was cancer again," Laurie recalled.  A needle biopsy confirmed her suspicions: She had stage 2b invasive ductal breast cancer. 

Pinning down her treatment plan was far from straightforward. Laurie’s team had to factor in her previous chemotherapy treatment, which had cured her lymphoma. As a way of eliminating the guesswork, her oncologist recommended using the Oncotype DX Breast Recurrence Score® to determine whether she would benefit from chemotherapy. To her great relief, her Recurrence Score® result of 17 indicated a relatively low risk of her cancer returning. With these results, Laurie opted to forgo chemotherapy.

Today, nearly twenty years after completing radiation therapy and a five-year course of hormonal therapy, Laurie continues to be an avid hiker, long-distance swimmer and tai-chi practitioner, and enjoys excellent health. 

What did life look like for you before the diagnosis?

Ever since my first cancer diagnosis and recovery in 1977, I have wholeheartedly embraced living the best life I can—from eating well, exercising, enjoying loving, kind, relationships, to pursuing meaningful work, volunteerism and gratitude in all the small milestone moments. In short, a “carpe diem, baby!” philosophy. This is not to say my 2005 breast cancer diagnosis wasn’t devastating. While I thought I’d made peace with “there are no guarantees,” a second diagnosis after 30 years rocked me to my core.

You say you have a “survivor toolkit” from your first cancer experience, which helped you with your second. Can you explain what that looked like? What gave you strength during your diagnosis and treatment?

I went into “I can do this…again!” mode. As soon as I found out the needle biopsy results—stage 2b invasive breast cancer—and my oncologist assured me it was treatable, I set myself the singular task of putting one foot in front of the other and committing to whatever effort it took—surgery, radiation, recovery, estrogen suppressors—to restore my health and wholeness. My prior cancer experience taught me not to get ahead of myself and let my fears get the best of me. For example, I bolstered my emotional wellbeing by confining my “information gathering” searches to high-quality sources to avoid misinformation and worst-case scenarios. I also had great trust in my doctor. I was able to ask any question on my mind, and took comfort in the solid, reliable answers he provided me.  

What did you learn from your Oncotype® test result, and how did it impact you?

My Oncotype score of 17 was a critical factor in my doctor’s decision to suggest we forego a second round of chemotherapy. Since I’d received chemotherapy about 30 years prior to treat my non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, I had reached my lifetime levels of certain chemotherapeutic agents and anything more could have resulted in cardiotoxicity or a higher risk of leukemia. My score opened up the possibility of a different treatment path. Not only was I overwhelming relieved, I was grateful for the provisional knowledge that, going forward, the likelihood of recurrence was relatively low. Very liberating.

What support did you need? What did you tell people when they wanted to help?

I put myself first. Not selfishly, but protectively and proactively. Everyone who loves me understood, asked little or nothing of me, and made themselves available if I needed something.  Perhaps because I was no stranger to cancer and my treatment didn’t involve chemotherapy, I was far less traumatized and frightened than I might have been otherwise.

What would you say to someone that was recently diagnosed?

Fear is your worst enemy.  It cannibalizes and obliterates whatever peace, comfort, teachings, and happiness are available to you in the moment—and the moment is the ONLY real thing we all have.  Be brave and discover the courage you never knew you had.

How do you relate to your experience now?

It’s another set of life lessons to add to the many I’ve accumulated over 74 years, and a good reminder that we are all far more vulnerable than we allow ourselves to believe. Life can change in a heartbeat; and we better enjoy the wonder and joy as much of the time as we’re given. Health, kindness, gratitude, and loving are everything.

You love traveling. Did your cancer experience play any part in that, or impact your views on traveling? And do you have any upcoming adventures planned?

Although my cancers have been defining events in my life, they are only two of many moments that have shaped me. That said, I am mindful of how quickly things can change no matter at what age and continue to honor the lessons I learned as a privileged “thriver.” Yet truly, with time and confidence, I have moved on.  They are part of my history, to be sure, but far, far from the whole story. My health history has had no impact whatsoever on my love and pursuit of travel and adventure.  With great anticipation, I’m planning to celebrate my 75th birthday hiking in the Peloponnese, Greece. 

Why do you think it's important to share your experience?

Knowledge is power and the more we can talk and find comfort with one another, the better. If we’re lucky enough to recover and thrive after a cancer diagnosis, there are absolutely silver linings to discover and practice. And if we can bring that awareness back into life, we’ve grabbed the golden ring!

This story reflects one individual’s experience and is not clinical, diagnostic, or treatment advice for any particular patient. Not every person will have the same treatment, experience, outcome, or result. The Oncotype DX Breast Recurrence Score® test is ordered by your health care provider. Talk to your health care provider about whether the Breast Recurrence Score® test may be right for you. To learn more, visit If you've used an Oncotype DX® test and are interested in sharing your story with our team, please get in touch here: We'd love to hear from you!