Laurie Koshers’ cancer diagnosis was a total shock. At 44, she was the picture of health; a lifelong vegetarian who often went for multi-mile runs. She never called in sick to work unless one of her three kids was sick.
She figured that her occasional bloating, weight loss, and irregular bowel movements were just part of the regular aging process or a gluten sensitivity. Laurie’s doctors did not catch on that these symptoms were early warning signs of a serious problem.
In early 2018, the symptoms worsened. Laurie was experiencing severe abdominal pain that was diagnosed as IBS. Laurie tried to manage her stress and started taking laxatives. A few weeks later, a primary care doctor prescribed her antibiotics, thinking that the symptoms may have been coming from a stomach bug.
Over the next few months, the pain and GI problems worsened. On New Year’s Eve, Laurie went to urgent care and then the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with diverticulitis and a ruptured abscess. She was in the ER for three days on pain medication, and had to miss her daughter’s seventh birthday.
On January 12th after a week at home, Laurie’s husband found her on the floor of the bathroom. Laurie was rushed to the hospital where she underwent a major surgery to remove 12 inches of her colon along with a large tumor. She was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer and would undergo immediate chemotherapy.
Six months after Laurie finished a three-month round of chemo, doctors found masses in her pelvis and lungs. Laurie’s cancer had turned aggressive and she was soon diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. Laurie’s ovaries and fallopian tubes were removed. She underwent six more months of chemo and radiation on her lungs. One doctor said that it looked like someone took a salt shaker and sprinkled cancer all through her abdominal cavity.
Once her diagnosis progressed to stage IV, it became clear that Laurie was never going to be rid of her cancer. Laurie used to work as a physical therapy assistant, but now “cancer is a full time job.”
Laurie has three kids, the eldest of whom is about to be 23. Laurie is grateful to have been around to be able to see him graduate college and get his first real job. She worries, though, that he feels pressure to keep it all together for his sisters. Her two daughters live in Asheville with Laurie and her husband, Glen. It’s been important to both of them to be very honest with the kids about Laurie’s health along the way.
After Laurie left her job, the whole family took a summer vacation to Alaska. Laurie and Glen were also able to take a honeymoon vacation that they never had after they got married. Glen’s employer has been flexible and supportive, which has allowed him to be present with Laurie through it all. Glen lost his own mother to lung cancer just ten months before Laurie was diagnosed.
Laurie is now part of a two drug clinical trial at Duke University. Laurie said that while the drugs are not expected to eradicate her cancer, they’re doing their job of “keeping the beast at bay.”
These days, she spends her time exercising, resting a lot, and spending time with her family. She’s focused on the memories she can hold onto and the ones she leaves behind. Every year, Laurie’s whole extended family participates in the local Get Your Rear in Gear – Asheville fundraiser.
As Laurie and I spoke on the phone for this story, her cell service was cutting in and out. She was calling from her hotel near Duke, where she travels every other week for treatment. Towards the end of our conversation, she paused through sniffles and laughed: “My mom is sitting next to me, passing me tissues while we’re talking.” Laurie’s advice to others who are dealing with cancer is not to feel pressure to display positivity all the time. “It’s okay to be wherever you are.” Sometimes, you just need someone to sit next to you and pass tissues while you cry, and that’s enough.RETURN TO FACES OF BLUE Young Onset Colorectal Cancer SIGNS & SYMPTOMS