After Breast Cancer
Survivors embrace health and wellness.
For most of her young life, Laura Ferguson was a gifted athlete. As a girl, she was a competitive swimmer. In high school, she ran track and played field hockey, a sport she also pursued as a young woman. She earned a degree in exercise and sports science. For as long as she could remember, the Newark resident had counted on a healthy body—and her body had responded to the challenge. Then, in 2007, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Ferguson was 28.
“I was in the best shape of my life,” she says. “I had just run a half-marathon in San Francisco with one of my best times ever.” Ferguson underwent chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and reconstructive therapy. She had always been a healthy eater—“I grew up in a house where my mother worked for Weight Watchers”—but Ferguson began paying even stricter attention to her diet. She starts most days with a spinach omelet. She rarely drinks alcohol. Ferguson also developed her own personal pet therapy regimen, adopting a miniature poodle named PJ. “When I was having bad days, he just knew,” she says.
Four years later, she was training for the Seven Sisters race at the beach when her cancer returned. “Another shocker,” she says. After radiation, more chemotherapy and surgery to remove her ovaries, she intensified her focus on healthy living. Getting a good night’s sleep is now a priority. Because her treatment resulted in dramatically reduced estrogen levels, she was at increased risk for osteoporosis. To help keep her bones healthy, she began weight-bearing exercises in a body pump class. “I started at the Y and then bought the whole series so I could do it at home,” she says. “And I’m happy to say my bones are doing fine.” When the weather allows, she rides her bike to work at a bank, a distance of 12 miles.
She carves time out of her workday to walk. “If you walk from one end of the building and back it’s half a mile,” she says. Ferguson also trained for the Avon Breast Cancer two-day walk, covering 39 miles over two days. She hopes to run another half-marathon. “If I have a goal, it helps me to get up and get active so I can maintain a healthy lifestyle,” she says. “Every day is a new day. Everything is a blessing.” Today, at 36, she is strong and focused.
"It has been six years since my diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. I began practicing yoga to relieve stress, but the benefits go beyond stress relief. Flexibility and relaxation are bonuses. I have met some incredible women along the way. I now practice yoga several times a week."
—Ann Athas, Millsboro
“I took advantage of many programs offered by various agencies during and after treatment. Yoga, tai chi, meditation, Fit over Fifty, nutrition classes, self-hypnosis for pain management and others offered by the Cancer Support Community: Nurture with Nature and other [programs] offered through DBCC. I continue with about half to this day, nearly eight years later. Have also changed to much healthier eating and taking supplements.”
—Merry Jones, Dover
Amanda Perdue and Mary Anne LaTorre-Newell
“Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the only thing I can do to keep this cancer from coming back,” Mary Anne LaTorre-Newell says. “I want to be able to say I’ve done everything I can to keep going.” LaTorre-Newell is a registered nurse with training in holistic medicine. She teaches reiki, therapeutic touch and reflexology at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute near her home in Lewes. She also blends aromatherapy with acupressure, facial massage and flower essences.
“They help balance the emotions,” she says. “There’s a connection between the mind, body and the spirit.” LaTorre-Newell, 70, is a seven-year survivor of stage-three breast cancer. Her treatment included chemotherapy, radiation and two surgeries, which made for “a very long year.” At the same time, her husband was diagnosed with lung cancer. He seemed to be responding well to a clinical trial. Then, he took a turn for the worse. “Five days later, he died,” she says. “There was guilt because I survived and he didn’t.” LaTorre-Newell put a positive spin on her illness, embracing it as an inspiration for healthy change. “I lost 30 pounds during chemo and vowed that I would not gain it back,” she says. “I had a dog, and we walked twice a day, every day.”
She also changed the way she eats, emphasizing a diet rich in plants and grains. “I take a little olive oil with garlic, chop an onion, asparagus, zucchinis, red bell peppers and put it over whole-wheat pasta or brown rice,” she says. LaTorre-Newell also had trouble sleeping. Meditation and keeping a journal helped. Today, she practices reiki body balancing every morning, which includes stretching and prayer. “It takes me an hour,” she says. “I rise like yeast. I don’t bounce.” She also takes a weekly yoga class through the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition. She has taken up tai chi. “I’m really into tai chi and slow movement,” she says. “I do the long form.” LaTorre-Newell is filled with energy and recently bicycled through New Zealand. She believes her husband would whole-heartedly approve. “I would be remiss in not living life the way he would want me to,” she says.
“I hike and walk, often with other members of the Wilmington Trail Club. Being active is much easier for me when I am part of a group. I also take international folk dancing, yoga and tai chi through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.”
—Kathy Tidball, New Castle
“Probably the most important thing I have learned is to maintain a positive attitude. Nothing profound, but important to remember. You can visit Pity City, but you can't live there. Things could always be worse. To be comfortable, physically and mentally, I find I need to just keep moving, spend time with friends and laugh as much as possible.”
—Roseanne Cox, Greenville
Amanda Perdue of Magnolia was 28 when she was diagnosed with stage two estrogen-positive breast cancer on Sept. 20, 2013. A month later, she had a double mastectomy and then reconstructive surgery. “After having cancer, I pay more attention to my body,” she says. “Before, I wouldn’t let myself take a nap. Now, I allow myself to rest.” Perdue also pays strict attention to the foods that fuel her body. “We are 90 percent organic now, and the foods we eat are not genetically modified,” she says. “I will eat meat maybe two times a week. I make sure the salmon is wild, not farm-raised. Organic grass-fed beef. Otherwise, it’s beans, lentils. I’m a hippie at heart.”
When Perdue was undergoing radiation, she had acupuncture after her treatments. “I came out of there relaxed,” she says. “My mom and I grew our own aloe for my skin. The doctors were amazed at how well my skin held up because radiation breaks down your skin.” Now, she makes aloe bath gel at home, as well as her own shampoo from castile soap, aloe and essential oils, including jojoba oil, vitamin E oil. She and her husband are growing their own plants from non-modified seeds. “I’m big on purple vegetables. Purple carrots, purple cauliflower, purple potatoes,” she says. “We don’t eat canned vegetables at all, period.” Perdue was a physical education major. That gives her an edge in keeping physically active, an important part of her wellness plan. “We hike. We ride our bikes,” she says. “We enjoy every day.”
“After breast cancer, I started doing yoga at the Y twice a week, and I love it. I've seen a big difference in how I feel and what I am able to do.”
—Patty Laughlin, Magnolia
“I reduced my calorie intake, exercise to include Wii training fitness and sports program, increase treadmill time and incline level, learned belly dancing and Zumba Core.”
—Denise Stokes, Clayton