Finding the Finish Line
A Nurse’s Race to Breast Cancer Recovery
Published December 2021
Laura Lundstrom, RN, now 44, has had a goal to run in all 50 states by the time she turns 50. But when she went to get a mammogram just before her 42nd birthday, she had to put that goal on hold.
She had a tumor, an invasive ductal carcinoma, in her right breast.
"I didn't have many symptoms at all, and I have no family history of breast cancer," she explains. "I was shocked."
Choosing Proton Therapy
Laura is a registered nurse at Northwestern Medicine and has two children at home. She was determined to preserve her quality of life and to prevent reoccurrence of the cancer. After a bilateral mastectomy and chemotherapy, Laura and her team decided to pursue proton therapy at Northwestern Medicine Proton Center so they could target lymph nodes without risking possible complications of a second surgery.
Her care team included:
- Batul Al-Zubeidy, MD, breast surgeon
- Dragana Tomic, MD, medical oncologist
- Arpi Thukral, MD, radiation oncologist
Proton therapy is an advanced form of radiation therapy that treats tumors with a precise dose of radiation that conforms to the shape of the tumor, Dr. Thukral explains. This reduces the risk of side effects and damage to surrounding healthy tissues.
"We didn't want to risk missing anything, and we were looking to preserve and protect my organs as much as possible," Laura says.
That summer, Laura underwent 28 days of proton therapy.
"It was hard," she says. "But it was one summer, and it was worth it."
Laura praises the physicians, the nurses and the whole clinical team at Northwestern Medicine Proton Center. Given everything, she and her husband were still able to take her family vacation in August after she finished treatment.
Getting Back on the Run
Just three weeks after her final treatment, Laura ran in her 21st state and raised more than $2,000 for cancer research. Now, she is looking forward to spring 2022, when Northwestern Medicine Plastic Surgeon Michael A. Howard, MD, and his team plan to complete Laura's reconstructive surgery.
Back on track to reach her goal of 50 by 50, Laura is also using her experience to champion breast health. She says her cancer journey has helped motivate her friends and peers to get mammograms.
"As a nurse, I've tried to educate that it can happen to people who are younger and have no history," she says. "Don't wait. Get a mammogram."