Laura Carfang and her boyfriend, William Laferriere, enjoyed an active fun-filled life in Boston for years, until last year. She noticed a lump on her breast and went in to her doctor for a check-up.
“When you get that phone call, you don’t know what to think,” says Laura. “There’s a million thoughts going through your head.”
The 34-year-old was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“What I thought was going to be a routine…check-up to say, ‘Don’t worry about anything, you’re going to be fine,’ ended up turning into two weeks of anxiety while all of the biopsies were being tested, to eventually finding out that I did have breast cancer,” she says.
Laura had a cancerous tumor on her breast and cancerous cells in her lymph nodes. She underwent chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. Today, she is cancer-free.
The diagnosis for breast cancer patients like Laura is improving. That’s thanks to the work being done by people like Dr. Johnathan Whetstine at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Charlestown.
“We study basically how DNA structure is organized and impacts how extra DNA is made,” Whetstine says.
The hope is that their work will uncover novel drug treatments for individual patients like Laura.
“Anything that we can get closer and closer to look at at the granular level to figure out how we can advance this research and save lives the better,” she says.
And Laura believes her life is better because of all she’s been through, even if it took William to help her see it.
“She said to me, ‘It’s really been the worst year of my life,'” William remembers of a recent conversation. “And I just looked at her and I said, ‘No this has been the absolute best year of your life.’ And she did look at me like I had two heads. And I said, ‘You beat cancer.'”
Whetstine and many of his colleagues will be participating in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk this Sunday as well. He says it allows them to put a human face on the disease they are trying to cure.
“It allows my lab members to be exposed to somebody who lost somebody, or someone who’s fighting the disease,” says Whetstine, who lost his own father to pancreatic cancer just two weeks after he was diagnosed. “[That] empowers them to work even harder, want it more, understand why what they do matters.”
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