TCU Daily Skiff Thursday, April 8, 2004
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Student beats cancer, helps others
TCU breast cancer survivor runs race to help expand research into treatment options.


By John Anderson
Staff Reporter


She ran her race and won. Now she runs a race for others.

Tarrant County’s affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, a nonprofit organization that promotes breast care awareness and research, is preparing for its 12th annual 5K run at 8 a.m. Saturday in Sundance Square.

Laura Martin, a senior kinesiology major, plans on being at the starting line with her fiancé, but her true race began 19 months ago.

When she was 19, Martin was diagnosed with breast cancer during the fall of her junior year.

“I felt like it wasn’t really happening to me,” Martin said. “For the first couple of weeks, I wouldn’t say that I had cancer, only that I had a malignant tumor. For some reason the ‘c’ word was too scary.”

The news came as a shock to Martin’s friends as well.

“I remember leaving art class and having 10 messages from her mom on my phone, telling me to come to the hospital,” said Eleanor Burkett, a senior theater performance major and close friend of Martin’s. “They waited until I got there to tell her the news.

“She didn’t believe us at first,” Burkett said. “She was scared and was crying but, she is the strongest woman I know so I knew she could beat it.”

Martin beat the odds, said Bether Netherby, vice chairwoman for the race.

“Laura is the exception,” Netherby said. “You will have a lot of TCU students that are affected by parents, grandparents and relatives, but you are not going to have that many breast cancer survivors that are TCU students.”

Among the 13,000 expected runners Saturday is Martin’s fiancé, Justin Schlager.
Martin called Schlager, her then ex-boyfriend, in Wichita Falls after a biopsy revealed the tumor was malignant.

The two had been separated for nine months and had barely talked to each other.
Schlager said he wasn’t picking up her phone calls at first, but realized that something serious had happened by how frequent his phone started to ring.

Martin and Schlager first met at a power lifting competition, where Schlager won “best lifter,” and Martin handed out the trophies.

“I thought she wanted to date one of my friends,” Schlager said. “But I approached her and gave her my number.”

The biopsy was one of three surgeries Martin would have but it was enough for Schlager to visit Martin while she was recovering and rekindle their relationship.

“The first surgery made me realize that we should be together,” Schlager said. “We started talking about us, and two weeks later we were officially back together.”

After her biopsy, Martin had a mastectomy— the removal of breast tissu e to completely remove the tumor— and then replaced the lost tissue with an implant.

The recovery process forced Martin to take a semester off in the fall of 2002 and move in with her brother.

Burkett said she moved in for three weeks to trade off shifts with Martin’s brother.
“She had drainage pumps that she couldn’t drain by herself so I would help with that, taking her to see her doctor and reminding her when to take her medicine,” Burkett said.

Schlager started making frequent trips from Wichita Falls to visit his recovering girlfriend.

“I didn’t want to lose her,” Schlager said. “I would go down there three days a week, as often as I could.”

Martin said it didn’t take long to recover physically but the emotional recovery did take some time.

“It took a while,” Martin said. “I can’t remember a day that everything became OK.”

Burkett said Schlager adds to Martin’s strength and had a lot to do with her recovery.

Four months after Martin’s last surgery, Schlager proposed during a weekend of driving four wheelers next to the Red River.

“I had a huge sign made that said, ‘Laura, will you marry me?’ hanging next to the river,” Schlager said. “I had the ring in my pocket and she stopped when she saw the sign, and then I proposed, right in front of 20 friends and family.”

Martin says she is cancer free now. She returned to TCU in spring 2003 and ran in The Race for the Cure 5K run. When she does it again this weekend, she will be accompanied by Schlager.

“She is doing so great,” Burkett said. “She is planning her wedding and got certified to be a personal trainer.”

Martin graduates in December, and her wedding is set for New Years Eve.
Martin and Schlager plan to move to Wichita Falls, where she has been put in charge of starting a new Race for the Cure run.

“She wants to volunteer her time and help breast cancer patients going through a hard time,” Schlager said. “I think she wants to make it a pretty big part of her life.”
Martin said that before she had her biopsy, two doctors told her she was too young for the lump in her breast to be cancer.

“I think people should be aware that this disease isn’t a post menopausal disease,” Martin said. “It’s not discriminatory against age, sex, or race, and doesn’t care if you’re young, old, man or woman.”

Given the chance, Martin said she wouldn’t want to change the fact that she got cancer.
“It made me realize what is important in life,” Martin said. “I don’t think you can live life wishing you could change what has happened to you. Some things are out of our control. It’s what we do with them after the fact that matters.”

Sarah Chacko/Photo Editorn
Laura Martin, a senior kinesiology major, and fiancé Justin Schlager rekindled their relationship after Martin received news of her breast cancer.
 
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