JBU Stories - Laura Merwin

The heart of JBU is our people. Here are their stories.

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As a freshman in high school, Laura Merwin was dealt a life-altering blow when doctors told her she had cancer. But God used that experience to not only grow her faith but to put her on a career path of ministering to others with similar needs.

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"In that moment the Lord just kind of came and was like, 'this is why you're doing nursing...to help the least of these, to help the people who need help.'"

Show Transcript

Julie:

Welcome to the JBU Stories Podcast. I'm your host, Julie Gumm, director of university marketing and communications at John Brown University. I'm also an alum and a current parent, so I get to see JBU from all sides. The heart of JBU is really our people: our students, alumni, faculty, and staff. JBU Stories Podcast is where we get to introduce you to these amazing people and hear their stories. On the podcast with me today is Laura Merwin. Laura is a senior JBU nursing student from Kansas City, and I've actually had the privilege of getting to know Laura because she was a student worker in my office for a couple of years, and so I'm excited to have her on the show today to share her story with you. Welcome Laura.

Laura:

 Thank you. So good to be here.

Julie:

 So tell us a little bit about yourself. Just introduce our viewers to who you are.

Laura:

So kind of as you said, I'm from Kansas City, Missouri. Missouri side. It's better. And I have five sisters. They're all married. I've grown up in the Kansas City area, but my sisters have actually grown up in Rochester. We moved to Kansas City when I was really young, and I have so many nieces and nephews, 14. My parents are very busy being with them and visiting them and stuff.

 Julie:

  So tell us a little bit about yourself. Just introduce our viewers to who you are.

 Laura:

 So kind of as you said, I'm from Kansas City, Missouri. Missouri side. It's better. And I have five sisters. They're all married. I've grown up in the Kansas City area, but my sisters have actually grown up in Rochester. We moved to Kansas City when I was really young, and I have so many nieces and nephews, 14. My parents are very busy being with them and visiting them and stuff.

 Julie:

 That's awesome. So tell me a little bit, we're going to kind of start your story as a freshman in high school, and so tell me what you were like as a freshman. What kind of things were you involved in? What were your hobbies?

 Laura:

 Yeah, so my freshman year of high school I had just transferred to a new school. I had gone to a pretty small private school, and then I transferred to a high school with 400 people. So to get involved and get myself oriented to a lot of people, I joined volleyball, and I was pretty active in sports and academics, and I was, in my head, on this fast track to go to volleyball every single day, workout a lot, and to be in Varsity by my sophomore year. And so volleyball was my life along with academics, and I worked really hard at both.

 Julie:

 So you were pretty self-motivated, driven person, naturally.

Laura:

 Yes. 

 Julie:

 Yes. I know that from you working in my office. Okay. So then talk me through, in January, 2013, what year were you in high school?

 Laura:

I was still a freshman.

 Julie: 

 You were still a freshman. Okay. So you've been in this new school for a semester and in that January you get a diagnosis that changes your life dramatically. Tell me about that.

 Laura:

 Yeah, so as I said, I just oriented. Volleyball season had just ended. So I like had oriented all my friends and had my rhythm in, and I just started club volleyball, which I had been wanting to do for so long. And I started getting sick, and then I got this diagnosis of cancer, and I was, yeah, a freshman in high school and my whole world just changed.

 

 I just remember the doctor coming in and seeing her face and seeing my dad's face and my mom's face and just being like, "Oh my gosh, this is not good." And then she just said, "You have acute lymphoblastic leukemia." And I was like, "I don't even know what that means."

Julie: 

 I have to Google that.

Laura:

 Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Julie: 

 So, in the immediate news, where was your brain going? What were you thinking? What were your concerns?

Laura: 

I didn't realize how much my life was gonna change when I first got the diagnosis. I remember originally, I told my dad quite soon after she said those words, just like, "I don't want to be angry with the Lord." 'Cause I kind of feel like a lot of people get a diagnosis like that and immediately are like, "God!"

Julie:

 Yeah, yeah.

Laura:

And so I didn't want to respond that way. And so that actually set me up for a lot of success throughout my walk. Definitely were angry moments. But I think that was my first initial response. And then as I started telling friends and telling family, my perception was like, "Oh wow. Nothing's going to be the same anymore."

Julie:

Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So talk to me about what was that like? What was your treatment like? How did that affect just high school everyday life?

Laura: 

Yeah, so I, that next day after I'd been diagnosed, January 29th, I started the procedures and things to get me going for chemotherapy. And so that first week I was in the hospital, and I just kind of missed school. And then once I got out of the hospital I was pretty weak. I lost a lot of muscle, and volleyball stamina, and all that stuff.

So I remember going to my volleyball team and telling them and trying to even just run a drill with them, and I couldn't. And then that set the trajectory to mainly just focusing on cancer, and chemotherapy, and getting better. So we moved through lots of chemotherapy treatments and we did some alternative medicines and vitamin C and just different things in tandem with the chemotherapy. And it was predicted that I would be in remission, which is like having the lowest amount of cancer in your body to remain healthy as a cancer patient.

It was predicted that I would reach that moment 28 days from my first treatment.

Julie:

 Wow. Okay.

Laura:

 That didn't happen. 

Julie:

Yes. 

Laura:

So I got tested, and then they got the results back and they're like, "Okay, interesting. This is not working."

Julie: 

So what were your feelings at that point then? Because you probably had kind of set that, "Oh, okay, I can do that." That's a month. Yeah, it doesn't mean you're back to 100% at the end of the month, but I can do a month of something really hard.

Laura:

Oh yeah. 

Julie:

Now they're saying, "Oh wait, there's more." What did that do to your attitude?

Laura:

Yeah. So, remission was like, "Okay, remission." What you said, like, I can do that. Easy peasy. And then I was scheduled to do maintenance treatment for the next two years.

 

And so that fell out of my ears. I chose not to hear the doctor on that one until later when my dad was like, "Hey, you're supposed to do this for two years." And I was like, "Oh, funny. Interesting."

 But when I didn't reach remission, I was like, "Okay. Setback. Let's move forward." What's next? Kind of was the idea. And so we did another harsher treatment. Still just chemotherapy, IV solution stuff and another 28 days of, "Okay, we're going to let this sit, and we're gonna let it whatever, do whatever it needs to do in your body."

Julie:

 Kill all the bad cells. 

Laura:

Yes, exactly. Essentially. And then we'll test you again in 28 days-ish. And so again, 28 days tested like, "Okay, this is it, this is it. Moving on." And then we get the results and again, not remission. And so that was the moment that I think I was like, "Okay Lord, what are you doing? I don't understand."

Julie:

Describe your family and your parents, and how they reacted and helped you through the situation, your siblings. Were any of your sisters still living at home during this time?

Laura:

 Yeah. So... I have to think. At this point there were two sisters living in Kansas City.

Julie:

 Okay.

 Laura:

Three of them were living elsewhere.

Julie:

Okay, okay. 

Laura:

Actually, no, sorry. Three were living in Kansas City, three were living outside. 

Julie:

Okay.

Laura:

Yes. And originally they all kind of came in together. I remember I was tied up in the bed, like asleep, and I just woke up to all my sisters either on FaceTime or in the room physically just talking about what was going to happen, what were the treatment options, what were we going to do when I was first diagnosed in January, and just being like, "Oh my Lord, thank you so much for this." That's how it like happened. It worked throughout the entirety of my treatment.

Julie:

Having the whole family support you. 

Laura:

Yeah.

Julie:

It's awesome. So now we've gone through two rounds and no success. You guys had to take it to a whole 'nother level.

Laura:

Yes.

Julie:

Talk about that.

Laura:

Yes. So we had another round of that disappointment with trying new chemotherapy and so-

Julie:

So three rounds total?

Laura:

Yes. Lots of discouragement at that point. And so they came into this idea of like, "Okay, we're going to do a really harsh one. You're going to be in the hospital and that should put you in remission." So that actually worked, which is a huge blessing. And at this point it was June.

Julie:

So pretty much your entire spring semester of freshman year?

Laura:

Yes, and I was out of school for this time doing tutoring through my school. It's called Home Bound, is what it was called, and the teachers would just send work and-

Julie:

Trying to keep you going and not too far behind, yeah.

Laura:

Yes. And so this point it was summer, so I didn't really have to worry about it, which was actually perfect. And they gave me a rest for about the month of July essentially. And they said during that time, "Hey, because the cancer was so hard to get rid of, we're recommending a bone marrow transplant."

Julie:

Okay.

Laura:

Which is a pretty intense procedure. 

Julie:

Yes. Yeah. And so your sister Johanna, actually ended up being your bone marrow transplant donor. And so talk about, what was the recovery like from that? What was that process?

Laura:

Pretty extensive. I had to essentially go through the whole transplant process. Any transplant you're trying to kill and kind of disable the organ or whatever it is. And so that's what they did. So I went through three days of radiation twice a day and then was admitted to the hospital in the beginning of August and went through three, four days of really intense chemotherapy to essentially kill off my bone marrow, my blood.

Julie:

Right.

Laura:

'Cause you have three factories in your bone marrow. Not to get all nursing.

Julie:

But, nursing student.

Laura:

You have three factories, your platelets, and your white blood cells, and your red blood cells. And you have these cells called stem cells that essentially can differentiate and produce these different blood cells, whatever your body needs.

Julie:

Right.

Laura:

And to kill all of it off, they had to give me these intense radiation and chemotherapy drugs so that we could transplant with good cells that would not only make the white blood cells that I needed, which is where the cancer was, but also the rest of them.

Julie:

Right. 

Laura: 

So that was a pretty extensive process then. And then the recovery was even harder, I guess I would say.

Julie: 

 Okay.

Laura:

Because whenever your immune system is killed off, you don't have anything to fight. And so I was admitted to the hospital from the end of July to August 30th.

Julie:

Okay. Wow.

Laura: 

And just recovering, and I pretty much couldn't get out of my bed. Walking down the hall was the worst, and my nurses and my parents made me do it all the time.

Julie:

So for somebody who's really driven and really active, being in a position like that where you can't. That messes with your head a lot.

Laura:

Yes.

Julie:

What was that like for you, and how did you kind of combat the negative attitude and any anger and that sort of thing?

Laura: 

 Yeah. I think it was interesting because a lot of what I learned in the past disappointments about anger and struggling with the Lord, I was able to use in my bone marrow transplant time. There was a huge moment with my dad where the third disappointment came of like, "Your body isn't good enough to reach remission." And that's how I took it in my brain. Like, “I'm not good enough. I can't strive enough to do this. There's literally nothing else I can do,” which is the worst for an achiever.

 And so I just remember sitting with the Lord and with my father and just being like, "God, if you're going to take me, take me now because there's nothing else to do. Literally can't do anything."

And then just reaching that rock bottom place and moving forward. Just like, "Okay Lord, hands open. I don't know what else to do. Your will be done." Kind of stuff.

 And so with bone marrow transplant, that's essentially what happened too. I can't get up out of my bed by myself. I have to hold on to my IV pole, or my parents, or a walker and a lot of other side effects that just left me pretty depleted physically and emotionally. So honestly, there's a lot of bone marrow transplant I think I've blocked out a little bit emotionally. But it was a pretty desolate place. But also I think the Lord, through my parents and family really, really met me there.

Julie:

Yeah. We do tend to do that a lot of times in some of our hardest situations. We block out some. It's the brain's way of protecting us a little bit, I think sometimes.

Laura:

Yes. 

Julie:

So that's good. Okay, so this whole experience, you are into remission, probably takes you awhile to build back up your strength.

Laura:

Yes.

Julie:

When did you start being able to play volleyball again or any of that? Did you play volleyball again?

Laura:

Yes. So dreams of being varsity in sophomore year was destroyed. But I took that whole entire year to really recuperate, I guess you could say. So I went from completely bed read into then rising up to be able to walk. I remember going back to my old school and seeing somebody I hadn't seen in a long time and trying to run to them, and I had tripped over my feet cause my muscles weren't strong enough to run. It's the weirdest feeling ever.

So I kind went from toddler baby muscles and immune system to fully capable. So no, didn't fully play volleyball with a team again. But started playing other sports, soccer, with my friends and just random stuff. It took a little bit to build my confidence back up too. With just sports and kind of who I used to be because I have lived this whole entire different life of cancer and none of my high school friends really were … some of them visited and lived it with me a little bit, but I had to reenter into this culture shock of, "Oh 400 students in my class and halls with people, and, I don't know, people."

Julie:

Well, and I imagine it changes your perspective on the importance of different things, and, not to knock anybody else's priorities, but if you haven't lived through those experiences, it's hard to identify a lot. So did you feel lonely at times? Having be the only person over here that's doing this? That has done this thing?

Laura:

Well, I think even like as much of an achiever I am, I also enjoy being behind the scenes. And so being the cancer girl that came back was actually really difficult for me.

Julie:

Oh okay, yeah.

Laura: 

I had really short hair and just things that you don't think about as a non-cancer patient. People would stare at me because they thought I was either a guy or weird, why do you have no hair? You know, just random stuff. And by the time I got back to school I had a little ‘fro, which is kind of fun, but also no girl in high school as a junior has a little ‘fro-

Julie:

Yeah, would have chosen that hairstyle.

Laura:

So I think it was cool because the Lord came alongside and was like, "Hey, I'm your confidence, not what people think of you." Even like coming into college, it took a lot for me to like, "Okay, who am I? What does this look like?" 'Cause I wore the cancer identity for awhile and because sports wasn't a thing anymore, it was the whole academic stuff. And then when I came into college that changed too.

Julie:

So what was your identity when you came to college?

Laura:

Well, I tried the academic thing for a while and then nursing school happened. 

Julie:

So I was going to say, I think a lot of times no matter how motivated you are and how well you do in academics in high school, coming into college, it's a little eye-opening and a little humbling. I remember that myself as a student being like, "Oh, I'm going to have to work for those grades a little harder than I did."

Laura:

Freshman year wasn't terrible. But junior year or in sophomore year too, some of the nursing classes and just like preparing, I was like, "Oh, this is what it's like."

Julie:

This is intense. 

Okay, so let's back up a little bit. So this experience helped drive your goals for your future. Talk about that a little bit because that's what led you to where you are today. 

Laura:

Yes. So, before cancer, I wanted to be an FBI Agent.

Julie:

Oh, fun. I don't think I knew that. 

Laura:

Yes. It was kind of this need to, "I have to help people and I love helping people and I want to help people. So law enforcement." So that's where my head was of I want to do something for lots of people who don't have ... They're not in a justice situation and to bring justice to the world. So that was my idea. I, during cancer my nurses were like, "You should be a nurse." I was like, "No. I'm never coming back here."

And then after I stayed in the hospital in June, trying to get in remission, my nurses became my best friends, and they completely changed my perspective of what it looks like to actually be a nurse. 'Cause I think in TV shows and non-medical knowledge, nurses are the ones that treat you and stick you with needles and can be rude, can be awesome, whatever.

But my nurses were legitimately my best friends. I would go and sit at the nurses station and just talk to them, and they'd be like, "Okay, I actually have to do work." "Okay, okay, okay. Sorry." Or they'd come in my room and my parents, we knew all of them by name. 'Cause I was there for 20 days, and so I just got to know them 'cause either I could watch TV or go talk to my nurses.

And so they changed my perspective and it took me a minute to be like, "Okay fine. I'm going to be a nurse." It's like I thought it in my head, and then they're like, "So?" And I was like, "I guess I'll be a nurse." So slightly stubborn, you know?

And then that's what I pursued in high school. I got to do like a career half day school, half day what is it like to be a nurse stuff. So I started that whole process and then came to JBU really wanting to be a nurse.

Julie:

Right.

So at JBU you enter, and you do like two years of pre-nursing, sort of some core curriculum stuff. And then you have to apply to get into the nursing program, which is your junior and senior year. And it's pretty rigorous. It's pretty intense. Talk a little bit about how you handle that intensity, what you've learned as far as relying on God to get you through.

Laura:

Yes. So before, I guess? It just makes it so much better if I tell you before. I was this idealistic, I mean even looking back at some of the sophomores and being like, "Oh I remember being you." We talk about this all the time in nursing school. But I was so ready. And then I got to junior year, and it kinda hit me hard of four pretty intense classes in nursing school and clinicals, and so you're learning how to talk to patients and do vital signs, but also know all of these things like, "Okay. You have COPD. So how do I take care of you?" But also like not make sure you're not dying but take your vital signs and also therapeutically talk to you all at the same time. So it was really amazing.

Our professors are really ... I mean, the whole head, heart, hand stuff. So our professors are really ... Intense is not the right word, but very stickler about knowing your stuff and knowing the why behind it.

Julie:

Because literally people's lives are in your hand. You can't say that about every other academic program at JBU. So I love that they're a stickler about those things. So know your stuff.

Laura:

Yes. And it's not just the memorize, they say this all the time, don't just memorize it because it's not actually going to help you when you get into the moment. Your mind's going to go blank and you'll be like, "Oh, what's step one?"

The four classes in the beginning it's pathophysiology, foundations of nursing care, and pharmacology one, and then health assessments. You're learning literally the basics of what does it look like for a disease process to actually happen? And then, how do you nurse? How do you care for patients? How do you do all these different things? How do you help them go to the bathroom? What's legally okay? What's not? Things like that.

And then what medications do you give them? And then also how do you look at a person and be like, "Oh, I noticed that you have this, this, and this issue, and you're breathing weird, and this is how I'm going to help you."

It's a lot of information. You can't just memorize it. You have to understand it. And so they would ask us so many times, "What's the why? Why are you doing the thing that you're doing?"

"I don't know. Because it'll help the patient." But then as you continue practicing and knowing and using not only the knowledge but also the heart behind it of … we learned first in the nursing homes, which is not always characteristic of every nursing program. And while there are some moments that are like, "I hate the nursing home," quite honestly, it was the best thing that I've ever done as a nursing student because I learned how to care for people on an emotional level and also kind of help the least of these, as the Lord would. And then so the whole point of JBU in our mission is to help people in head, heart, and hand, but also to be the hands and feet of the Lord.

Julie:

Yeah.

Laura:

And so--

Julie:

It's great. Sometimes it's harder for us to look at different academics programs and say, "Okay, how does this major, how does being a history major, how do I live that out and serve others?" Cause that's part of, like you said, JBU's mission.

But nursing, that's literally what you're doing every day. So you had the opportunity, I think we take the trips every year, right? Every year they take nursing students to Guatemala, 'cause JBU does a lot of stuff in Guatemala with our business program and different things. So we built a school, helped to build a school down there and different stuff. So tell me about that. What was your purpose when those nursing students went down there? What did you guys do during that two week trip?

Laura:

Yeah, so we just finished our summer semester. And so part of the summer semester is to get a bunch of clinical hours and to learn through the whole hand aspect. And so we went for two weeks down to Guatemala City and that was kind of our hub. But we went all over, two hours in every direction from Guatemala City and in Guatemala City itself. So we worked with one of the clinics that the JBU nursing program is partnering with and the doctor that's over that, her name is Dr. Lyla. And so we worked with her and her two or three nurses that she has taken under her wing. And those people live in the slums that are right outside of the clinic. And so the clinic is tied to a school which is in the midst of these slums, which backs up to the garbage dump.

And so it's where the mass poverty of Guatemala City lives, and those people usually are working either in the dumps or right outside. So they're taking the trash and scavenging essentially and trying to find what they can use to sell to get money to buy food and buy things.

And Dr. Lyla takes the medications and the help certain days of the week and makes home visits and helps them. And so we got to work really specifically that population, and then a few populations doing some lice treatment, lots of lots of lice. And some clinic work, so giving them medications and doing very essential, very basic vital signs for these people and letting her diagnose them and then giving the medications and then just playing with them and hanging out with them.

Julie:

Yeah. And I didn't warn you about this question ahead of time so you might have to think about it. Is there like a specific story of a specific patient or something that happened? Like a one experience that will always stick with you?

Laura:

Yes.

Julie:

You want to share that with us?

Laura:

Yes. There is a few. But I can share one or two maybe there there's one that for me brought back my passion 'cause I think nursing school has been so great, there's a lot of stress and a lot of intensity, and so what I've learned a lot in cancer has also helped me here.

But I think I’d lost my passion in the midst of, "I need to know this mass amounts of knowledge and stress and oh my Lord, how are you going to work this out?" And so my prayer into Guatemala was like, "Okay, Lord. Help me find my passion." The why behind me doing nursing. And we were touring one of the public hospitals there, and there was this woman that had come in, and we were touring the emergency department ,and we can actually really do anything.

We were just watching and looking and seeing, "Whoa, how is this different from the United States healthcare system?" And this woman was just sitting in this like triage place where all the patients come, and she was just crying and just mouthing, you could tell that she was very in tune with the Lord. And I was like, okay, she needed help at that moment.

And my heart was like, “Oh I want to go help her.” So badly. I want to just go tell her, “It'll be okay. They're going to fix it.” But then in that moment the Lord just came and was like, "This is why you're doing nursing. To help the least of these, to help the people who need help."

And that was at the beginning, and I was like, "Okay, Lord, here I am. Let's do this." And that's a moment of, "Okay, this is why I'm doing nursing."

Another moment where we got to use our actual skills, which was so cool, was we went on a home visit. Dr. Lyla couldn't actually come 'cause she was running the clinic. And so we went to separate ways. Our professor, Dr. McCloud, went with the other group, and then we, three nursing students and then two to-be-nurses came with us, and Dr. Walenciak came with this as well.

Julie:

And so Dr. Walenciak, for people who don't know, is one of our business professors who has been at JBU for forever and has really driven a lot of the stuff that we do in Guatemala. So he spends a ton of time down in Guatemala every year. So okay, go ahead.

Laura:

And so it was funny because we were walking, and I was like, "Oh my Lord. We're going to have to like actually do this." We're going to assess people and tell them what to do. I've never done this by myself. I've always had a professor.

Kind of in my brain, working myself up, and we get to the first home, and I'm like, "Okay, okay, okay. We can do this." Walk in and we assess and talk. And it worked out really well. And so by this like third and fourth house, I was like, "Okay, I got this."

Julie:

A little more confident, yeah.

Laura:

Yes.

Julie:

Okay.

Laura:

 And so we walk into this home, it's our last house, and it's this mom who's sitting on her chair, and it's like all of these houses are just tin and the doors are a curtain that's across.

And so a pretty poverty stricken place. The ground is like either cement or just dirt. And so we walk in, and we see this mom, and we're like, "Okay, who's the patient?" And she was like, "I am." And I was like, "Okay, great."

So this is all through translation. And so there's three nurses, me and then two of my fellow students. And so we walk in, and we're like, "What's going on?" She's like, "Well I just had a baby three days ago. And we're like, "Oh great! So where's your baby?" And she's like, "Oh, she's right there." And it's this mass of just blankets. We didn't even know that it was a baby. It just piles and piles of fleece blankets. We're like, "Oh wow, okay, can we look at your baby?"

You have to understand that it's like 90 degrees outside, 90% humidity, pretty hot. There's no windows in the home so it's really hot in the home. And essentially what had happened was the mom had a breastfeeding complication and so wasn't able to breastfeed the baby very well but didn't have money for formula or anything like that. And so the baby was pretty hungry and had what seemed like a stomach ache but it wasn't. She was just really, really hungry.

And so the baby had turned out to have a 101 fever, on its way to 102, and was wrapped in a bunch of fleece blankets and had also been given a lot of water with anise, which is an herbal supplement which can 'cause neurological damage in babies. And water is also, you'd never give water to a baby.

And so in that moment all three of us were like, "This is not good." Also super high for an infant who only three days old and all of this, our nursing, we just started talking and we're like, "Oh wait. We need to talk to the patient." And then we started talking to the patient. There's this moment where it all just clicked, and we all were talking in nursing terms but also talking and we have this term, therapeutic communication - of not using nursing terms, not using medical terms, but talking directly to the patient.

Like, "Okay. Here's what's going on."

Julie:

So in this case, Mom, right? Because the patient can't talk.

Laura:

Exactly. But even like through translation and asking her questions and further investigating. And so it was really amazing to be in that moment. Everything solely rested on us and then to just like into gear and this light bulb of, "Okay. Here's what we do." So we ended up bringing her to the clinic and fed her and got her formula, which is awesome. And her fever spiked at 102.

Julie:

Wow.

Laura:

Later, after unwrapping her, giving her food, so she was pretty sick, and then she went to the public hospital and after that we kept tabs on her 'cause she was in the hospital for a few days. And Dr. Lyla came up to us at the very end of our trip and was like, "If you three girls hadn't done what you did, the baby probably wouldn't have survived the week."

Julie:

Yeah.

Laura: 

And so it was just that moment of, "Okay Lord. This is awesome." You brought us to this place. We weren't supposed to go on that home visit.

Julie:

Right.

Laura:

And then we were there, and it was so cool.

Julie: 

Yeah. It's awesome to see God work, like you said, take those little side trips that were not planned, and you weren't really confident about stepping out into and see how he works at. So, that's incredible. That's incredible.

So you had a little bit of a special party. It was actually at my house.

Laura:

Yes, yes.

Julie:

So part of the nursing program, we do this thing called the white coat ceremony. So when you make it into the nursing program at the beginning of your junior year, you get your little white lab coat.

Laura:

Yes. 

Julie:

And so your sister reached out to me, and she said, "Julie, we want to hold a party." Because it is also the five year anniversary of you being in remission.

Laura:

Yep.

Julie:

And so was that party a surprise? Sort of a surprise?

Laura:

Kind of. Kind of.

Julie:

Okay. You knew there was some sort of gathering, but I don't think you knew all of the people that were going to show up.

Laura: 

Yeah. Or who ... I got a few surprises before, what was even happening? 'Cause I hate planning parties, so I was like, "Mom, you got it. You know what I want." And so, not really what I want, but you know how to bless my heart and what this is going to look like. And also, being in the first semester nursing school, I couldn't really think about it very well.

Julie:

Right. So there ended up being probably, I don't know, 50 or 60 people packed into my house. It was really hot in there. But I got to just stand and watch. And your parents talked a little bit about the journey and then your friends got up and they just spoke words of affirmation and words of life over you, which I thought was pretty incredible. What was that experience like for you?

Laura:

Yeah, well, first of all, thank you for letting us use your house.

Julie:

Absolutely.

Laura: 

But I think walking into it, I was just like, "Okay, I don't know what this is going to be like." The five year thing is a really big deal just because the first five years is when adverse effects can happen and the bone marrow transplant can not take. So graft versus host disease can like reroute everything.

And so making it to five years is a breath of fresh air of like, "Okay I can breathe out." The likelihood of me getting cancer again is decreased significantly. So there's that. And then just even the symbolism of where I had been on August 30th - barely able to walk, barely able to even go up the stairs in my house and just being pretty weak, had to be carried up our 15 stairs in our home to go to my bedroom. And now being in nursing school, this place that I had dreamt of, and then to have all my college and some of my high school friends there.

It was so surreal and crazy 'cause I think it had this dichotomy. My family knew my whole history, and my best friend was there from babyhood, I guess you could say. And then all my college friends are all there who know me in these three years. But also having no idea what cancer was like.

Julie:

Right. They don't know you as Cancer girl, which you talked about before. You got to leave that identity behind when you came to JBU a little bit.

Laura:

Which kind of freaked me out a little. 

 Julie:

I was going to say, now I'm backtracking, but I'm curious. When you came to JBU, did you purposely not include that part of your history in the whole, "Hey, tell me about yourself" story for awhile?

 Laura: 

 Yes and no. The close people, one of my friends Laura Gutierrez, we hit it off right the first day, and we were just like, "Okay. Life stories, let's do this."

And that's where I was like, "Okay, this is it. This is my life." Which Laura had crazy connections there, but a lot of people it was this, "Okay, if we're going to be compatible and be better friends, then yeah, I'll tell you."
And not in this, "I need to keep my story, my story," but I don't know. It just was more sensitive information. But I think it was really weird to not have the cancer identity and, I don't know. Again, back home, I'm cancer girl. And not cancer girl, but just, "You survived that." And people know and it's not this like, "Oh, wait what?" And so to tell people it's like, "Ugh, I don't know how to do this."

  Julie:

How do you work that into conversation, right? Yeah. 

 Laura:

I was like, "By the way I had cancer. You know, no big deal."

Julie:

Okay, so go back. So back to the party, what did that do for you from an encouragement standpoint? 'Cause you were just starting the nursing journey.

Laura:

Yeah. Oh man. I don't know if there are words to describe. It was a really good launching point. A good foundation of, "This is why. This is why you're here. This is why you're doing nursing." Besides the familial connections to JBU, this is why you chose JBU. And so being there, I think put me on a really good trajectory for, "Okay Lord. Like this is you and me again." And even just the words of encouragement, I am realizing more and more how much of an affirmation person I am.

Julie:

Yeah. Yeah.

Laura:

And so to have that was, I don't know, so surreal and to even just ... My parents made those picture boards.

Julie:

 Yeah.

Laura:

 And even to look at that, but show my friends was like, "Oh wait, this is so weird."

Julie:

Yeah. Pictures of you in the hospital and all of that.

Laura:

I'm just like, "Wait, does my? Sorry, I'm bald in that picture. That's kind of strange." I forget that. It's so normal to me, but to show other people, I was like, "Oh my word. This is a whole ‘nother side of me that I'm really excited for you guys to know."

Julie: 

It was cool just listening to some of the, I think it was mostly the college students, talk about how they see you so perfectly well-suited for this career and for what God has done in your life and how they basically just are like, "You're going to be an awesome nurse."

So talk a little bit about, you had a specific field of nursing that you want to go into, which makes total sense.

Laura: 

Yes. So, when I said I didn't want to go back to the hospital at the exact place, actually I do. I would love to go back to Children's Mercy and work there at some point. I think Guatemala also opened my eyes more to missions nursing and the focus of caring for people. So I think in an idealistic dream world, I would love to work at Children's Mercy and then do halvsies of missions nursing there and Children's Mercy. But working back on the oncology floor would be the ideal place that I would end up. How I'm going to get there, I don't know. But it'll be so good.

Julie:

God has led you on a good path so far.

Laura:

Yes.

Julie: 

So it's exciting. I think you're going to be amazing. Amazing as a nurse and amazing with those other kids and how awesome that you will be able to, not just be an excellent nurse, but be able to say, "Hey, I've been where you are."

Laura: 

Yeah.

Julie: 

You're going to understand it on a level that a whole lot of other people wouldn't.

Laura:

Yeah. 

Julie:

So thank you so much for coming on today and sharing your story. If you had one thing to tell somebody who is struggling with one of those really hard circumstances, like a diagnosis, what would you tell them?

Laura: 

I think I would say to press into the Lord specifically there, and just work through it with him. 'Cause he's the only one who can fully know everything that's going on.

But also to press into the challenge because when we press into the hard, it may not feel good, but even though it doesn't feel good, it is still good, and it breeds so much growth. So much growth. And the Lord uses it beyond things that you can imagine.

Julie:

Yeah, and he's going to continue to use that. It will be interesting to look back 20 years from now and see what else he has done with that.

Laura:

Yes.

Julie:

Well thanks, Laura, for being in the studio. I really appreciate you being here.

Laura:

Thanks for having me.

Julie:

Thanks for listening to this episode of JBU Stories. Visit jbu.edu/stories for a transcript of today's show, links, and show notes. Be sure to subscribe to JBU stories on iTunes and we'd love it if you would leave us a review.