(NASHVILLE) Ever since Laura Rabell was a little girl, had a dream to be a singer. “I would pretend to be Patsy Cline singing into my hair brush,” said Laura. As the years passed, she started playing guitar and writing songs. In 2015, Laura got the itch to go bigger with her music career and moved to Music City to do just that.
Within three years of moving, Laura was faced with a diagnosis she never expected.
“My then husband felt a lump in my breast,” said Laura.
The aspiring musician didn’t think much of it, but her husband insisted that she get it checked out. Laura received a breast ultrasound at Ascension Saint Thomas Cancer Center. That confirmed she had stage IB breast cancer. IB meas that the disease has spread to the lymph nodes and that the cancer in the lymph node is larger than 0.2 mm but less than 2 mm in size.
“I was relieved to know we finally had answers and were moving on to the next steps,” said Laura.
The young musician met with Dr. Eduardo Dias, breast surgeon at the Ascension St. Thomas Breast Center, to review her plan. Laura also met with a social worker who provided additional information about emotional, physical, and spiritual support groups..
She was already a volunteer for the American Cancer Society, and Laura noted, “It was incredibly surreal to be on the other side of the table, receiving information on a cancer diagnosis, how to handle it, what steps needed to be taken, and so much more.”
A double mastectomy was performed in April, 2019 and then chemotherapy treatments began in the following month.
Laura Rabell underwent four rounds of chemotherapy every three weeks for twelve weeks.
She commented, “It was certainly an experience. Chemo would knock me down for about a week, and then I would feel normal and have to go back for another round. I lost my hair and that was one of the hardest parts to accept. I also participated in the American Cancer Society wig program and got some pink and purple wigs to give this journey a little bit of light.”
Laura quickly became known as the musician with the purple hair.
After meeting with Maureen Graham, genetic counselor at Ascension Saint Thomas, Laura was diagnosed with a genetic mutation called ATM, a newly discovered mutation which can increase cancer risk. “This may explain why breast cancer developed in my early 30’s,” said Laura. “If I had known about this genetic mutation, I potentially could have avoided cancer or caught it sooner. Since there isn’t much data to support this diagnosis, I became passionate about advocating for genetic testing. I decided to join a couple of studies and contribute my medical records while going through treatment.”
A few months into recovery, Laura underwent reconstructive surgery. She then moved on to take care of her mental health and started seeing a therapist who helped her process her diagnosis, learn new communication skills, and cope with PTSD.
“That's when the Ascension Saint Thomas Wellness Center entered my life,” said Laura. “I was in marathon-running shape before I was diagnosed, so being active is a big part of my life. I started to go to group classes and met people in similar situations. That was so nourishing, to connect with others and hear their stories."
She continued on that path and did private wellness and physical therapy with Lisa Cavoto, exercise physiologist at Ascension Saint Thomas Wellness Center.
“This was a safe place for me to go once a week,” said Laura. “I felt physically empowered and had a friend that understood the process. Cancer just lit such a fire in me. I found my passions and purpose in life. It showed me who and what was important to me. I felt like the team at Ascension Saint Thomas and their network of people cared for me and wanted to see me succeed on this path. It has been such a light in the darkness.”
Here in Murfreesboro the Ascension Saint Thomas Cancer Center is located in the Seton Building on the hospital's campus. In fact, adjacent to the current building--Ascension St. Thomas and Tennessee Oncology are building a 102,000 square foot, multi-story state-of-the-art cancer treatment center. The $60-million addition is exected to be complete in 2025.