Laren Watson was a healthy woman. When she got cancer, she was in disbelief. When she got another cancer later, she wrote a book.
WTF!...I have cancer?
A book by Burien resident Laren Watson
by Tim Robinson
"My advice?, don't Google your disease."
"It is very easy to get bad information from the internet. If you have cancer or any life threatening diagnosis, stick with the doctors.
Those are the words of Burien author Laren Watson, former graphic artist and now holistic life coach, counselor, speaker and survivor of two cancers a year apart.
Watson has an important story to tell. She's not looking for pity, prayers or people to rub her shoulders and say "there, there". In fact she has tips in her book, WTF?...I have cancer?, for well-wishers about what NOT to say to friends suffering from cancer and related treatments.
She wants to share her story to help readers learn what can happen and how she coped, although she makes the point that everyone is different and what applies to one won't necessarily work for another.
And why she advises not to Google a treatment for your diagnosed disease.
"There are a hundred different cancers," she said. "Maybe more. Let the doctors help you."
Watson was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2013 after noticing a small, insignificant bump on her neck. This silent disease was very slowly robbing her of her strength.
She'd always taken care of herself, with diet, exercise, yoga and meditation. She was fit at 48, married to husband Ted and raising two teenagers in Burien. The bump was checked.
A biopsy came back with a rare form of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (a white blood cell disease) like Hodgkin lymphoma but treated slightly different and mostly found in adults 65-plus. Laren, from Eugene, Oregon (U of O grad) but an 18-year resident of Burien, froze. Her hazel eyes welled with tears.
She asked herself many, many times how this could happen. She is young, healthy and full of energy.
A self-described "type A" personality, Laren could do it all. Raise kids, go to swim meets, clean and cook and work as a holistic life coach. "This could simply not be," she thought.
But it was. To make it more difficult, Laren's older brother Jeff died from lung cancer shortly after Laren's diagnosis. He was a non-smoker.
Laren opted for the heaviest treatment after considering advice from her own naturopathic advisor that alternative holistic approaches would not be enough to fight the bigger foe.
She also needed help for those daily tasks we take for granted.
"Sometimes you don't realize how many friends you have until you have a disease like this. My friends are truly the best friends anyone could have," she wrote in her book. They helped around the house during Laren's treatments at the hospital. They brought tasty smoothies to replace the 'horrible' hospital food.
They shared humorous TV comedies and spent time with her at the care center and at home. Whatever she needed. "Humbling but appreciated," Laren wrote.
Laren's story focuses on the fight (stem cell therapy) and the things you can do once you are in remission. Remission began after nearly a year of treatments. She'd lost her hair but she was "cancer free", clinically. She could go back to coaching. Back to helping others with her knowledge of nutrition; as much a hobby as a business.
A year later, during a follow up to her stem cell transplant, she learned she had a new fight. She had breast cancer. She had previously used humor to help get her through those tough treatments. This latest find was not funny.
Doctors detected a rare form of the cancer. "Why does it always have to be rare?", Laren asked herself again.
Once more, Laren went into 'chemo mode'. Again with the nausea and hospital stays. Again with feeling emotionally weak and lots and lots of crying. But she said no! She named her disease to make it a target. She needed to use her strength, her determination and knowledge to overcome the stress.
Laren's second cancer was as silent as the first cancer. She was not going to be silent about the treatment. Electing to have a double mastectomy. She lost her hair again.
"I hated it," Laren said about losing her hair,eyebrows and everywhere else. The good news? "It comes back." Then she needed new bras and praises Nordstrom's policies and service for cancer survivors.
"They're the best," she added. With that fight over she continues enjoying her life, breathing slower and trying to be less "type A". "I'm working on that," she said.
She's trying to get back to the easy laughs, the fun person her friends described her as and who she always felt was there. But the fear remains.
Exams are every three months, with an expectation to extend them out to six months and eventually just an annual blood draw. "Those are easy," Laren said.
Laren, still physically fit at 52, writes in her book how she maintains a holistic approach to health. While her teenagers and husband Ted support her expanded organic menu, they gladly accept her coaching. She's continuing her immune system fighters like organic kale, broccoli and even more probiotics.
In the final analysis her chemo and surgery were the best options for her condition. "I honestly believe my doctors wanted to save my life, Laren said.
For that, Laren is grateful. You can't get that from a Google search though Laren cautions, "You have to be your own advocate as well as trust your doctor. There are alternatives some doctors may not be aware of so a Google search can be helpful."
Laren's book WTF! I have cancer? is available online at Amazon , Barnes & Noble and from her blog- larenwatson.com- or from one of her book signings and speaking engagements.
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