Every day for about four months, Laurie Ramos put a towel over her bathroom mirror so she didn’t have to look at her body after a double mastectomy. It was hard to take a shower without breaking down over the loss of her long, luscious hair.
“As a woman, we put on mascara — cancer takes away your eyelashes. We put on eye shadow — it takes away your eyebrows. We wear a ponytail — it takes away your hair. We wear a bra and it takes away your breasts,” said Laurie, who owns Kona Skate Park in Arlington with her husband, Martin. “So you have to look at yourself and say ‘what do I have left?’ And then you say, ‘Me. Laurie is left’. These were all just little details that made me. You get to keep all the important things — family and God and your friends.”
After finishing chemotherapy and radiation in 2014 and then a Herceptin infusion earlier this year, all at Baptist Medical Center Beaches, Laurie is sharing her story with others to raise awareness for breast cancer.
“I just want to show people you are strong and you can get through this,” she said. “It’s a different beautiful. It’s a powerful beautiful. It’s a survival beautiful. It’s not a superficial beautiful. I found that your inner beauty is stronger than your outer beauty.”
Learning to find that inner beauty was important to Laurie, considering she said physical looks were important to her growing up in bikini contests and working at Hooters.
Laurie was diagnosed at the Hill Breast Center at Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville at the end of 2013. The mother of three girls is an advocate for annual mammograms and self-breast checks after finding her lump while taking a shower.
“I want younger women to know you are at risk too. Even though everyone is told to get their mammogram at 40, I believe you should at least do self-exams and at least see your gynecologist. If there is any history in your family, you should get checked as soon as you can,” she said.
At her chemo treatments, she wore a Superwoman T-shirt from her husband. She was the first patient to receive a special backpack to help her through chemotherapy treatment. Baptist Health and First Coast News are partnering with cancer survivors Lucy Gross-Barlow and Sharon Crews to provide newly-diagnosed women who receive chemo treatment in our community with a free Got Your Back Pax and My Chemo Cocktail & Me 5-in-1 treatment guide. The program at Baptist is being funded in part by Baptist Health, Buddy Check donors and First Coast News.
Her 7-year-old daughter at the time helped her charge the MP3 player, one of the items in the backpack that has custom-guided imagery. Lemon drops help curb the taste from harsh medicines. She also said the medication chart in the book to keep track of her medications “was a huge help.”
Shaving her head was one of the hardest parts of her journey.
“It physically hurts. It strips you to the simplest of you,” Laurie said.
But she now wishes she didn’t obsess so much about her hair and wishes she let the wig go.
“I had to learn to go with the flow and change and tap into other strengths and powers and not rely on the old me. I had to find the new me,” Laurie said.
Her advice to other women newly-diagnosed with breast cancer is “don’t let your imagination run wild. Take it day by day. You literally have to take each procedure as it comes.”
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