With October being breast cancer awareness month, we thought it would be fit to feature a Smarty Survivor Mom. I’m pleased to introduce you all to Laura. I heard about her story, treatment, fighting, empowerment and compassion before I even had the chance to meet her. She recently put on the third annual Silhouette of Woman to help raise awareness and funds to fight breast cancer. It was an amazing event to attend not only to finally meet Laura in person, but also to see the number of people affected by breast cancer, directly or indirectly, as well as the outpouring of support in our local community. Smarties, I am proud to introduce you to this amazing warrior, Laura.
Smarty Mom: Laura Renegar
Married to: Kevin Renegar
Children: My daughter – Morgan D’Avanzo (26) married to Mike D’Avanzo (27) and they have a one-year-old Haley Grace D’Avanzo. My son – Kyle Maciejewski (24)
Years in Charlotte: I moved to Charlotte in 1993
Originally from: New York VIA Florida to Charlotte
Occupation: Special Projects Manager for Primax Properties – I have worked for Primax for 15.5 years
Tell us about the Primax Pink Warrior Team.
Eleven of my co-workers walked alongside me in 2007 at a Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk for the American Cancer Society to honor my Mom who passed away in 1996 from breast cancer. She lost her third battle with it when she was only 61 years old and I always wanted to do something to give back. I didn’t think I could raise $1,800 to walk in the three-day Avon walk so I never tried. And then I walked in the Making Strides event with my co-workers and we were hooked. We started our team, the Primax Pink Warriors, in 2008 and our story unfolds from there. We have turned into an army of passionate people sharing a common bond and an all too common story – we all love someone who has, or had, breast cancer. Since 2008 our team has handed out over 1100 Primax Pink Warrior tee shirts and we have raised over $225,000. We are not corporately sponsored and we continue to grow each year because we truly believe in the programs and research funded by the American Cancer Society and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.
Share your breast cancer diagnosis story.
We had been growing our team for a few years and each year, as I stood in front of my team announcing how many walkers we had and how much money we had raised, I always wondered, “who is next?” Looking out over a few hundred people that morning, I couldn’t help but remember “one in eight women is diagnosed” and wonder “who is next?” On March 1, 2011, I became the next one diagnosed, I became the one in eight, and I was stunned. I had a routine mammogram on a Thursday and the following Monday, Valentine’s Day, I found a lump. By the time I got called back for a diagnostic mammogram my intuition already told me that I had breast cancer. I was 46 years old and diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer and tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation. As my test results were unfolding I was hoping for a lumpectomy and radiation…after all, who wants to lose their hair and their breasts? But that was not my story. As my diagnosis unfolded I had the choice to either curl up in a ball and cry for the rest of my life, or use the platform I already had in the breast cancer community (as the top team leader in Charlotte for Making Strides) to educate those around me, and that is what I decided to do. I have tried to be open, honest, and transparent as to what breast cancer can really look like. Not the pink ribbons, bows, and smiles. But the raw truth of having breasts removed, breast reconstructed, chemotherapy, and having friends die from this disease. I am lucky because my breast cancer was caught early. I went from feeling sorry for myself for my hair loss and breast removal to getting my perspective aligned correctly and realizing my losses were minimal compared to what some of my friends were facing. So I began talking about metastatic breast cancer and triple negative breast cancer. We need targeted therapy for triple negative breast cancer and we need more research for metastatic breast cancer – and a cure for all breast cancer….and fast!
What was life like after treatment began?
After my treatment began I had some pretty horrible days. I had days during chemotherapy that I honestly knew would have been better if I had just never woken up. I had horrendous bone pain from the shot post chemo to boost my white blood count and there were days I really struggled. But I knew that those days would pass and better days would come before my next round of chemo. At times I felt bad and I looked bad, but I still knew that I was the luckiest girl in the world. My friends and family were covering me with prayers, good wishes, cards, letters, visits, and dinners and I honestly didn’t know how loved I was until I had breast cancer. It’s a heck of a way to find out – but it is something I will always remember.
How was the third annual Silhouette of a Woman?
Our 3rd annual Silhouette of a Woman was great. The venue was crowded; people were hugging, laughing, shopping, bidding, and listening to music. I think everyone really connected with the people we chose to speak at our event, after all, I think everyone in that room has been affected by cancer in one way or another. Now that the event is over, I can say it was an amazing team effort and I think all of our hard work came shining through. Now I am focusing my efforts on the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk being held on October 17, 2015. We still have the largest team in the City of Charlotte, with last year being the largest team in the South Atlantic Division. It is the first time that Charlotte, NC has had this ranking for this part of the United States and I am so proud of our team! We would love to have you be part of our team.
What’s your advice for a woman who has just been diagnosed?
For someone recently diagnosed? I would tell her first thing – accept help. As women, especially Moms, we don’t do that very easily, but it’s something that will truly make your entire diagnosis/treatment path easier. Give up control and accept help. People want to help and it allows them to feel useful in a very out of control situation. Second – listen to your body and don’t push yourself to “be normal for your kids” or “be normal for your husband”….you are fighting cancer! Listen to your body and let it guide you instead of you guiding it. And third – find other survivors to meet and to talk to. You will never find as much power, sympathy, empathy, strength, wisdom, transparency, or love as you will find in a room full of breast cancer survivors. Whatever that looks like to you – find it. If you need help finding resources or groups or survivors with a like diagnosis to your own, call me. I will help you – it’s what I do!
What’s your favorite place to eat with your family?
My favorite place to eat with my family is the Melting Pot. Now that my kids are bigger and we all enjoy longer dinners with lots of laughter, fun, and conversation – the Melting Pot is the perfect place for that.
Favorite activity to do with your family/kids?
Each year I do what’s called a Reverse Mother’s Day and that is by far my favorite activity with my kids at this point in life. After my Mom passed away I didn’t want to celebrate Mother’s Day, I just wanted that day to fall off the calendar. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed that I realized how selfish that was for me to take that day away from my children over the years. So now, on Mother’s Day, I announce to Morgan and Kyle what their Reverse Mother’s Day surprise is and we plan it for June. We took a hot air balloon ride over the Blue Ridge Mountain at sunrise, we are supposed to have a NASCAR Driving Experience, we took a helicopter ride over downtown Charlotte, Morgan and Kyle went into a wind tunnel (I could not go in due to back issues – but I enjoyed watching them), and we are all getting tattoos next year. We will do something fun and different each year – something we normally wouldn’t do and something that makes memories for us all to hold onto forever. I want to make up for all of the Mother’s Days we missed out on due to my own sadness and loss.
What’s your ideal date night like?
Date night? What’s that?? Kevin and I try to be frugal and save our date nights for when we go to Jamaica each year. We go back to the same resort that we were married in 2009 and we try to go every year to celebrate another year of marriage, life, good health, and happiness. That’s where our hearts are – in Jamaica! And saving our date money all year long makes 9 days in the Caribbean a possibility.
What do you love about the Queen City?
I love everything about our Queen City! I especially love it this time of year when CREW Charlotte turns the entire city PINK for Queen City In Pink. It reminds me, each time I see a participating building or business, that people know that breast cancer is serious. The pink glow around the city honors the women we have lost to this disease and supports the women who are fighting and surviving! Other than that our city is just beautiful. There is something for everyone here and I just love the medium city size with a small town feel. We have professional sports, shows, concerts, we are close to the mountains, close to the beach, we have all four seasons and sweet tea! What could be better?
What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?
My favorite guilty pleasure is an easy one…it is an early morning, any season, sitting on the screen porch drinking my coffee and enjoying the peace and quiet before the neighborhood kids come out. That’s my “time spent” guilty pleasure and sometimes it makes me late for work! My guilty pleasure that comes in the form of buying or consuming something would be a Dunkin Punkin Latte…hands down.
I could not live without…
I could not live without my faith in God. I truly believe that my story is already written and worrying about my cancer, or a recurrence, just allows cancer to continue to take from me. It has taken my Mom, too many of my girlfriends, my hair, and my breasts. If I didn’t have faith, cancer would continue to steal my joy. It has taken enough and I am not letting it steal one more moment of my life.