BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - It's been over a year since Laurie Liming was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. It's been about the same time since the Berkeley Heights community rallied around their popular Mountain Park Teacher of the Year. There have been bake sales, t-shirt sales, Fat Blast classes, a Meal Train and the YourCaring social media page that has raised in excess of $41,000 alone. Recently, the Gov. Livingston Cheerleaders held a t-shirt sale at the "Pink Out" football game raising $2,400 for Laurie.
While the community rallied, Laurie was fighting the battle of her life.with multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, followed by more surgeries. The high energy, highly motivated "ball of energy" was temporarily knocked down.
Laurie was never alone, her brother Jim dropped everything to share information. "You need someone to take over when you are in shock," said Laurie. "He made me feel ok about receiving. -- I like being the cheerleader for any other cause. It is hard to do that for yourself."
The Mountain Park family of teachers, students and PTO have also been "ridiculously generous from the students sending love notes, to a little girl donated her tooth fairy money," said Laurie. "The love from the students has not stopped. I have had adult students contracting me. The staff -- there are no words.....With the Mountain Park family, I didn’t have to worry about the kids."
"I knew I was lucky before I had cancer, but if I didn’t have cancer, I would not realize how lucky I am," said Laurie. "It is mind blowing – the outpouring of love that has come into this little house. It is never ending. I think I already knew how much love I had from my students, but I didn’t realize how many individual lives I have touched. This allowed me to see that very clearly."
At the time of Laurie's diagnosis, the tumor had spread to 12 of the 13 lymph nodes removed, and her prognosis was dismal. "Pretty critical at that point. I got the pathology and it’s bad," she said. She was diagnosed with an aggressive stage three environmental cancer. What got her through was the fact that she was highly motivated to live for her two boys. Laurie, a single mom, had no choice and her team of doctors knew that.
She fought infections, allergic reactions and even battled through kidney stones. She finished chemotherapy in April and radiation in May and still struggles with the "silent side effects" due to the drugs she continues to take to help prevent a recurrence. She is aware of diet -- eating more spinach, broccoli and milk to make up for the calcium depletion due to the medicine she takes.
While she was still feeling bloated from the effects of steroids, she was nominated, by her aunt, for a day of beauty through BeautifulSelf.org. This experience was a defining moment in her recovery. "I couldn’t stop being sick," said Laurie, "I went there – they made it beautiful for the day. Full hair and make-up -- including filling in the eyebrows. They give you what you need. They put you in a beautiful gown and photograph a headshot."
Cancer has a way of messing with your mind, said Laurie, and BeautifulSelf.org helps women to snap out of it. "I never had short hair and I never had black curly hair," she said. "So, it’s an adjustment. -- They fixed my hair using a flat iron." Through the pampering pep talk, the stylist told her, 'Look at you, you have a part with a purpose." That simple statement left an impact on Laurie. "I went from swollen with a steroid face and feeling icky, to now, I had a part with a purpose," she said. "I now do my own hair. They made me comfortable with the new me. It really touched my heart that they were doing this."
BeautifulSelf.org was started by two women who provide this service part time out of their home. Laurie wanted to pay it forward out of appreciation of the beautiful service they are providing to so many woman. She set out to raise 43 dresses for each year of her life. Within two weeks, she came close to her goal. With one last Facebook request to her friends, she collected 75 gowns and 150 pieces of costume jewelry.
"The way they did my make up, I recognized my eyes and they weren’t sick," she said. "They looked sick for a really long time. This is the new me."
Laurie, joined a cancer recovery class offered through the Berkeley Heights YMCA. "I went in the first day, I was the youngest in the class that went up to 75 years old. I was physically the weakest," she said. "Someone had to help me up off the ground."
"I am feeling stronger every single day." Laurie is thankful to have found Lisa McQuilkin, Wellness Director at the YMCA and their cancer programs where she participates in two days of stretching a week along with two days of the LiveStrong program. She also attends a meditation class through Atlantic Health. "Stretching has done more for me in three weeks – just ridiculous how much better I feel." She also feels comfort being around people that are struggling through similar side effects.
She allows the professionals to push her in the training because they are specific to the needs of post cancer patients. "They push you a little more within your comfort zone," said Laurie. "I feel insanely supported by the YMCA -- they are really so good."
While Laurie continues in her recovery, she lives with a new outlook. "Tomorrow is not promised, you can not take today for granted. --- There’s no point worrying about what is going to happen because it will ruin the good time. Enjoy today and worry about tomorrow when we have to."