We have all been through a pandemic and how it has affected our lives. For Laura Tonsic, a music teacher at OH Somers Elementary School, the experience of the pandemic has become even more complicated. At the end of December 2019, just after Christmas, Laura felt a lump in her left breast. Three weeks later, she was able to have a diagnostic mammogram and make an appointment with a breast surgeon. An ultrasound was performed the same day, along with a biopsy, and a titanium marker was placed in the tumor, the purpose of which was to help the surgeon find the tumor during the procedure.
Five days later, she received the dreaded phone call letting her know the tumor was malignant. A visit to the breast surgeon revealed that more tests needed to be done as there might be more tumors. At this point, possible treatments were discussed, but regardless, Laura was aware there would be surgery. The last day of January 2020 involved genetic testing and a visit to a plastic surgeon to discuss whether she would have a mastectomy, lumpectomy or quadrantectomy.
An MRI biopsy was performed on her left breast in early February with two more titanium markers placed at that time. Laura’s first appointment with her oncologist was also in early February and she was told that if the HER2 test they were expecting was positive, she would have to undergo chemotherapy. Laura met with the breast surgeon to discuss the other two tumors in her right breast and to arrange an ultrasound. It was difficult to place the titanium marker on the ultrasound of her right breast, and eventually she had to undergo an MRI biopsy. She also discovered that her genetic tests, including tests in organs such as the stomach, colon and liver, as well as for the BRCA gene, showed no propensity for other cancers.
In mid-February, Laura found that the HER2 test was positive and she would have to start chemotherapy to shrink the tumours. Laura also attended her first chemo class and had an echocardiogram to monitor her heart during treatment, as chemotherapy can cause problems with heart function. At the end of February, Laura had a port installed in her arm in order to receive the necessary chemo cycles.
Laura had her MRI biopsy on her right breast in early March and had all her hair cut at a party one night with many friends in attendance for support. She had her first course of TCHP chemotherapy on March 3 and two weeks later, as the world stopped, Laura had to go to hospital because she had an infection in her arm. For three days she was on IV antibiotics. Her second TCHP chemo course was March 31.
Battling heart issues and an autoimmune disease, Laura underwent six rounds of chemotherapy with four different types of chemotherapy on each trip. An all-day affair, Laura spent seven hours per trip getting her chemotherapy drugs. Not only did she experience nausea, stomach pain, a rash, and acid reflux about 10 days after each class, but she also contracted an infection in her port. On her fifth class, blood clots formed around her orifice and had to take blood thinners. A case of C-Diff ripped through his body at the same time.
During the first three months of her illness, Laura felt very isolated and alone. She worried about the future. At that time, schools were closed. While she tried Zoom and Google to stay in touch, it was still a tough time. Ironically, her peers were able to relate to her isolation, as they also couldn’t work in person, and they all found great comfort in staying in touch with each other. As the teachers were working remotely, Laura was able to work the last three weeks of the 2019-2020 school year via Zoom.
Laura coped as best she could with the side effects. On June 14, she received an infusion of Herceptin (the H in TCHP), which was the seventh of a total of 18 infusions, and she completed her TCHP chemo on June 23, 2020. In early July, Laura underwent an MRI . to see if the tumors had shrunk and an echocardiogram to check if her heart had any side effects. Her breast surgeon said she responded well to chemotherapy; the two small tumors in her right breast had disappeared and the other larger one in her left breast had shrunk by half. There were two other smaller malignant tumors in her left breast that Laura had not been aware of: the largest was the size of a grape tomato, the next the size of a pea, and the third the size of a a BB. The larger tumor was HER2 positive, while the smaller ones were hormone-positive.
The fact that the tumors shrink so much allowed Laura to perform a quadrantectomy, in which tissue is removed but not the breast itself, instead of a mastectomy. Laura underwent surgery on July 22, 2020 to remove the tumors and two lymph nodes, then underwent plastic surgery for the reduction in one operation. But a week later, at her post-op appointment, it was discovered that they had no clear margins and she had to undergo another short surgery. At that time, his Herceptin infusion was changed to a chemotherapy drug called Kadcyla. In early August, she underwent the second surgery, and by August 17 she had started the new cycles of chemotherapy, the first of 14 cycles. In addition, Laura has also started her radiation therapy treatments. Unlike the seven-hour chemotherapy courses she had taken, the radiation treatments lasted 10 to 15 minutes, with a total of 21 sessions, from Monday to Friday during the month of September. Kadcyla’s sessions lasted half an hour, with blood tests taking time beforehand.
In the fall of 2020, the students of Mogadore returned to school and followed the mandate of the mask. But Laura wasn’t there. She was continuing her chemotherapy and radiation treatments. After her radiation treatments, Laura developed an abscess under her arm where the lymph nodes had been removed. It couldn’t be drained, so she had to have another surgery to remove the tissue; it was in October. What lifted her spirits after this latest operation was a weekend in Hocking Hills, where she and her husband John stayed with friends.
“Just being in a different place – walking around and breathing in the fresh air was very therapeutic,” Laura said.
Her last chemo appointment with the oncologist was May 21, 2021 and her port was removed on May 24. Laura was able to attend teacher sessions at school in the spring of 2021 and was able to return to work for the past four days. of the school year. Laura underwent her symmetry surgery by the plastic surgeon on August 5, 2021. Laura’s breast cancer was diagnosed as ‘triple positive stage 1b’ meaning she was triple positive for estrogen, progesterone and HER2 . Looking back on her experience, Laura wanted to emphasize how important it is to get early detection and treatment.
Laura was able to return to work in the fall of 2021 as she had been vaccinated in February and March 2021, then got her booster her first week of teaching. When Laura returned to her classroom, some precautions had to be taken. In class, she wore an N-95 mask at all times. She also wore a face shield and there was plexiglass in front of her piano and desk. She always leaves the window open just a crack and runs a window fan on her desk, so the air is constantly moving. The room also has an air purifier. Now that the COVID numbers are down, she doesn’t use the face shield as much anymore. However, she still uses the microphone she had installed inside her mask so that the students can hear her clearly, and she thinks she will keep it on as it helps keep her voice from getting tired. Laura felt very safe in her class.
The classrooms give him comfort. Laura is in her 33rd year of teaching music, having taught one year at Wadsworth, nine years at Our Lady of the Elms and 23 years at OH Somers Elementary. She is responsible for general K-6 music, the fifth-grade choir class, and the sixth-grade choir. She and Stephanie Bonitz’s team teach fourth grade and take them both to fourth grade liaison concerts at Carnegie Hall. She is responsible for class performances, with first and second graders performing at the community fair, third and fifth graders at Christmas, and sixth graders at Veterans Day. A kindergarten sharing program is organized at the end of the school year.
Living in Mogadore since 2005, Laura is married to Mogadore council member John, who was so supportive throughout his illness. She has three stepchildren and two children, Jessica and Richie. Jessica is the worship leader at Community Life Church in Mogadore, and her son Richie works for Duke Energy in Florida.
Laura also received support from her peers and friends, who kept her positive, who prayed, who called her and who continue to fill her life with love. Having her daughter live in the village helps a lot, and her close friend, Carol Comer, has been a great friend and sounding board during some of the difficult times of her illness. Another close friend, Diane Rick, was a comfort, helping her laugh through the tears. His 2021-2022 school year has been fantastic.
“Students fill my cup with joy,” she smiles. “I have found my will to live again and I feel so lucky and grateful to be in school. When I am asked the greeting ‘How are you’, my favorite quote is ‘I’m here; in good health.’ Laura said she has always been a positive person, looking for the good and the positive side. She has great faith in God and feels very lucky to heal her body, mind and spirit.
For Mogadore news, contact Barb Bauer at [email protected]