OTTUMWA — With no family history of breast cancer and a healthy lifestyle, Laura Salter thought she was doing all she could to prevent breast cancer.
So she believes it was divine intervention that she grazed herself on the corner of a filing cabinet at work. That's when she first noticed a tender spot under her arm, and she made a mental note to keep an eye on it.
On Friday the 13th in May 2011, Laura's husband had already gone to bed and she was getting comfortable on the couch. That's when she found the lump.
"Maybe not all women are, but I was pretty aware of my health," she said. "It was already alarmingly large, the size of a quarter. But I was more aware, tuned in to that area. Without that, it could have been longer before I learned about it."
Laura was fortunate that she found it, as it was a fast-growing type of cancer. She was triple negative and part of the 10 percent of women with breast cancer that isn't hormone-related. Because of this, doctors don't know as much about it, and there are fewer treatments for it.
The decision was made to treat it aggressively. Her doctor told her she could be treated as they would treat a 35-year-old because of her good health.
"My doctor said, 'We've got one chance at this.'
"I remember when I was diagnosed, you think you're pretty healthy, then you're thrown into the world of cancer," she said.
She vividly remembers sitting at the doctor's office filling out the forms. She was checking "no" on every question because there was no history in her family, she wasn't unhealthy and had no other reason to suspect cancer.
"I was so mad," she remembered. "I was digging the pen into the paper. I don't belong here. How can this be happening to me?"
It made her realize that no one is immune from cancer and how powerful it is to have someone tell you that you have it.
"It rocks your world and the world of those around you," she said. "But attitude is everything."
Laura opted for a lumpectomy, and the surgery went well. The doctor did a sentinel biopsy to find the first lymph node affected by cancer. The doctor removed one, sent it to the lab and it was positive. The second one was the same way. The third was also positive. Then he removed a larger area, which contained six more, and all came back clean.
What followed was nine months of a combination of drug treatments and radiation. This caused mucositis, where the lining of the esophagus stomach falls off because it has been irritated. Twelve treatments and 33 radiations later, Laura is now looking forward to life one day at a time.
"When you go through an experience like that, it's something you never want to get too far away from. The world sucks you back in with all that life can throw at you," she said. "I made up my mind that every day was going to be a good day no matter what. It's hard to explain to someone how much time we waste on things that don't matter."
With a son getting ready to graduate, the seriousness of the situation hit home.
"I told him, 'I'm going to do whatever it takes. I'm going to see you graduate, go to college. I'm going to see you get married. I'm going to see my grandkids. That's that."
It's that will-do spirit that Salter wants to pass on to others going through the same thing she's gone through.
"That's how we do things. By the grace of God, you'll get through," she said.
Having a strong support system has made all the difference, with her husband as the rock in her life.
"I always took joy in my surroundings, the beauty and the people. I'm a positive person, so this has just solidified what I've always known. Life is what you make it."