Patient Name : Laura Mays
Laura became Cindy’s life-size Barbie from the time she was born. Eight years separated the two sisters but nothing else did. They grew up as playmates – Cindy dressing Laura up in the latest fashions and Laura constantly following her older sister around. Cindy and Laura resembled their parents, inheriting their ‘mole-y’ skin; Cindy had the brown hair, Laura the blonde curls.
Laura knew when she heard the suggestion to move back to Indiana to study for her physician assistant degree at Cindy’s alma mater, she could not refuse. Living near her sister, going to the university where Cindy studied for her pharmacy degree, Laura could not pass it up. But neither of them expected what happened.
Cindy had been concerned for several years. Everyone said she had a hemorrhoid from her first pregnancy, but she just did not believe it to be true. When her surgeon removed it, the pathology revealed stage IV melanoma that had metastasized into her lymphatic system. The news was devastating. “You have between six and nine months to live,” he told the young mother. “I have a newborn and a two year old at home. I can’t die,” she thought to herself.
Determined to beat it, Cindy endured every experimental treatment for melanoma. Laura dropped out of school and cared for Cindy and her children. Her dark hair fell out. She grew pale. But she fought on. “She loved life, and she loved her kids,” says Laura. Trips to California every two weeks, hours of chemo, radiation, the melanoma vaccine, Cindy tried it all for more than two years.
But just after Thanksgiving 1997, Cindy learned the melanoma had spread to her lungs and liver. She wanted to say good-bye to her children so Laura brought them to the hospital. Sitting both boys on her lap, she said, “Mommy’s bad bubbles have taken over her good bubbles,” watching for the look of understanding to cross their faces. She had things she needed them to know. “I will always love you. I will always be your Mommy,” she repeated through the lump in her throat. “God needs me in heaven now to help Him. I will be watching you.” Tears ran down her face. Cindy passed away a few days later, only 30 years old.
Laura had established the Cynthia M. Disman Melanoma Initiative six months prior. The sisters had planned on Cindy telling her own story, knowing that if the foundation helped one person it had been a success. Now Laura continues to share Cindy’s story. She returned to school and completed the physician assistant program in dermatology. She now helps educate and detect melanoma in its early and treatable stages in central Florida.
Upon moving to Florida, Laura began to pursue the feasibility of an affiliation with MD Anderson Cancer Center Orlando to promote melanoma awareness and prevention. It soon became apparent that Laura and MD Anderson-Orlando Melanoma Specialty Section shared the same vision. She then transferred the Cynthia M. Disman Melanoma Initiative funds to MD Anderson – Orlando to help fund melanoma research and awareness initiatives.
Laura also lobbies for legislation that will make skin protection education mandatory for children in school knowing that 85 percent of sun exposure happens before the age of 18. Laura and MD Anderson-Orlando desire Florida children to know how to protect their skin from the harmful rays.
But most of all, Laura continues to tell her sister’s story; melanoma need not take any more sisters.