Lara's fight to beat Cancer

We would like you to meet our cousin Lara! She is a devoted wife to her husband Ernie. She is a loving mother to her 2 children Devin, who is 16 & Ella, who is 12. Lara loves her family with everything she has! She is smart, funny, and she is one of the most kindest people we know! Lara was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer in January of 2016.  She has been through way more than one person should have to go through in a life time and all within only a short year and a half! However, she has been doing it with such strength, determination, & grace as she can muster. It’s truly unfathomable! She is an incredible woman!

As anyone who has battled cancer or knows someone who has, will know the medical costs to be incurred over the next many months will continue to grow. Between co-pay for appointments, medical deductibles for surgeries and appointments, the cost for the clinical trial medication (Chemo pill's) at Northwestern, travel expenses, home care, and meals, the expenses will be in the tens of thousands. Lara was unsure about reaching out for help, because her & her husband Ernie are private people. That is why we, her family, are asking.  We are asking for all of us, family, friends, and even friends they have yet to meet, to come around them and help to support them through this next season. Whether through monetary gifts, prayers,  and/or sharing of this campaign page, whatever you can do, your generosity would truly be a blessing to Lara & her family!

We know Lara can & will defeat this! Side by side, with each other, and God's help! #wearestrongertogether

“Love never gives up on people. It never stops trusting, never loses hope, and never quits.”
1 Corinthians

Below is Lara's crazy, roller coaster of a ride of what's been going on since her original diagnosis a year and a half ago. She sent this in a message and we invite you to read it. This is her journey...... 
(Shared with her permission, of course.)

I was diagnosed with early stage Triple Negative Breast Cancer in January 2016. The plan was to have 2 months of dense dose chemo (the harsh stuff that included the "red devil" chemo) followed by 12 weeks of a more mild chemo. Then reconstruction surgery and I'd be done by August.
8 weeks into the mild chemo I asked my Oncologist about my lump because I thought it was bigger. Turned out that not only had the tumor not shrunk like it was supposed to, but it actually grew!
I had an emergency left mastectomy to get rid of the tumor but not a complete mastectomy because Drs wanted quick healing time to get me back on another chemo. The size of the tumor and the amount of "satellites" that were from the tumor made me Stage III.
My cancer was so aggressive and unlike any triple negative they had seen, that I was eligible to have my tumor examined by a lab in California where they test thousands of DNA compared to the typical hundreds.
My Oncologist talked to the country's top 4 breast cancer gurus and they all decided on a treatment for me. It meant starting from the beginning- nasty, hair falling out, sick chemo. The day I was supposed to start, the report came back from CA and showed that my cancer would not respond to that treatment! I was given a combo of two milder chemo’s for 12 weeks and then by December I started a month of radiation.
After radiation I was told I was done and I just needed to get my scans to get my "all clear" and move on to surgery. My first ct scan showed three areas of concern, so they did a pet scan that showed three areas that "lit up." 2 lymph nodes near my left arm and chest (cancer side) and a tiny nodule on my right lung. (Opposite of cancer side). After many frustrating changes of plans on what to do about these areas, it ended up that I had the nodule frozen (cryoablation) and it turned out positive, which meant it had metastasis to the lung. One lymph node was also positive but it was just biopsied and is still on my chest. (It was also supposed to be ablated and should be gone grrrr). But the good thing is, the metastasis is gone.
The bad news is that I was really out of treatment options. Once there is metastasis you don't know where cancer cells could be hiding. I decided to get a referral to a teaching hospital to see what types of clinical trials I might be qualified for.
When I was getting my scans, I started getting a dry cough. It lasted months and eventually pain in my chest and left lung. I couldn't sleep lying down. (And haven't ever since). I asked for it to be looked at and a scan showed I had a pleural effusion, fluid between the lung and its lining. I had a Thoracentesis twice and then a permanent drain put in for convenience since it kept filling up. Cause was not viral, bacterial, and there were no cancer cells in the fluid. You can't get rid of the effusion until you get rid of the cause. After a month of the drain, I was having excruciating pain and couldn't catch my breath. I went to the ER and was admitted. After days of Drs saying we can manage your pain and drain your NEW pleural effusion that was found on the other lung. I didn't know how anyone could actually live in such pain. It wasn't easily managed. It was always there. I would have to be in pain or on heavy meds. Neither is quality living. The Drs who put in the drain said it was placed properly and was not the cause. They said the pain was from my "disease." I was treated like an end stage cancer patient by most everyone.
Finally, one doctor actually looked where my pain was and immediately disagreed with everyone and demanded the drain be taken out.
Consensus is that there are some lymph nodes in my chest and stomach area they suspect are cancerous and are irritating my lungs. If this is the case then in order for the lungs to dry up, those cells need to die.
So here I am healing. Still in some pain, but nothing in comparison. I get short of breath going from one room to the next, even with this oxygen that I'm attached to. My left lung is so irritated that a pulminologist won't let anyone touch it. It can't be drained anyway because the fluid is not in one pocket anymore. It has been so irritated that it is loculated, (little pockets with small amounts of fluid all around.) A drain won't work on that. So I get my right lung drained every other day for some relief.
After months of red tape I finally started a clinical trial at Northwestern on Monday that includes immunotherapy and a chemo pill. I'm praying that if there are cancer cells hiding out somewhere that this treatment finds them. I'm not able to work and however far I can walk, I need to have oxygen with me. Today I went to the kitchen and back. That's actually pretty good because I'm out of breath just rearranging my cocoon of pillows that help me sleep sitting up.

It's been ten years- 2-28-07- since this triple negative beast took my mom from me. I pray to God that this clinical trial has results so it can be approved by the FDA for others with triple negative so they finally have a better chance of survival and eventually no one else has to lose their mom, sister, aunt or daughter to this nasty beast.

Triple negative is a true beast. And the fact that there are subtypes makes it even more so. I have learned that I am truly special because any time they say only 2-10% of the people.... That would be me! Plus I can't tell you how many times Drs have said, that's not supposed to happen! Lol! The drain issue was the most recent. No one had seen anyone have so much pain, and especially nerve pain from this before. I'm one in a million!

Lara is truly ONE IN A MILLION!!!


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Organizer and beneficiary

Kelly Kee Rafter 
Elgin, IL
Lara Strzempa 
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