Laura Langdon, Class of 2012

Armed with a Master of Occupational Therapy, Laura works full time on the surgical oncology ward at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

You’ve just turned 21, and you’re in your element studying Health Science. You’re loving life, working part time with World Vision and doing an internship with Oxfam believing a career in international health and development is on track. But something’s not right. You feel that bloating and persistent pain can’t be simply explained away as stress related. It’s time to get a second opinion, or a third, if necessary. Following the investigation, you insist upon, on 8 December 2015, three years after graduating from Luther, you get the diagnosis no one wants to hear. It’s cancer. Ovarian cancer.

This is Laura Langdon’s story.

The technician who did the ultrasound was kind. “Go straight back to your doctor, Laura, and take someone with you,” she said. It was the first hint that things weren’t good. She’d seen an 18cm tumour on Laura’s left ovary. The diagnosis was shocking, to say the least. Wasn’t ovarian cancer something older women tended to get? This shouldn’t be happening – certainly not to an otherwise healthy young adult in her prime. But it was.

Surgery and chemotherapy followed within days, and three weeks later, by year’s end, Laura’s hair was falling out. She decided to cut it off at that point and donate it to Variety who made wigs for children. It was an indication of how Laura would approach this life-threatening challenge. While facing her own battles, she’d think more of others; how she might make their experiences with cancer more bearable. Still, there was no getting around it. Laura was suddenly in ‘Teal Territory’ and it had to be negotiated. “You learn a lot going through cancer treatment”, Laura said. “For one, not everyone responds the way you hope they will.

I was so grateful to family and friends who stepped up and were there for me, but there were quite a few, surprisingly, who weren’t.

They left me with it, which, to be honest, was an added burden. It made me feel all the more isolated and lonely. You know what”, Laura said, “if someone you love suffers a trauma and you find yourself not knowing what to do or say, please understand that’s absolutely fine. Tell your loved one that. Together you’ll find a way through it, sometimes getting it right, and sometimes not – but it’s way better than just not turning up at all.”

“There’s this too – the future becomes terrifying. You have to learn to live with not knowing what’s going to happen.

It’s a reminder to make every day count. It’s something we should all be doing, of course, but it’s easy to forget until a reality, like suddenly confronting your mortality, brings it sharply into focus.”

For Laura, once in remission, making the most of every day, has involved taking meaningful living to another whole level.

The broad community is truly blessed by her professional and personal pursuits. Interestingly, as a result of her hospital experience, Laura lost her nosocomephobia (fear of hospitals) and switched her studies to Occupational Therapy. She was inspired by the caring, empathetic multi-disciplinary team who looked after her so well and wanted to follow in their footsteps.

Now, armed with a Master of Occupational Therapy, Laura works full time on the surgical oncology ward at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, educating patients and rehabilitating them so they can manage their daily activities as independently as possible when they return home after treatment. Providing support for end of life care is a part of Laura’s role too. She trains the carers of those who choose to die at home, ensuring they have the equipment and support they need.

Laura also volunteers in the Palliative Care unit at Wantirna Health. One day soon, you might find her there playing the harp, providing music therapy. She took up the instrument in recent years with that intent. Her bespoke instrument is in production, so hopefully it won’t be long before her music is soothing patients and their families.

When Laura’s not at work she’s deeply involved as an Ovarian Cancer Australia ambassador, lending her story and support to awareness and fund raising for ovarian cancer research. This takes her around the country, presenting at the conferences of OCA partner companies – Interflora, Terry White Chemart and Bonds among them; providing print, radio and TV interviews; doing webinars; and helping provide resources for OCA’s Resilience Kit and factsheets. The latter is one of Laura’s contributions as a member of the Consumer Reference Group for the development of the OCA Younger Women’s Network. Because young people with ovarian cancer are so rare and have to be treated in either geriatric or child specific contexts, they feel particularly alienated through their treatment journeys. Having experienced this personally, Laura is very excited that the OCA Younger Women’s Network, supported by Gandel Philanthropy and the Dry July Foundation, is bringing young women with the disease together through monthly online input and chat forums.

This same concern motivated Laura’s membership of the Victorian & Tasmanian Youth Cancer Action Board (YCAB). The Board works alongide the ONTrac @ Peter Mac Victorian Adolescent & Young Cancer Service to advocate and advise on issues affecting people aged 15-25 with cancer. Laura represented YCAB at the 3rd Global Adolescent & Young Adult Cancer Congress in Sydney last year, where they won the award for Best Poster for a project entitled: Ensuring appropriate care for young LGBTIQ+ people affected by cancer. As a member of YCAB, Laura was also on the project team for the development of resources for young people with cancer.

In addition, Laura completed an internship with the Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre which included co-authoring a paper: ‘Identifying the most prevalent unmet needs of cancer survivors in Australia: a systematic review.’

As if all that isn’t enough, Laura doesn’t hesitate to get involved in fundraising events. If there’s a run or walk that’s being held to raise awareness and funds for research, Laura participates. 40kms, 25kms, 8kms, and half marathons, rain, hail or shine – Laura’s up for it. And why not? Life’s precious, it’s sacred and if investing financially means medical breakthroughs allow people to enjoy longer, quality lives, what better endeavour is there?

In terms of how being educated at Luther has stood Laura in good stead given the challenges that emerged for her, she’s quick to draw a number of conclusions. Among them is the impact she feels Luther’s caring, compassionate spirit had not just on her, but her whole cohort.

So many, she reflected chose careers in the helping professions. “That can’t be a coincidence”, she said. As a Luther student Laura confesses she was aware of and grateful for her relative privilege. It motivated her to make a difference. At school she expressed care and giving back through the Wednesday Afternoon Service Program (WASP) which involved volunteering to help children in the Karen community with their homework.

Laura was also quick to admit that developing a spirit of generosity at school and the character strengths required of someone who’s determined to step up and help in ways that make a difference gave her a firm foundation to stand on and a resource she could dig deeply into when things got tough.

Laura, we thank you for who you are, for your generous heart, your incredible strength and courage, and for your beautiful soul. We thank you for your work on behalf of us all and wish you well in your quest to make every day count. We’ll do our best to do the same.

Teal Army!