Laura’s Story: Following a Dream (Eventually)

Facing College: Diverse Student Voices from Michigan State University

As told to: Courtney Aycock, Matt Landcaster, and Tyler Lawson

Well, I was born in a little log cabin…

Just kidding.

Where to start? Okay, so, I’m a first-generation college student. I’m older than most college students, 45. I have two children. I’ve been married and divorced. I’m also a cancer survivor.

There are some things I might change in my past if given the opportunity.  But really, I’m not sure those changes would be for the absolute best, because then I wouldn’t be where I am now. And I am so happy with where I am now.

My journey to MSU has been sort of a bumpy road, lots of ups and downs.

I was 27 when I was diagnosed with Granulocytic sarcoma. It’s a tricky one. I literally have had nurses go, “How do you spell that?” So basically, it was leukemia filled tumors in my back. They found it after a biopsy because I was losing the control of my legs. The tumor was in and around my spine. So, think of it like a balloon the size of two grapefruits on top of each other. It was really big, cutting off nerves and stuff.

The doctors didn’t want to remove it. They said, “Well, if we tried, we could paralyze you or we could release all these AML cells into your body.”  And I said, “Hmmm, no, let’s not do that.”

So, we went with radiation and chemo, and about 8 months after that they had said I had gone into remission. But then about 3 months after that I started having pain again and it had reappeared on the other side of my back.

The hardest part of it was that I had little kids, just 3 and 7 at the time. And nobody really knows what causes it. I mean you can Google “what causes leukemia” and there are all these guesses about artificial sweeteners and pesticides, but nobody really knows.

So, that slowed me down a little bit because I was actually working when I got sick and my kids were getting older and I had started to think, oh, maybe I can do the full-time work thing, but instead, I was just so sick. I feel like that kind of stopped things that I may have done sooner. Like maybe I would have gone back to school sooner. But it was just such a huge bump in the road.

Another part of it is, I was married for a really long time. I got together with my ex-husband right after high school. It was super young! We got divorced after about 18 years of being married, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself. I’d been a stay at home mom and I’d worked receptionist jobs. I think the job that really put me over the edge was seasonal retail. I was making balloon bouquets and just thought, “Oh, hell, no—this can’t be my life.”  And I started to think about how I had always wanted to go back to school. I had actually tried to go back in the past but it really hadn’t worked out. But now that my kids were older, I stood there with the balloon bouquets and asked myself, if you could start all over again, what is it that you would do differently? And number one on that list was going to school. So that is what I did.

Now I’m a psychology major, graduating this spring, then getting my master’s in social work. Ultimately what I’d like to do is have my own counseling practice. I really do want to help people and I feel like on an individual, micro level, that’s the best way for me to help people.

I had no idea what a blessing school was going to be. I had no idea. And I just want to say, to anyone reading this, a lot of things can get in the way—I mean, obviously, some of the stuff in my life slowed me down, but I think those things also ended up motivating me—but to anyone who might be reading this, I just want to tell you to not ever, ever, ever give up on what you want to do.


Don’t ever give up on your dreams, and remember that education is the way to get there.

This story originally appeared in Facing College: Diverse Student Voices, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.

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