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Published June 17, 2012, 11:30 PM

The beauty of belief: Fargo woman stays positive through new, difficult cancer prognosis

FARGO - Laura McShane never thought she’d get a tattoo. But she succumbed to some good-natured peer pressure.

By: Tracy Briggs, INFORUM

FARGO - Laura McShane never thought she’d get a tattoo. But she succumbed to some good-natured peer pressure.

“They just thought it was a good idea,” she says of Kelly and Carrie, two college friends, who decided all three of them should get the word “Believe” tattooed on their skin as Laura began the fight of her life.

“Mine also includes a black ribbon, for melanoma,” Laura says pointing to the tattoo on her right shoulder.

Fittingly, it is Laura’s ability to “believe” that makes her the Beautiful Woman for the month of June.

Like a lot of moms in the summer, Laura does her best to keep her kids busy. Five-year-old twins Dylan and Macy are active with soccer, hockey, dance, gymnastics and swimming lessons. A taxing schedule for anyone is even more tiring for Laura, who has waged a war on cancer most of her kids’ lives.

Just last week, the family received a devastating prognosis. The McShanes, after consulting with doctors, decided Laura would start hospice care instead of continuing treatment.

Her journey began when the twins were only a year old. Like a lot of new moms, Laura was tired, but she says she knew something else was going on. She just didn’t feel like herself. She went to the walk-in clinic a couple of times, but they didn’t find anything.

Then Laura noticed the vision in her left eye getting blurry. A routine eye exam that she thought would result in a prescription for glasses ended with a diagnosis of intraocular melanoma, essentially a skin cancer of the eye tissue. It’s a rare cancer, affecting only about 1,000 people in the U.S. Like the more common forms of melanoma, doctors suspect exposure to UV rays from sunlight to be a contributing factor.

Even though Laura says she was never a sun worshipper, her fair skin, light eyes and hair put her at higher risk of getting the disease. (She was a blonde before losing her hair to chemotherapy).

The diagnosis came as a shock.

“We have no cancer in my family. I never thought I’d get it,” Laura says.

But she was aggressive with it from the start. She agreed immediately to let doctors at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., remove her left eye, and she began chemotherapy treatments.

For a time, the cancer was gone. Doctors told her if it came back it would be in the liver. So she hoped, prayed and waited.

Then after two years, a PET scan came back with news she didn’t want to hear. It was back. She had multiple lesions on her liver, and the fight would continue.

Laura says she’s had “countless” rounds of chemotherapy and has participated in trials to combat the disease with little success.

“It’s just been let down after let down for two years. It’s been so hard to take in. But I can’t run away from it. This is my life,” she says.

For a while Laura maintained her full-time work as a branch manager for OneMain Financial in Fargo, even noting that she didn’t miss one day of work while going through chemo. But lately she’s had to step away.

“I’ve been feeling really sick these last couple of months,” Laura says.

One of her biggest frustrations is watching what it’s done to Dylan and Macy.

“They ask me to play and I do, but I’d love to play with them more. But right now I can’t even pick them up,” she says.

But her family and friends say it is her strength they most admire.

“I’m just blown away by how well she’s handled all of this,” says her husband and nominator Ross McShane. “If the roles were reversed, I wouldn’t be able to do what she’s done. “

But Laura insists that you don’t know what you can handle until you’re faced with it. She says it can be a struggle to wake up and not let the cancer take over her whole day.

“There are days I just want to wake up and be a normal 33-year-old mom of twins, not to have to deal with this. But my husband and kids keep me going. I’m doing all of this for them.”

The hardest part will be talking to the kids about the prognosis, Ross wrote on Laura’s CaringBridge site this week.

“The kids have always known mommy goes to the doctor a lot, lost her hair from her medicine, etc.,” he wrote. “But we never talked about the word cancer.”

“We are all in a tough place right now, and are trying to find the best way to get through it,” he continues. “And most importantly, we are trying a way to make Laura feel the most comfortable as possible. I know she does not want to deal with the pain any longer, and feeling like crap everyday is making it very, very hard on her.”

The kids start kindergarten in August, and the family tries not to dwell on Laura’s illness.

Instead, between hospital stays, they’re embracing the good times, which included a trip to Disney World this spring.

Following the decision not to pursue further treatment, the family is enjoying some time together at the lake this summer, Ross says.

Friends and family have played an important role in supporting the McShanes throughout Laura’s illness, including organizing a fundraiser to help send her to New York for a medical trial.

“We’ve been so touched by all of the support. It’s absolutely overwhelming to see all of our friends come out like this. You see these people come out for your wedding, but when you see them for something like this it’s just totally different,” says Ross. “I’ve learned that no one should be too proud to ask for help. People want to help.”

In the meantime, faith in God and the love of her husband and children fuel Laura.

“I still get angry about this. I do ask ‘why me?’ but then I always think ‘why not me?’ I think God has a plan for all of us.”

A candle the McShanes have sitting on a living room table summarizes how Laura lives her life. It reads: “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s learning to dance in the rain.”

So in between trips to the doctor and trips to the soccer field, she’s teaching her children how to have a love of life, even when it’s not that easy.

“I just want them to see that Mom is strong. That she’s trying her hardest and that they see that no matter what comes at you, you must have faith.”

Tracy Briggs is the digital content development director for Forum Communications.