CANCER TALES Family, faith, friendships strengthened as wife battles breast cancer

Claire, Margie, John Mark and Chris LaSalle.

Claire, Margie, John Mark and Chris LaSalle.

By Chris LaSalle

On Sept. 15, 2007 my wife Margie called me into our bedroom. She was lying on our bed and looked scared. Our two young children, Claire and John Mark, were nearby.

She said, “Feel this.” I felt a lump in her breast and was surprised by its size. We were too young, too healthy, too busy for cancer.

After a whirlwind of doctors’ appointments our worst fears were confirmed: Margie was diagnosed with breast cancer. We agreed to the traditional treatment: surgery, chemo and radiation. We focused on getting through treatment and tried to keep our lives as consistent as possible to protect our children from undue fear.

Margie continued to teach at Georgia State University and to work on her dissertation during her treatment. We believed that once she got through treatment she would be healthy and we would resume our normal life. We found positive statistics to boost our confidence.

Radiation, the last phase of Margie’s initial treatment, ended in May 2008. We breathed a sigh of relief that it was all over.

A month later, Margie went to the oncologist for follow up. Blood tests revealed that cancer was still active in her body. A PET scan showed that the cancer had metastasized to the bones in her pelvis, legs, ribs, sternum and spine. The average life span after this diagnosis is 2 and a half years. We were devastated and fell apart together. We thought, “This can’t be happening. Our children need their mom.” It was the worst day of our lives.

This is not a sad story. There are sad moments in anyone’s struggle with cancer but many wonderful things have happened to our family since that day. Margie made the difficult decision to take a leave of absence from her Ph.D program with the hope she will one day be well enough to complete her dissertation.

She focused her energy on treatment and spending time with our children. She and I have grown closer and the slower pace has allowed us to spend time together talking and enjoying each other’s company. We realized that we weren’t fully aware of how busy we had been. We have been embraced by friends and family who are willing to pitch in and help out in any way possible.

Margie had severe pain that made walking difficult and navigating the stairs in our home nearly impossible. We realized that we need to move to a home without stairs. We also want a third bedroom so that Claire and John Mark can have their own rooms. A dear friend decided to help us get our two bedroom townhouse ready to sell.

On a Saturday in August, 25 people came to our house to paint the entire interior. Several of these people were friends of friends who didn’t know us but wanted to support the cause.

Friends drop by to visit, send cards and emails and call to express caring and offer support. Chemo has been effective enough to stop the spread of the cancer and additional radiation has decreased the pain.

We have become active in our church and our children love it there. Friends and church members bring tasty food that helps make evenings easier.

Margie is able to participate in our children’s school activities again. When she is tired or has a doctor’s appointment friends pick up the children from school and welcome them into their homes as though they were their own. While battling with cancer we have received so much love, support and encouragement.

Laura Bowman, a very special friend, decided to use her talents as a fine artist to help our family. She wanted to help raise money for treatment costs and a suitable home by writing and illustrating a children’s book featuring Margie, Claire and John Mark.

This was a labor of love. A small army of friends got behind Laura and developed a plan to get the book written, printed and sold. There was a book release party on Nov. 20 where the book was sold and the original artwork was auctioned. In addition, a website has been developed ( to sell the book.

Laura is donating all proceeds from the sale of the book and artwork to our family. This is all more generous than we could have ever expected. However, the money will pale in comparison to the love behind creating this beautiful story that Claire and John Mark will have forever. They feel like rock stars. We feel very grateful.

We continue to be blessed with love, support and encouragement. We don’t know what the future holds but, given my wife’s strength and spirit, I am betting she will beat the odds. Regardless of the outcome, our lives have become richer. This experience will reinforce for our children that there is much that is good and beautiful in this world even in the most difficult of times. That is our children’s legacy.

  • Cancer touches us all. Nearly everyone living in metro Atlanta knows of someone living with cancer or dying from it. Email us your story: JKJOHNSTON@AJC.COM

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June 22nd, 2009
2:48 pm

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December 6th, 2009
4:23 pm

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