Survivor Story

Ramona Gavin & Laura Gerald-Simms – Sisters. Survivors. Thrivers.

Ramona Gavin, Laura Gerald-Simms
Ramona Gavin & Laura Gerald-Simms – Sisters. Survivors. Thrivers.

This month, we spoke to Ramona and Laura – sisters from Lumberton, NC who embody the words “survivor” and “thriver” and are living their lives to the fullest despite tragedy and cancer diagnoses. 

Ramona and Laura come from a family of six who lost their father early in life, making their mother their sole caregiver. So you can imagine the fear and uncertainty they faced when their mom was diagnosed with cancer almost 30 years ago.

 Ramona Laura 1Growing up in the under-resourced town of Lumberton, access to cancer education, screenings, and treatment was limited. People didn’t talk about it or know a lot about it. And their mother was the first person in their family touched by the disease. Ramona recalls her mother saying, “Oh my gosh, I have the big C” when she received the news.  

Thankfully, her mother would undergo a mastectomy and respond positively to treatment, ultimately kicking cancer to the curb. 

Fast forward a few decades. 

Before their mother’s diagnosis, and even after, the sisters didn’t think much about cancer. They didn’t think of themselves as high-risk. Laura remembers thinking, “Young people don’t get cancer”. But at age 45, when Laura noticed changes in her body, she decided to get a diagnostic mammogram. And after multiple biopsies, she was diagnosed with stage four HER2+ breast cancer. 

When Laura heard the news from the doctor, her first thought was ”I’m not going to see my son graduate.” After her diagnosis, she said, “I really took my life down to the studs – which was work, my children, and staying alive.” Those three things became her priority. 

Laura underwent a lumpectomy, radiation, daily oral medication, and has been getting infusions every three weeks for nine years now. She said, “I’m not defined by my illness. I share my story to inspire other people. I am thriving with stage four breast cancer. It’s a significant part of my life, but not the only part.” 

Around the time Laura was diagnosed, Ramona was due for her annual mammogram, but went a step further and had a diagnostic exam instead of just a regular screening. She didn’t think much would come of it. After all, what were the odds that sisters would have cancer at the same time? Ramona Gavin, Laura Gerald-Simms

Ramona got a call a few days later and was in disbelief. She too had cancer. Upon receiving the news, she told the doctor, “That can’t be right – my sister has cancer, not me. You must be talking about her.” 

Ramona would undergo a lumpectomy and fifteen weeks of radiation. She and her sister would be fighting cancer together.

On top of that, during Ramona and Laura’s treatments, they tragically lost their mother and two brothers all within six months. They had to endure chemo, radiation, and surgeries while also dealing with the loss of three family members. It’s hard to even imagine the kind of loss and pain they must have experienced.

Ten years later, the two are surviving and thriving.

Laura is thriving with her cancer treatments. She will see her oldest son graduate high school this June, and she’s over the moon with excitement to see him play football at NC State next year.  

As someone who grew up in an under-resourced town, not having exposure or access to quality healthcare, she has dedicated her life to being a servant for those living in under-resourced communities. She serves as the Chair for Grant Makers in Health. Laura stated, “We’re all human and we all deserve access to healthcare.” This was and still is a key part of Coach Yow’s mission and vision for the Fund

Ramona got the all-clear and rang her bell in 2015. She retired and moved closer to Laura so they could spend as much time together as possible.

Ramona Gavin, Laura Gerald-Simms, Play4KayThis experience has strengthened Ramona & Laura’s bond beyond measure and they truly appreciate how precious life is. Ramona said, “Take advantage of every moment that you have. Slow down. You never know what will happen next. Even through all the tragedy, we found something beautiful.” 

Laura and Ramona plan on visiting Italy this summer and Laura has a goal to visit all 50 states and 7 continents, with only a few left to check off the list. 

Let their story be a reminder that annual screenings and checkups are vital in the fight against all cancers affecting women. Early detection is the best weapon we have against cancer, and a diagnosis is not a death sentence. Ramona and Laura are living proof!

If you want to hear more from this sister duo, you can listen to them talk about their shared love of books on a special episode of Modern Mrs Darcy here. 

Thank you, Laura and Ramona, for sharing your incredible journey.

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