• Collaborative care, individualized therapy allows patient to celebrate despite cancer diagnosis

Laurie Kahn and Herb Dougall sitting on a bench

Why plan a funeral when you could plan a wedding?

This isn't a choice many people will ever have to face, but when it presented itself to Laurie Kahn in the midst of treatment for her stage IV breast cancer, the answer was obvious.

Laurie, 67, began her journey with cancer in 2015. Though successfully treated, her cancer returned five years later. This time, it was more aggressive. Laurie decided to seek care at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, where experts from medical oncology, pulmonology and palliative medicine came together to devise the best plan to manage her illness while giving her a meaningful quality of life.

"I've always been a glass half-full person, though I was thinking to myself, 'Well I guess I need to plan a funeral now,'" says Laurie. But a friend had another idea: a celebration. Specifically, a wedding for Laurie and her partner of seven years, Herb.

"Cupid shot me, finally," Laurie says. "I came home and said, 'What do you think of planning a wedding instead?'"

Laurie began wedding planning with her care team's full support.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality video (2:12) is in the downloads at the end of this post. Please courtesy: "Mayo Clinic News Network." Read the script.

"Every patient is different. When we design a treatment plan for patients, it's really about helping them live better on their own terms," says oncologist  Felipe Batalini, M.D. who is engaged in research that looks at the individual biomarkers of a patient's cancer to personalize therapy. "There are times that there isn't much room for flexibility, but a lot a lot of times there is."

Laurie's treatment plan was modified in a way that allowed her to enjoy her wedding and the days that followed.

"They helped move appointments so I could be my best during my day," she says. "When we walked out of there for our week of loving, my mind was at ease. We had a game plan together."

"Many times, the right thing to do is to avoid the toxicity of treatments that aren't helping so that patients can really prioritize what matters most to them," he explains. "Laurie's primary goal was to get married. I think we aligned very well in that."

So far, treatment flexibility and targeted therapy have helped Laurie not just walk down the aisle, but also take a honeymoon to Santa Monica Beach, California, and launch a blog about her experiences with cancer and advice for others. Next on her milestone list: publishing a book.

"I think you have to just get comfortable with your diagnosis and your medical team, and take one day at a time," she says.

Watch: Laurie shares her story

Read more: Achieving quality of life while living with advanced care   

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