Air Force Featured Stories

In remission, McConnell civilian helps others prevent cancer

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Christopher Thornbury
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Cancer can be a devastating beast. However, one member of the McConnell Air Force Base community managed to get the upper hand and continues to live her life with a positive outlook while helping others.

Laura Markuly, a 349th Air Refueling Squadron administration assistant, discovered a lump in her breast on April 2, 2015. Shortly after, her doctor confirmed she had stage 3 breast cancer.

Markuly said the most frightening thing about the ordeal was the unknown factor. It came out of nowhere. There wasn't a family history of cancer. Being an exercise physiologist, she ate well and exercised often.

She asked herself, "What am I going to have to change? How is this going to hinder me?"

The lump and 12 lymph nodes were removed in surgery two months later. The cancer had spread to two sentinel lymph nodes, but it appeared to not have spread further.

Markuly’s family, friends and co-workers were there for her during the difficult time.

"She came to me devastated," said Tresa Friesen, a 931st Air Refueling Wing finance office budget analyst. "From then on, I thought of how to help with whatever she needed, how I could be there for her."

Whether it was by telling jokes, lifting heavy bags of dog food to feed her two Labrador Retrievers, or bringing back childhood memories, her friends and family were always there to lend a hand or lighten the mood.

Markuly said she got her positivity from her parents. Her mom always told her, "You control your attitude." This was one of those times she said she really had to suck it up.

"She not only had a positive attitude about her own recovery, but she provided a positive attitude for other people to overcome their problems," Friesen said. "She is a strong woman."

Markuly always manages to find the positive in a situation and magnify it, said Friesen, her friend of 15 years.

"I have learned that a good attitude is an absolute must going through this," Markuly said. "I could have chosen to be miserable but I chose to turn this into a positive. I took this as an opportunity to educate others and be some sort of support system. I have an open Facebook page and started my own blog where I have exercise videos and nutritional facts. The more I can help and spread the word, that is satisfaction to me. It has been therapeutic."

She also held a public speaking event about her recovery at a library in her hometown of Cheney, Kansas. The participants have requested a follow-up series where she will most likely instruct an exercise class.

"The exercise is more for prevention," Markuly said. "It seems like cancer has become such an epidemic. Within the last year, I have had friends that are my age that are fit and without a hereditary background of cancer and they are being diagnosed with it. I want to find the reason why and if there is anything else we can do to prevent it."

Being an athlete and exercising has always been a large part of her life, which has helped her thrive.

"My dad was my coach; being an athlete really pulled me through," Markuly said. "Even (through the hardest times), I was trying to get on the treadmill while in the middle of chemo. During my second series of chemo, I went back to spin class."

Markuly is currently in remission and will know for sure whether or not the cancer is completely gone in five years. Her positive outlook and determination has helped her overcome the difficulties of breast cancer, and now she strives to support others during their hardships.

"Nobody is immune to cancer," she said. "You can take care of yourself, but you still need to be aware of your body. Your support system is going to be your greatest asset with daily life."