Laurie Hanson

What began in March 2014 as a painful encounter with cancer has led Yankton resident Laurie Hanson to recognize new joy and inspiration she found in a strong network of support and encouragement from the Yankton community.

Recently diagnosed with both pancreatic and kidney cancer, Hanson endured and recovered from surgery to remove her tumors buoyed by a network of family, friends and many people she didn’t even know. All of them diligently prayed for and surrounded her with acts of love and care.

“Even in the Riverboat Days Parade people were calling out to me and encouraging me, people I didn’t know at all,” Hanson says. “This has all been a confirmation to me of the power of prayer and the depth of goodness found in the Yankton community.”

Hanson’s speedy recovery has puzzled her doctors, who expected to find more areas of cancer in her body after identifying her initial tumors.

“At first I experienced intense pain that I thought may have been a sign of heart trouble,” Hanson says. “That’s been a health problem for some of my family members. To find the source of my pain, doctors did a CAT scan. That’s when they found the cancerous tumors.”

Hanson’s pancreatic tumor was on the tail of the pancreas, an area where surgery is most likely to be effective. Doctors were also able to surgically remove the renal tumor. In an eight-hour procedure, two different doctors worked on each tumor. Follow-up test results were what surprised Hanson’s doctors.

“In cases like mine they test for cancer in the lymph nodes and other parts of the body,” Hanson says. “Most of the time, pancreatic cancer originates from another area of the body. I had no cancer in my lymph nodes or any other area. My doctor said, ‘This is kind of a miracle.’ I told him it wasn’t ‘kind of’ a miracle, but definitely a miracle from God.”

Because she is cancer-free, Hanson didn’t have to undergo any chemotherapy or medical treatment after her surgery. She credits the many people who prayed for her from the time she became ill until she recovered for the positive outcome of her surgery and recovery.

“Attending church with my family has always been a big part of my life,” she says. “I never realized how much I believed in the power of prayer and importance of faith until this all happened.”

Women at Hanson’s church, Yankton Calvary Baptist, crocheted a prayer shawl for Hanson, which she has kept with her since she first entered the hospital for surgery.

“It was sort of my ‘little kid’s blanky.’ I held onto it all the time and my nurses were very good to make sure it was within my reach,” Hanson says. “It’s a shawl the women prayed over as they crocheted. After presenting it to me they continued to pray. For me that was very comforting and encouraging. I wrap myself in it nightly and feel God’s presence and continuing comfort and encouragement.”

Hanson also received a flood of get well cards during her hospital stay and when she returned home. Because of her lifetime teaching career, Hanson’s get well wishes came from people she had forgotten touched her life in the past. Many and former students made their cards.

“I received cards and e-mails from former students that I hadn’t seen or heard from in years,” Hanson says. “In addition to teaching elementary classes, I taught Sunday School classes for years. Many of those former students took time to pray for me and wish me well. It was all very helpful and I believe it had a lot to do with my recovery.”

Her school, Missouri Valley Christian Academy, and church, Calvary Baptist, provided daily meals for Hanson and her family during her recovery. Altogether the Hansons enjoyed 50 days of ready-to-eat dishes.

Hanson knows she isn’t “out of the woods” yet in terms of cancer issues. Every three months she’ll undergo a diagnostic CAT scan. In the meantime, doctors are closely monitoring her liver functions.

“If pancreatic cancer returns, it often shows up in the liver,” Hanson says. “I’m also working with doctors to resolve pain issues I’ve had since surgery. They tell me they rearranged my insides quite a bit during surgery and that takes time to heal. I’m trusting it will be resolved and I’ll remain in good health.”

Hanson will soon resume teaching responsibilities at Yankton’s Missouri Valley Christian Academy that were abruptly interrupted when she first became ill.

“It’s always been my dream to teach first grade so I’m delighted this opportunity is still there for me,” Hanson says. “I’ve missed the kids and am looking forward to being in the classroom for the entire year. When I visited, they were all captivated by the ‘railroad track’ stitches on my abdomen. They all wanted a chance to see what that looked like.

“One of my friends told me that all the kids I worked with in the past and helped learn to pray were now praying for me,” Hanson adds. “I thought that was pretty neat. I’m fortunate that I can not only teach prayer at Sunday School, but pray daily with my students. What I want to take away from all of this is the goodness of people in our community and those in other states who didn’t even know me but prayed for my recovery. Just knowing they were willing to take time for that made every part of this experience easier to work through.”