April 4, 2023 at 3:37 p.m.
Humor a constant during Quistorff’s quest to defeat brain cancer
Laurie Quistorff has touched the lives of many people during 42 years in her nursing career, as an aide, followed by a LPN, RN and in homecare. She has a special fondness for helping the elderly.
“Listening to their stories,” is her answer March 29 sitting next to daughter Nicole Burgardt in Laurie’s Sauk Lake cabin north of Sauk Centre, recalling years spent working at care facilities in Albany, Sauk Centre, Melrose and St. Cloud.
“Homecare and geriatrics’ were her bread and butter,” Nicole said.
Today, Laurie’s role has been reversed, and she is the one being cared for. Nicole is her mom’s caregiver, after brain cancer side effects have left her unable to care for herself. Laurie and husband Wayne, who passed away in 1998 from cancer, raised Randy and Nicole, who is married to Brent, and Laurie has two grandchildren, Brayden and Lincoln.
But there is no pity-party for this 69-year-old woman who can’t believe she is as old as she is, but in the same breath is thankful she is alive. On March 30 she is all smiles gathering with fellow workers from Pine Villa Nursing Home at True North Marketplace in Melrose, when they talk about old times working and update each other on their retirement lives.
Three years ago, on Feb. 7, 2020, Laurie was diagnosed with cancer, three weeks before she retired from her RN job at the Veteran’s Administration in St. Cloud.
“Symptoms started in January of 2020 when her skin was tingling and it was like her right side was on fire and looked red,” Nicole said.
At first doctors thought she had temporal arteritis, but an MRI showed she had a tumor on the left side of her brain. Following a Feb. 21, 2020, biopsy at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, she was diagnosed with central nervous system lymphoma.
“They told us if you are gonna get a brain cancer, get this one,” Nicole said. “Lymphomas are very curable, if caught soon enough.”
The tumor was in Laurie’s thalamus, near the center of her brain, which controlled her sensory and motor skills
“She was getting that tingling because her tumor was starting to grow,” Nicole said.
“Hubba, hubba,” is Laurie’s lighthearted response when Nicole mentions the good looking physician who performed the biopsy.
Her mom’s humor continues to be a constant in her quest to defeat brain cancer, which doesn’t surprise people who know her.
The diagnosis didn’t deter Laurie and her group of 18 family and friends from leaving Feb. 29, 2020, on her planned retirement trip to Hawaii. She was put on a steroid to possibly slow the growth of the tumor.
During the two-week trip, Laurie’s mobility changed, and she developed a blood clot.
“She went from driving one week, to using a walker, to needing a wheelchair,” Nicole said.
Returning home, Laurie, accompanied by Nicole, traveled to Mayo Clinic where a scan showed the tumor had grown, and she was admitted into the hospital.
“The tumor was growing so fast it cut off the air supply in the ventricles, so on the right side of her body it looked like she had had a stroke,” Nicole said.
But it was no stroke; her tumor was growing rapidly.
Laurie was immediately started on an aggressive four-month MRT chemotherapy regimen of methotrexate, rituxan and temozolomide. After two months of treatment, they received good news.
“When we got back from Hawaii, the tumor has quadrupled in size (from the initial walnut size) and following two months of treatment you could barely see it on the scan,” Nicole said.
Once a month treatments for nine months where canceled when they were told she was a perfect candidate for an autologous stem cell transplant, when stem cells are removed from a person, filtered, stored and later given back to that same person. Stem cell transplants are used to replace bone marrow cells that have been destroyed by cancer or destroyed by the chemo and/or radiation used to treat the cancer. An autologous stem cell transplant is most often used to treat blood cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma.
“It took a whole week to collect the cells from Mom that she needed, and then they transplanted them back into her,” Nicole said.
The transplant date was Sept 2, 2020, which is considered Laurie’s new birthday, although she celebrates her Feb. 28 birthday also.
“Mom rocked the stem cell treatment,” said Nicole, who has gone from working full-time to part-time as a Collections Specialist II for the American Red Cross to care for her mom.
“We have our moments,” Nicole said smiling as she looked at her mom, also smiling.
During Laurie’s transplant recovery, they stayed at the Gift of Life Transplant House, near Mayo Clinic, and then Laurie lived with Nicole and husband Brent in their Sartell home, where she continues to stay when not at the cabin.
Laurie’s childhood vaccines had to be re-administered, and since this was during the COVID-19 pandemic, she was not allowed to receive that vaccine.
Today, Laurie is considered cancer-free, with check ups scheduled every six months.
“Without the stem cell transplant there was the potential of the cancer coming back in three years but with the transplant it’s five years to never,” Nicole said.
Laurie experiences after-effects from the cancer, including aphasia – the inability to understand or express speech.
“She struggles with words, sometimes,” Nicole said.
Laurie, who is left-handed, has not regained function on her right side, but she has adapted to it with her positive attitude – and Nicole’s help.
She said her mom “is a good patient,” with goals.
“Sometimes our goals need to change,” she said. “Her goal now is to be able to walk to the bathroom, with assistance.”
To help with Laurie’s needs, the Burgardts remodeled their house so it is handicapped accessible, and they did the same at Laurie’s cabin. They are hoping to install a hillside lift at the cabin so she can enjoy a belated retirement, but the lift is expensive.
Family and friends are holding a benefit for Laurie from 4-8 p.m., Sunday, April 23, at the Little Sauk Legion, 16268 County Road 50, Long Prairie. Money raised will help fund accessibility projects, like the hillside lift, and her changing needs. Laurie looks forward to being at the benefit.
She and her family are grateful for the overwhelming support she continues to receive.
Laurie looks forward to spring and enjoying the simple things in life, like pontoon rides, Dairy Queen trips and having fun with family and friends.
“Retire when you can retire, so you can enjoy life,” Nicole said offering words of advice. “Mom worked an extra year so she could continue her homecare.”
Laurie is loving life – cancer free.