— -- Laura Stegenga arrived at her Minneapolis home last week after undergoing a chemotherapy treatment to a sight she described as “glorious.”
Stegenga, a 47-year-old mother of two who was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in July, saw 101 red heart balloons planted in her front yard.
The balloons were placed there by Stegenga’s neighbors in a surprise orchestrated by the neighborhood’s mail carrier, Michele Slack, who lives in the neighborhood and is also battling cancer.
“I bawled. I just stood there and cried,” Stegenga said of her reaction. “I feel so connected and so loved and so cared for. People really do care, they really do.”
In addition to the 101 balloons, Stegenga also received dozens of cards containing donations totaling $2,000 from her neighbors. Stegenga plans to use the money to help pay for treatment expenses and everyday tasks like feeding her husband and two young daughters when she is too tired to cook.
Slack, who was not available for comment, has been the mail carrier for Stegenga’s neighborhood for the majority of the nearly 14 years Stegenga and her family have lived there. She is always one to stop and ask about the residents’ families and how they’re doing, according to Stegenga.
“She is my hero. She represents who I want to be,” she said of Slack. “She wants me to have hope. She wants me to know so deeply how much people care and how available they are to me when I need help, any time.”
Stegenga's husband, John Fisher, said the balloons are still "very colorful" in the yard and a reminder of the love that surrounds their family as they face Stegenga's health struggle.
"The generosity and care is just really overwhelming," Fisher said. "It’s hard to fathom that people have been so generous and supportive."
Stegenga was diagnosed with breast cancer just eight weeks after she underwent a mammogram and got a clean bill of health from her doctors.
She said she is making it her mission now to inform women that they need to know their rights and demand further testing, including the ultrasound exam that ultimately led to Stegenga’s diagnosis.
“I have terminal cancer when I did everything I was told to,” she said. “Women need to know what their rights are. It’s not acceptable that we’re not being told about and offered different options.”