October 2017, Summit, NJ – Laura Newton, a martial artist and breast cancer survivor from Texas, shared how determination lead her to not only beat the disease, but also helped her to realize her love of Muay Thai boxing and jiu-jitsu, at “Fight Like a Girl,” a special presentation at Overlook Medical Center on October 20.
The event, sponsored by Overlook’s community health department and the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Overlook in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, offered the public, including breast cancer survivors and members of the health care community, the opportunity to hear directly from Newton.
Newton urged any of the audience members at the event who were battling cancer to embrace the fight within them, and to not simply stop at “surviving” the disease.
“I don’t just want you to survive cancer,” Newton said. “I want you to thrive after cancer.”
For Newton, that positive attitude drove her through a transformation from an unhealthy lifestyle, through her battle with the deadly disease, to a life dedicated to healthy activity.
Newton told the audience that prior to her cancer diagnosis, she was living a comfortable, relatively uneventful life as a housewife in a Texas suburb. That lifestyle, which included a less-than-healthy diet, led to poor health, – by age 30, Newton was taking several medications regularly, had undergone surgeries, and suffered from back pain and depression.
Having grown up as a “tomboy” with two brothers who were avid boxing fans, Newton had always had an interest in martial arts. Seeking more excitement and healthy activity, she worked up enough courage to begin training in Muay Thai boxing, a form of mixed martial arts which combines standing-up strikes with clinching techniques, and jiu-jitsu.
Her new training regimen enhanced her interest, but she hit an unexpected hurdle. “It was during my training that I was running out of breath,” Newton said. “I knew things weren’t right with my body.”
She soon after discovered a lump in her breast. She underwent tests, and her doctor gave her the news: invasive ductile carcinoma between stage 2-3. A four-centimeter tumor, and it was aggressive. She would need to have it removed immediately.
Facing the diagnosis, coupled with a separation from her first husband, Newton knew she could have easily taken it all as the universe trying to send her a message: This martial arts stuff isn’t for you. Go back to the quiet life.
She chose differently. Not only was she going to beat cancer, but she was going to master martial arts.
“The first time around (in training) I went in almost to prove to myself that I couldn’t do it. And I needed to get the idea out of my mind,” the 5’2” Newton recalled. “Everyone tells me I’m too fragile, but I’ve just got to see for myself. Is this really too much for me?”
“And the more I was training, the more I was becoming alive, she said. “I started believing in myself. When the cancer came, I again needed to ask myself, Is the cancer trying to show me I can’t do this?’ And I told myself, ‘once I’m done with the treatments I’m going back to martial arts.’"
Newton underwent a double mastectomy and reconstruction surgeries. Following a genetic test for the BRCA gene, an indicator of a person’s risk of breast cancer, Newton learned from her doctor that her cancer was environmentally-based, not genetically-based. She went about changing her diet and lifestyle to avoid potential cancer risks, and eventually returned to her martial arts training.
“Cancer is like a war that ravages a city. After the war, I had to rebuild my city,” Laura recounted. "The first step was to forgive myself for what I did to my health."
Today, Newton a 41-year-old mother of three, has competed in martial arts as well as competitive rock-climbing. She won first place in the Women's Beginner No-Gi Division-115lbs at the Grappling Games in 2015. She and her 2nd husband, Josh Ruff, coach and teach and they are in the process of opening a martial arts gym in Prosper, Texas.
“I love sharing with people the obstacles I have overcome. It helps me to continue to heal,” Newton said. “Thai boxing can be intimidating, but after the cancer, I thought, ‘you have no idea what I’ve been through. I just beat cancer. I am strong enough. After that it was just looking forward and not looking back.’”
About Atlantic Health System
Atlantic Health System, headquartered in Morristown, N.J., is an integrated health care delivery system powered by a workforce of 16,000 team members dedicated to building healthier communities. The system is comprised of 350 sites of care, including six hospitals: Morristown Medical Center, Overlook Medical Center, Newton Medical Center, Chilton Medical Center, Hackettstown Medical Center and Goryeb Children’s Hospital. Atlantic Health System also supports communities through Atlantic Medical Group, Atlantic Rehabilitation, Atlantic Home Care and Hospice, and its subsidiary, Atlantic Ambulance Corporation. Atlantic Health System sponsors the Atlantic Accountable Care Organization, one of the larger ACOs in the nation, and Optimus Healthcare Partners.