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clinical mental health counseling alumnus Laurie Bushman raises money for the cancer center

Redefining Purpose

A Journey from Dream Job to Unexpected Advocacy

By Laurie Bushman (’18)

In September 2018, I passed my licensure exam for the Master of Arts in School Counseling and secured my dream job as a school-based therapist at Hillcrest Family Services. With two children adopted from foster care, I felt uniquely equipped to help kids with similar trauma backgrounds. I had worked as a para for the Dubuque school district since 2004 before quitting in 2017 to start my internship.

Excitement filled me as I prepared for my new role. I trained in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), visited schools, gathered supplies, received my computer, and purchased a big planner. I felt ready to put my knowledge into action.

Then, just two weeks later, my world ground to a halt. I had a seizure.

Hillcrest put me on leave as we were faced with an uncertain future. I underwent a risky procedure where doctors cored a hole in my skull, and I was awake and answering questions during the tumor resection. Doctors discovered something rare on the fMRI the previous week: my speech center was on the dominant side of my brain, affecting only 0.5% of the population. Ironically, my neuropsych professor, Dr. Hopper, had taught us about speech disorders like aphasia, which I would soon experience firsthand. Post-surgery, I could only speak a word or two and had minimal use of the left side of my body. I remember feeling trapped in my body.

My recovery journey continues to this day, redefining my daily life. Instead of a traditional job, I now focus on self-care, family, exercise, medical check-ups, and summer gardening. This abrupt change forced me to confront a difficult truth: our jobs don’t define us. As I grappled with this realization, I faced a choice—let others determine my future or take charge myself.

As a lifelong high achiever, this setback hit me hard. Suddenly, I found myself in vulnerable situations I never imagined. Craving control, I discovered the Race for Research benefiting the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center, where I receive care. In 2019, I started baking to raise funds. Read more.

What began as a small effort grew through word of mouth. That first year, I raised $1,085. During the virtual events of the COVID years, I brought in a combined $7,000. For the past two years, I’ve won first place for the most money raised. This year, I was deemed the all-time highest fundraiser, having raised over $27,000 and baking over 19,500 cookies in the process.

Now, I’m a part-time fundraiser for Carbone Cancer Center and a volunteer baker for Resources Unite. On my good weeks, I deliver four loaves of homemade bread to those in need.

During my internship and practicum at Loras’ Counseling Center, I encouraged students to take charge of their lives, reminding them they’re capable of more than they realize. Little did I know how much I’d need to embrace that advice myself.

Yes, I have brain cancer. I experience fatigue and weakness, but I’ve learned to adapt. Life rarely follows a direct path, and often, it’s the winding roads that offer the most enlightenment and discovery of purpose.

Throughout this journey, I’ve been touched by the unwavering support of Dr. Steffanie Schilder, associate professor, and the clinical mental health counseling program director. Even though we barely started supervision before I had to suspend it, she didn’t write me off. Instead, she organized a meal train and has remained available for the past five years. I am so grateful for continued support and encouragement.

This unexpected detour has taught me resilience, the power of community, and the importance of redefining one’s purpose in the face of adversity.

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