“Ever since I was 4, I was going to be a doctor,” says Dr. Laurie Flynn.
The second eldest of five children, Flynn grew up just outside of Memphis. When her sister, Melanie, was born at home, Flynn knew something was different about her. Born with Down syndrome, the baby didn’t cry, but a young Flynn didn’t really see anything different. As Melanie began visiting doctors, they seemed to know what was going on.
“If I could only be smart enough to be a doctor, then I could actually figure things out,” Flynn says. “She looked kind of like me. She had two arms, two legs, but she didn’t talk like me. But as a kid I didn’t understand that. I thought, the doctors know, so I should just be a doctor so I can know. And ever since I was 4, I was going to be a doctor so I could figure out what’s going on with my sister.”
Curiosity about the body continued to dance in Flynn’s mind as she volunteered at her sister’s Special Olympics events.
Then, tragedy struck the family when Flynn was in high school. Her brother, Mark, just two years younger than her, died suddenly after using a typical albuterol inhaler, which caused an arrhythmia, increasing his heartbeat and causing him to die in his sleep.
Knowing medicine was her future, Flynn attended the University of Mississippi for her undergraduate and medical degrees. In her medical school interview, she spoke of her brother and why she wanted to be a doctor. “I’ve always been curious,” she recalls, “and if can prevent one family from losing a person like that, it would be so worth it.”
While on Thanksgiving break during her first semester of medical school, just as Flynn was packing the car for the return trip to Jackson, her mom, Diana Wolford, asked “Look at my breast when I raise my arm. It does this thing. What is that?” Flynn responded, “Well, that’s breast cancer.” Her mom had gone for a mammogram but nothing abnormal appeared. “She had a cancer called lobular cancer, and lobular cancer doesn’t show up on mammograms.”
Wolford was diagnosed with breast cancer, but her treatment didn’t follow the standard of care, Flynn says. “They took the cancer out, but they didn’t get good margins and they didn’t take out any lymph nodes.” Wolford decided against radiation, but she did hear of an injection study being conducted in the Czech Republic. Her daughter traveled with her, learning about injection therapy and setting her first IV on her mother. The cancer went into remission until a recurrence three years later as Flynn was about to graduate from medical school.
Seeking treatment from a surgical oncologist, Wolford had a mastectomy. Before Flynn would finish residency, her grandmother was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia, but ended up with a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer and quickly succumbed to the disease.
As Flynn traversed medical school and residency, she found her passion in surgery and breast health. As a breast surgeon at Hillcrest Medical Center, Flynn treats those with breast cancer and works with patients on preventative measures. She identifies those with an increased risk of developing breast cancer, whether that’s from a DNA mutation, family history or just the composition of the breast.
An early interest in medical school was pediatric gastroenterology because of “super intense, complicated” patients being treated by physicians who developed long-lasting relationships, as well as those whom you might just see once or twice. She eventually decided to focus on breast health. At her practice, Flynn stresses self-exams and routine mammograms, and because of her own increased risk, she can relate to her patients as she helps them navigate and determine their treatment.
“I feel like my mission in life was to be a breast surgeon,” Flynn says. “I feel like God made me to be a breast surgeon because I like interacting with people, I like to fix things and I’m intent on getting it right.”