HUMBOLDT — Second Chance Cafe, soon to open on Humboldt’s downtown square, is an icon of Laura and Justin Houk’s journey that includes a second chance at life and a second chance to live out their dreams.
Laura grew up attending church and often admired fellow parishioners’ testimonies of religious and spiritual encounters that transformed their lives, but felt she had no story of her own to tell. That’s changed.
It’s a “be careful what you wish for kind-of thing because now I have a pretty cool testimony,” Laura said. “I have grown and learned so much that I just want to follow where God is leading me.”
That path, according to Laura, includes a cafe that will offer patrons burgers and sandwiches along with home-cooked meals, daily specials and 30-minute lunches. The details, much like Laura’s own life, are uncertain and yet to be worked out. The cafe will possibly stay open late on the evenings of local high school sporting events and, she said, they are contemplating pizza. The cafe’s location, a building at 812 Bridge St., is undergoing a transformation of its own. Laura is hopeful renovations will be completed in time for the cafe to open in May.
“I think they are far enough along,” she said. “If they keep rolling like they are, I am hoping it will be ready in the next couple of months.”
The cafe, like the last few years of Laura’s life, is a joint venture between her and Justin. It will include the contributions of three of their children, Sydney, Sadie and Ty. Their other two children, Devon and Cody, attend school at Pittsburg State University.
LAURA HAS dreamed of opening a restaurant for a long time.
In 2013, she and Justin were on the precipice of making their dream come true. At that time, she worked at B&W Trailer Hitches as a cook in the cafeteria and she and Justin, not yet married, had signed a lease for the restaurant. They were about to to place the food order when Laura discovered she had ovarian cancer.
“I thought it was my appendix,” Laura said of a prolonged and distinct pain. There were other subtle symptoms she dismissed as complications with her thyroid. “Every time something would come up, I would be thinking ‘oh it’s just my thyroid, my medicine is out of kilter and something is going on with it.’”
In this instance, however, Justin sensed something worse and took her to Chanute’s Neosho Regional Medical Center.
An initial sonogram showed nothing. But the results of a CT scan told a different story.
“They saw a grapefruit-sized mass on the back side of my ovaries that had attached to my colon,” Laura said.
That is when not only her whole world but also Justin’s was flipped upside-down.
As Laura and Justin prepared to leave their house for Laura’s Sept. 6 surgery, Justin, a truck driver, was notified he had been laid off.
“At that time we were like, ‘oh my gosh what are going to do?’” Laura said. “But, in hindsight, it was a blessing because he was able to be with me through everything. He never left my side.”
“Everything” included surgery to remove the mass and a full hysterectomy.
“Then they of course confirmed that it was cancer,” she said.
THE NEXT steps were visits to an oncologist and the start of chemotherapy. Laura said she approached the chemo with a “tough girl” attitude. She initially refused to get a port, the small IV that is surgically implanted under the skin, and elected, instead,to have the cancer-fighting chemicals administered through a vein in her arm.
“The first time it was fine,” Laura said. “They got right into a vein and did not have any problems.The second time it was like nine tries to find a vein and I was like, ‘OK, schedule me a port.’”
Laura said it was not the chemotherapy treatments that left her with debilitating fatigue, but the neulasta shots, given three to four days later to help reduce the risk of infection.
“It floored her,” Justin said.
Laura said her hair began to fall out from the chemo on a night Cody had a football game.
After the game she decided to shave her hair off. Together, Laura and Justin shaved their heads.
After a scan showed that after three rounds of chemo the cancer was still growing, Laura said she decided to get a second opinion from a doctor at Kansas University.
“Our question was, ‘why was it growing, we are doing chemo,’” Laura said.
Within a week, said Justin, Laura was back in surgery to have her spleen removed, along with spots from her liver and lungs. According to Justin, Laura was not expected to survive the surgery and even if she did, they were told that it could be a temporary fix.
“We were just trying to stay sane,” Justin said. “We did not know what the outcome was going to be.”
The physician projected a nine-hour surgery, three to four weeks in the intensive care unit and then a two- to three-month stay in the hospital.
To their delight, Laura’s healing progressed so rapidly that she spent only one night in ICU and then 12 days in the hospital, before she was released.
“Ask the Lord why it was so short,” Justin said.