Vibrant. Sassy. Funny. Intelligent. Beautiful. Loved. Loving.
These are just a few of the words I can used to describe Lauren.
I think for the rest of my life, I will not understand why she was chosen.
Last March, my dear niece was diagnosed with colon cancer. This is extremely rare in someone so young. In fact, doctors don’t start recommending a colonoscopy until you hit your 50’s. Yet, at 17…why?
At first we were very optimistic. The doctor seemed confident this could be treated and beaten. After all, colon cancer is very common with lots of treatment options.
Radiation. Chemotherapy. Surgery (which failed). More intense Chemotherapy. Surgery (round 2 – also failed). In between, some alternative treatments and remedies suggested my so many friends.
Well, what we didn’t know was that colon cancer in this age bracket is extremely aggressive. Her Oncologist had personally treated 4 cases before this and confirmed that each one was just as aggressive as hers.
We watched her wither away. Here is a picture from May 08, about 2 months after being diagnosed:
This is after she started radiation. Already losing weight, but still vibrant, if not a little tired. This picture was taken at a fund raiser held by the town (friends of the family) to help raise money to offset some of the astronomical costs being incurred.
It was a fun evening. We all still had much hope that we would beat this ugly disease.
This photo was taken in September – Laurens 18th birthday. Her energy was pretty much gone. At this point she was still undergoing the aggressive chemo treatments in preparation for surgery #2. Around her are her little sister (front, on the right) and some of her cousins.
Aside from being tired, in pain and a little cranky, Lauren was still focused on her future and looking forward to getting all of this out of the way so she could get on with her life.
Not long after this photo was her second surgery. And this was the time we started to realize that she may not recover…
We took her to Mt. Sinai Hospital in NYC. She had to be there by 5:30 am. This surgery was scheduled to be 10 to 12 hours.
After she was admitted, we all settled in for the long day ahead – my sister and her husband, my other sister and her husband and me.
Two hours later, the doctor came out to talk to us. Two hours – we knew it wasn’t going to be good news. It wasn’t. He basically told us there was nothing they could do. The cancer had spread so much throughout her stomach and intestines that is was like a brick. Trying to remove it would have most likely killed her on the table. So they closed her up.
So now, after 2 failed surgery’s, Lauren was left with some massive scars, as well as a tube coming out of her stomach. With blocked intestines, she couldn’t go to the bathroom, so this was needed to get the waste out of her system.
She also could not keep down solid foods. She tried like crazy though. She loved good foods so she would eat, only to vomit all of it back up (there was no place for it to go…). That didn’t deter her – she kept on eating.
Now, this was one tough kid. Through all of this, she would still tell you exactly what she thought whether you liked it or not. She had a sarcastic wit that seems to run in my family.
What really impressed me about her was her drive, and her hope. This kid never was much of a television watcher and in all the months she spent in bed, I NEVER saw her television on. I would sit in the hospital with her for hours. No T.V. She would actually get annoyed if anyone else tried to watch it. She would lie there thinking if she was by herself – talking if there were others in the room.
And she studied. When she was diagnosed, she was a junior in High School. It bugged her to no end that she couldn’t go back. So with the help of her MANY friends as well as teachers and staff at her school, they helped her keep up with her classes. She did so well in fact, that this past November, she earned enough credits to graduate. Take a look:
You can’t see Lauren because she’s surrounded by friends and staff from her high school. This was a special graduation ceremony that was arranged by the New Milford High School in New Jersey. Lauren was moved to tears…
That’s Lauren showing off her diploma with mom and dad (my sister Sheri and her husband Steve). She was very happy that day and I was honored to be a part of it with my wife.
Not resting on her laurels or letting her disease get the best of her, she also worked on her college applications and her essays. She wanted to be a nurse. Her experience made her want to help others.
She was accepted at the Holy Name Hospital Nursing Program. She was very proud (we all were). Even when she could hardly stay awake, whenever someone would visit her, she would say “I got accepted!” with a huge smile on her face. It was such a joy for her.
Friends – what can I say, Lauren has such an amazing group of friends. EVERY time I went to the hospital there was at least one friend there to visit. Usually a group of friends. They were all very dedicated to her and she to them. Here’s an example of what they did for her:
If you can’t make that out, the picture is of her class spelling out 09, her gradutation year. They all wrote well wishes as well.
Then there’s Ricardo. Here’s a kid who was so dedicated…they were just a typical teen-aged couple. They started “dating” when they were 14. At 16 or so, he moved about an hour away. They were both devastated, but maintained a “long distance” relationship for a while.
When he found out about her cancer, he would come and visit every chance he got. This past couple of months, he started college, was working and still would come and visit. He would sit next to her bed and hold her hand. When she was able to go home for a while, he would lie next to her and stroke her cheek. He would tell her how beautiful she was. He wrote her letters.
When he couldn’t be there, they would constantly talk on the phone and send text messages.
The night Lauren passed, even though it was 3 in the morning, he insisted on coming to the hospital. I picked him up because he had a car accident the day before (not hurt, thank goodness). We all sat in the hospital room with Lauren, not wanting to leave. Leaving would make this all too real.
Laurens death was heart breaking. But at the same time a relief. Her pain had gotten very bad over the last several weeks. Vomitting was common – and also painful. In her final week, her medication was so much that she would hardly wake up.
My sister took comfort in knowing that Lauren was no longer scared. She often talked of seeing Nanny (my mother, who passed 18 months ago from lung cancer), smiling. Sitting on the edge of her bed, or looking out the window. We all take comfort in knowing my mother was there to help Lauren in her transition.
She is no longer suffering.
She will be sorely missed by so many.
Tomorrows Children’s Fund
Hackensack University Medical Center
30 Prospect Avenue
Hackensack, NJ 07601
1-800- A TCF KID (282-3543)
Valley Home Care
The Butterflies Program
The Valley Hospital Foundation
223 N. Van Dien Avenue
Ridgewood, NJ 07450
201-291-6300, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.