Happy to be a senior, thankful to be a survivor

Published 9:06 pm Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Most people would say that high school is one of the toughest times in a person’s life, but throw a life-threatening illness into the mix, and life gets exponentially tougher.

It is a rare individual who can face such adversity with a stiff upper lip, but one high school student did just that.

When Lauren Bowles was only a sophomore, she was enjoying a meal at Yuki Express in Bainbridge when she happened to rub her collarbone. She noticed a strange lump on the left side that worried her. Quickly she went across town to Subway, where her mother, Kim, was eating.

Kim, who works in the health care industry, was immediately worried and had a CT scan scheduled for the following Monday. The radiologist scanned Lauren’s chest and neck area and though not able to give an official diagnosis, stated that the lump was suggestive of lymphoma.

No sooner had Lauren been dropped back off at Bainbridge High School than her doctor called to say she wanted Lauren to go to Atlanta for more tests the very next morning at eight o’clock. The family raced back to their home, packed their bags and had left for Atlanta by noon.

During this time, Lauren was sick with mononucleosis. The doctors in Atlanta said that her problem was nothing more than that and sent her home. Worried that it was more, Kim and her husband, Charles, took their daughter back to Dr. Alicia Estillore, a local pediatrician.

The week before Lauren’s spring break, she had a biopsy of the lump. Then the family waited anxiously for the news while trying to enjoy their vacation at the beach. It was on April 3, during their vacation, that the Bowles got the news—Lauren had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, previously known as Hodgkin’s Disease, is a rare cancer that begins in the white blood cells and spreads through a person’s lymph nodes. It is typically found in young people ages 15 to 35 and people older than 55.

Young adults with a history of mono are at a higher risk of getting Hodgkin’s. In 2009, 8,500 new cases of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma were reported in the United States. This form of cancer happens to be the most curable, with 90 percent or more patients being cured when the disease is detected in its earliest stages. Even if detected in later stages, Hodgin’s Lymphoma still has a high cure rate.

After the diagnosis

Soon after her diagnosis, Lauren began chemotherapy treatments by participating in a clinical trial conducted by Emory University School of Medicine and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

It was during this time, Kim noticed the courage her daughter had.

Kim said of her daughter, “She was just resilient. I never realized how resilient children can be, but she was. She was so brave the whole time. I was amazed at her courage and endurance.”

“I never really got upset. I never really cried,” Lauren stated. She said her time in the hospital was depressing at first, but not so much that it broke her down. She was on an all-children’s ward and witnessed other kids who were affected by various types of cancer, such as leukemia and brain tumors.

“I realized I didn’t have it bad compared to some of them,” she said. She admits that the first round of chemo was hard on her body, calling it “poison” and saying she lost a lot of weight due to the treatments causing nausea and loss of appetite.

After the first round, things got a little better and the treatments simply became routine. Lauren began counting them down—“three more to go, then two…”

Maintaining a normal life

Determined to maintain a “normal” life, Lauren went ahead with band camp since she had been picked for the dance line. Though it left her very tired, she was glad she went through with it.

She was on medical leave from school the rest of the year and is truly thankful for Barbara Murrah, a counselor at Bainbridge High School, who helped make sure that Lauren stayed caught up with her work in order to go on to 11th grade.

She also found strength in the outpouring of love and support from friends. The cards and phone calls kept Lauren’s spirits up, keeping her positive that things would be fine. She also found comfort in Bible passages such as Jeremiah 29:11—“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Lauren noted that most people equate cancer with death, but she knew she had to stay positive.

Lauren underwent six months of treatments. She has now been off of the chemotherapy treatments for 18 months and is in remission, meaning that there is no current trace of cancer in the body. Lauren will not be considered cured until she has been in remission for five years, which will be in 2013.

Last year, Lauren participated in Relay for Life. Though she had volunteered her time for the cause before, walking with friends, last year took on a whole new meaning to Lauren.

It was different, because this time Lauren walked as a cancer survivor. She led the Survivor Walk, and the event was in her honor.

Relay for Life means a great deal to Lauren; it’s a place where those who have shared her experience can come together and relate to one another while working toward common goals—raising awareness and hoping for a cure.

“No one can understand what you have been through unless they have lived it too,” Lauren said. “That’s why Relay is so important to me. There are people there who can relate to me. It’s a bond we share.”

Lauren hopes to always be active with Relay for Life no matter where she may be in the future because it has brought her so much hope.

Lauren is excited about Saturday’s Relay for Life, although she will be spending her morning doing what every high school senior dreads—taking the SATs.

She is happy to be an average senior in high school, looking forward to college and perhaps a career doing therapy with children cancer survivors, but most of all, Lauren is thankful to be a survivor.

Relay for Life kicks off at 10 a.m. on Saturday at the Bainbridge Middle School track.