“She’s writing a book!” exclaimed Mary Ann Crosson of her granddaughter, Lauren Garrison, the Children's Hospital Central California 2013 Kids Day Ambassador. “I don’t know what it’s about, but I’m sure it’ll be good,” said the proud grandma. “And I don’t think many teenagers write a book.”
“Once Lauren makes up her mind to do something it’s probably going to happen,” said Joanne Ylarregui, community club leader for Howard 4-H of Madera County, where Lauren serves as club president. “She is a determined young lady.”
Lauren’s drive became obvious – and beneficial – during her childhood battle with cancer. “Going through cancer is a traumatic experience,” she said. “But you look to God and keep your chin up. It makes you a stronger person.”
Now a healthy 16-year-old, Lauren was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 5. Advances in treating childhood cancer over the past 40 years have led to significantly improved cure rates. Today greater than 80 percent of children recover from their disease.
“She went into remission on day seven of treatment,” said Paula Garrison, Lauren’s mother. “But she continued treatment for two years and two months.”
“Even though you’re going through a bad thing, the people at the Hospital were so nice they made it easier,” said Lauren, speaking especially highly of the nurse she calls “Miss Kim,” who compassionately administered the chemotherapy week by week, month after month. “It was so nice that Miss Kim was there every time I came in,” she said. “She knew that I liked her to count to three before sticking my port.”
“Lauren was very precocious as a 5-year-old,” said Crosson. “She knew exactly what her treatments were and how she wanted them. And the staff was amazing the way they treat those kids like they’re their own.”
Jan. 23, 2004 was Lauren’s last day of chemotherapy. By age 11, her outpatient visits to Craycroft Cancer Center had been reduced to annual checkups. During Lauren’s most recent follow-up visit, she enrolled in the Children's Hospital Central California Childhood Cancer Survivorship Program. The program director, Dr. John Gates, pediatric hematologist/oncologist, and program coordinator, Jocelyn Alsdorf, registered nurse, oncology, work with patients in remission who completed their cancer treatments at least three years earlier.
While up to two-thirds of childhood cancer survivors experience long-term side effects as a result of their therapy, most remain unaware of the late effects of cancer treatments and unfamiliar with how to reduce related risks to their health. Alsdorf met with the Garrisons to review Lauren’s entire childhood cancer treatment history, including cumulative doses and types of chemotherapy received.
“Jocelyn said I’m low risk for everything,” said Lauren, clearly encouraged. “It’s because I was over 5 when I was diagnosed and I had low doses of chemo.”
“I always stress to patients that ‘low risk’ doesn’t mean ‘no risk,’” said Alsdorf. “They’re still going to need their regular screenings.” Prior to Lauren’s initial survivorship program appointment, Alsdorf prepared an individualized binder containing information tailored exclusively to Lauren. “As we’re going over the late effects and risks associated with their treatment, we’re always focusing on the empowerment aspect rather than the risks themselves.”
When asked how she felt as she learned about potential late effects faced by survivors, Lauren said, “I just let it slide off my back.”
Alsdorf is pleased with that response. “We want our patients empowered to take control, not worried about the things that might happen.”
The goal of childhood cancer treatment extends beyond cure to curing children with fewer effects on their growth and development. To aid this endeavor, Alsdorf supplies data on the Hospital’s current patient population to pediatric oncology researchers studying late effects. Clinical trials help researchers compare the efficacy of current treatment regimens to treatments with less potential for future medical problems.
The Garrisons are familiar with clinical trials, having enrolled Lauren as a 5-year-old cancer patient. “It was a hard decision to make,” said Lauren’s mother. “But we knew she was benefitting from the parents who have gone before us and offered to include their children in the study.” After a pause, she added, “And we wanted to help others.”
“I always point to the bald-headed children running around and say, ‘What you did is helping that little one right now,’” said Dr. Vonda Crouse, pediatric hematologist/ oncologist, Children's Hospital Central California. Dr. Crouse helped treat Lauren years ago and joined her for the Kids Day photo shoot. “By participating in clinical studies, Lauren contributes to the care of our current patients. When you have survivors you can ask them, ‘So how are you doing now?’ and, ‘How tall did you get?’ and things like that.”
The Children's Hospital Childhood Cancer Survivorship Program plays an important role in maximizing the health of survivors like Lauren and empowering them to reach their full potential as adults. More than 300 childhood cancer survivors have enrolled in the program, which currently evaluates about 20 patients each month. With a greater understanding of the late effects of their treatment, these survivors are better equipped to watch for associated health risks as they grow into adulthood.
“I remember this very sweet, adorable little girl,” said Kimberly Ling (aka “Miss Kim”), registered nurse, oncology. “And all of a sudden she’s this young woman, strong and articulate.”
“It’s made me who I am,” said Lauren of her battle with cancer. “Everything I went through molded me into who I am. You learn you can’t back down. You have to be brave and keep pressing on.”
Lauren sold Kids Day newspapers for three years as a member of Howard 4-H. “I like standing on the corner and smiling at everyone,” she said. As this year’s Kids Day Ambassador, Lauren plays a greater role by sharing her experiences as a childhood cancer survivor.
“If someone I knew had to go through it I’d tell them, ‘Keep pressing forward,’” said Lauren. “I’d say, ’I’ll be there for you and I’m praying for you.’”
“Cancer patients see things through their particular lenses,” said Ling. “Lauren’s lens is more of a positive lens.”
Maybe that’s why Lauren is driven to write a book. She’s a survivor with something positive to say.
Thank you to our Kids Day partners!