Lauren’s Story, by her mum
The first time we heard the consultant say, “the cancer’s back,” we didn’t know Lauren had had cancer in the first place.
She’d had a lump removed a year before, and at first we’d joked the pain was just constipation. But when the doctors said they were going to operate, we fell apart and thought it was something horrendous. As far as Lauren was concerned it was major surgery, and told everyone the long scar was from a shark attack. It was sent to labs across Europe for tests, but doctors struggled to work out what it was.
When the lump came back the consultants said there was no rush to start chemo – let Lauren enjoy the summer first. But the summer was ruined because she wouldn’t go to the beach because of the lump on her side. In the end I brought the treatment forward, I couldn’t cope with watching the mass grow.
Because Lauren was now 16, she was treated as an adult. We went into the Sunrise Centre at the Royal Cornwall Hospital, had the treatment and then left. She hated it and it was a real battle to get her there.
She had her driving test while she was having her treatment; she was adamant she would do it, even though she couldn’t see over the wheel! She did drive to hospital appointments sometimes, and it was the only way I could get her to go, but I was a nervous wreck as a passenger and would feel sick.
Lauren became so poorly so quickly that they said she couldn’t cope with the treatment. The doctors said she wasn’t responding and asked us where we wanted Lauren to be; in a hospital or a hospice. They gave her three weeks to live.
By sheer luck, CLIC Sargent social worker Kim Gill came to visit Lauren on that same day, and asked why she wasn’t on the paediatric ward, where she was treated the first time she had the tumour.
I knew she would go, because she loved it up there before. She felt safe and when they said they were going to make her well the first time round, they did. She had tremendous faith in them.
I had a meeting with her consultant and the clinical director of paediatric oncology. They said they didn’t think Lauren was well enough to have any more treatment. I begged them to give her a chance; I knew she would fight if she was given the opportunity.
The consultant said if it were one of his daughters, he wouldn’t put them through any more treatment. But I just couldn’t do that. I couldn’t give up.
They agreed to take her.
Lauren was petite and the first thing they did was fit her with a tube hidden under her skin which meant they didn’t have to keep using needles. Lauren’s veins were so small, she had such tiny wrists, that the adult needles were just too big.
They changed the treatment slightly, in essence diluted it, so we would go in on Sunday night to avoid the hassles of Monday Mornings! They would come in at 8am, and start her treatment while she was still in bed. Lauren would just settle herself down and go back to sleep. They gave her medication to make sure she wasn’t sick afterwards, and she would be in for two or three days, where the adult treatment had lasted just a couple of hours. It was much better for her to be treated like this, and she was so much happier.
Lauren knew what she wanted, and what she wanted to look like. She would spend hours trying to tame her thick hair.
When she started treatment, it came out in clumps from underneath. It never looked like she was losing her hair, but she decided to shave it off. It was a pretty momentous occasion – I found it really upsetting but it really suited her and she had patterns cut into it. They used to do spectacular ones at Mamouchi hairdressers in Truro. Her childhood friend George had a pattern in his hair as well, but Lauren went ballistic because he had the same design. George was having it done to be supportive, but she wanted to be different and special.
She worked at our family’s bar, Zafiros, as a waitress, and quit twice and was sacked three times. As far as she was concerned she was the boss. She was always late, but she always got the best tips, because she had the gift of the gab.
She was the younger sister to her two brothers Darren and Scott, and never had a feminine bone in her body. She played football and did cross-country running until it became too much of an effort.
She and the boys always loved anything with wheels. Lauren came first in BMX competitions, then went into the All British auto class for motocross. She got too big and needed a new bike but it was too stressful for me, she had absolutely no fear, and I managed to get her to stop by promising to buy her two rabbits. It was the end of her biking career, which she never let me forget. She often said, “you made me give up biking for a rabbit.”
We started making cakes when Lauren was ill, as we were home all the time and it was something to do. The first one she made was for Scott’s birthday, decorated like a present with bows and bits and pieces on there. Then she did one for Darren’s birthday that looked for all the world like a ham and cheese sandwich, which was amazing. Thankfully, it tasted of cake…
Tanya’s Courage Trust arranged for her to do some cooking with chef Alex Mackay, from Ready Steady Cook. When Lauren died he wrote me a beautiful letter saying how devastated he was, that cooking with Lauren was a day he would remember all his life.
When she was ill, Lauren regressed back into her childhood. All she wanted was her mummy. Teenagers might like to act like adults but when they’re weak and vulnerable they still need to be looked after. Remembering this has been one of factors helping us with LARF, knowing that teens fit uncomfortably between childhood and adulthood.
The play therapist, Debbie Childs, realised how artistic Lauren was, and dug out things she had in her cupboards for Lauren to play with.
She was very creative and very arty and did manage to get an A in GCSE Art – which was impressive because she got away with doing as little work as she could. In hospital she honed her skill of balloon modelling. That took over her life in hospital; she was amazingly good at it. Lauren also made her consultant Katrina and I little glass flowers. She loved Playmobil all through her childhood. Before we finally packed it all away she decided she was going to put every single piece of it out, as a complete little world. She put paper on the conservatory doors so no one could see what she was making in there, and when it was revealed it was absolutely amazing.
She liked to perform as well. She played Mary in the nativity play when she was at Carnon Downs playgroup, aged about three. I don’t know how she realised we were filming her, but all of a sudden she winked to the camera, which is a brilliant moment on film. At senior school she performed her Lee Evans impression in front of the whole school. She did the whole sketch. We’d heard it practiced umpteen times at home and it’s still remembered by the teachers at the school. I think she liked the way he told the stories – it was real life, observational humour. She did get to meet him once, when she was ill – he and his wife were lovely.
The treatment reduced Lauren’s tumour by 70 per cent, allowing her to go on a medical trial. We were never going to get rid of the tumour altogether – the treatment was just trying to control it. We found out near the end she actually had seven tumours, and the lump on her side just kept growing, like some kind of alien.
I had no intention of taking Lauren home until she was well. She was always going to get better. We were going to fight and put some weight on and do some more treatment. But she woke up one Friday morning and just said, ‘take me home’.
The staff were amazing at the hospital. I can’t praise them enough. Everyone came to visit, the consultants and nurses. The district nurses were brilliant, all of them. I just can’t speak highly enough of them. The care they gave her, and the respect, it was just amazing. She wasn’t just another patient, it was very personal care. They went over and above and I can never repay them.
Lauren left a lasting impression on an awful lot of people and I know her death really affected the staff at the hospital. She was the first person to have multi-transitional treatment, with adult and paediatric teams working together. She opened the door to this kind of treatment being able to be done.
Hospital staff came in early to treat Lauren, called from home when they were off duty, when she was really poorly and visited during her final days at home. I will be eternally grateful to them all. They pulled out all the stops and showed amazing dedication. I can’t fault any of their care and that is what drives us with the charity.
Wharfside Shopping Centre, Penzance, are holding a Fun Day raising money for LARF and Great Ormond Street Hospital.
They are promising huge amounts of fun for all the family, at the event which takes place on Saturday 2 June, from 10am to 4pm. This is the Saturday at the end of half term, so take the whole family down for a great time!
There will be free entertainment, face-painting, games and activities.