The first time we heard the consultant say, “The cancer’s back.” We didn’t know Lauren had cancer in the first place.
She had a lump removed a year before. At first we 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 it 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, 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 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 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. Laurens veins were so small, she had such tiny wrists, that the adult needles were just too big.
They changed the treatment slightly, almost diluted it and we would go in on Sunday night so there was no hassle trying to get her in for treatment early on a Monday morning. They would come in at 8am, start her treatment while she was still in bed and Lauren would just settle herself down and go to sleep. They would give her medication to make sure she wasn’t sick afterwards. She would be in for two or three days, in adult treatment she would be in for a couple of hours.
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, 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, “you made me give up biking for a rabbit.”
We started making cakes when Lauren was ill, we were home all the time and it was something to do. The first one she did was for Scott’s birthday, all done up as a present with bows and bits and pieces on there. And then she did one for Darren’s birthday that was a ham and cheese sandwich, which was amazing.
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 into a child. 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.
The staff were amazing at the hospital. I can’t praise them enough.
The play lady 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 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 it out as a whole complete thing. She put paper on the conservatory doors so no one could see what she was making in there. When it was revealed it was absolutely amazing.
She liked to perform as well. She played Mary in the nativity when she was at Carnon Downs playgroup when she was about three. I don’t know how she realised we were filming her, but all of a sudden she did this wink 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 heard it umpteen times practiced 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 and she did get to meet him. 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 all together – it was just trying to control it. We found out near the end she actually had seven and this thing on her side just kept growing, like some kind of alien.
I had no intention of taking her 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’.
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.