Wayne Post
  • Diving into her cancer battle

  • The doctor told Jen that Lauren had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer in which malignant, immature white blood cells continuously multiply and are overproduced in the bone marrow.

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  • The Miller family was just finishing dinner when the phone rang.
    The call drove Jen Miller upstairs to her bedroom, where she let the tears flow. She was left wondering how she would manage to tell her 11-year-old daughter Lauren she had leukemia.
    Lauren found her mom in the bedroom, and just seeing her tears told Lauren all she needed to know. Together they cried on the bed. It’s been nine months and the memory still brings tears to Jen’s eyes.
    “It was rough,” she said. “It seemed like I was on the phone for so long.”
    The doctor told Jen that Lauren had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer in which malignant, immature white blood cells continuously multiply and are overproduced in the bone marrow.
    Jen and her husband, Jason, were told they had to get Lauren to Strong Memorial Hospital immediately for testing and that they should expect to stay there for as long as two weeks. It was a Friday evening in May.
    Lauren’s symptoms began last January with pain in her sternum, legs and back and extreme fatigue. A series of tests and then biopsies finally revealed the leukemia. Lauren’s dad, Jason, said the drive to the hospital that May evening was a blur of panic and fear. When they met the oncologist, Jason said his stress levels dropped as the doctor explained what was happening and what they could expect.
    “He was open and honest,” Jason said. “He instilled confidence in us.”
    Lauren echoed her father’s sentiments. Her prognosis was good. However, because her age it was a bit more risky.
    After a night of testing, Lauren was released in time to make it to her spring school dance. Her older sister, Chelsea, went to her prom and Jen graduated from Brockport. It was just another weekend in the Miller household, except now Lauren would start chemotherapy that coming Wednesday — a series of treatments that would continue for the next 2 1/2 years.
    Life before cancer was busy. Lauren was a swimmer attending practice four nights a week and a diver practicing two nights a week, as well as taking part in several competitions. And every weekend, the family went to hockey games. Children Chelsea, Lauren and the youngest, 9-year-old Camden, kept parents Jen and Jason busy with school activities and friends.
    Before cancer, Lauren had relatively long hair. Knowing the treatments would take her hair, she had it cut short in preparation, hoping it would be less of a shock when it started to fall out. She donated the ponytail to Locks of Love. But there was little that could prepare the pre-teen as her hair began thinning a few strands at a time and then more as treatments continued. Sitting at her kitchen table with her mom and dad, Lauren was not shy about her lack of hair, but admits that at school she wears a hat every day.
    Page 2 of 3 - After the first 30 days of chemo, a bone marrow biopsy showed positive results and doctors declared Lauren was in remission. The treatments ahead are maintenance treatments to keep the cancer away — hopefully permanently. Chemotherapy has taken a toll on Lauren, sometimes making her nauseous, other times making her legs weak, keeping her out of school for days at a time and needing a tutor to keep up with her studies.
    Her next round of treatment is expected to hit hard, and the family is preparing. But for the most part, Jen and Jason said they have worked hard to continue life as usual in the home as the family learns to live with cancer. Besides her hair, cancer has taken Lauren away from her swimming and diving routine for fear of injury. Jen said they do all they can to keep Lauren as healthy as possible, but they still go to the beach and hockey games and enjoy family vacations, just like before.
    Lauren’s swim coach, Jason Stevens, helped Caryn Harold, the assistant coach on girls modified swim and coach of boys modified swim, who launched Caps for Lauren. Stevens connected with his contacts in the world of swimming, seeking signed swim caps to support Lauren through her fight. His connections reached far and wide. Among the 40 or so caps Lauren has received from swimmers at all levels of competition are autographed caps from gold medalists Michael Phelps and another from Ryan Lochte. What’s more, Lauren’s diving coach, Shawn Austin, reached out to Laura Wilkinson, a former Olympic diver, who sent a T-shirt with signatures from the U.S. Dive Team and a special letter explaining that she couldn’t find a cap she liked.
    Jen and Jason have made their own discoveries on the path they follow, finding the true heart of the human spirit. Jen said they have met many people who have offered support to help them in their fight against childhood cancer. The support even came in the form of food, as the family marveled at returning home from the hospital on any number of occasions and meeting someone with dinner in hand.
    “I don’t think we cooked for six weeks,” Jason said. “It was incredible.”
    Among those helping out was Kuk Sool Won, a Korean martial art studio with locations throughout Wayne County. It held its annual Cancer Benefit Tournament Jan. 26 to benefit Lauren this year. The event included demonstrations of martial arts, students competing for prizes, 50/50 raffle, a silent auction, bake sale and plenty of pizza. Lauren even got a chance to learn some self-defense moves — something she found pretty “cool.”
    The benefit raised nearly $7,000 for the Miller family, which will help them pay for traveling expenses and medical bills. Jen and Jason expressed appreciation for Kuk Sool Won owner Gary Evarts and Bill Bolling with the Wayne County Children’s Cancer Fund, who recommended the family as beneficiary for the event.
    Page 3 of 3 - And Lauren isn’t letting cancer get her down. She is starting to get back into swimming and hopes to return to diving — a true passion for the now 12-year-old Palmyra-Macedon Middle School student.
    “It came naturally for me,” Lauren said of diving. “I like the feel of being a part of a team but being judged as an individual. And I like doing flips and twists.”
    Lauren is looking ahead, and she has big plans.
    “I’m going to be a Division I diver at UB and I’m going to go to school to be a orthodonist,” Lauren announced with a smile. And when asked why, Lauren said with a laugh, “They make lots of money. And I like going to the dentist.”
    Anyone interested in donating to help families in Wayne County like the Millers, can donate to the Wayne County Children’s Cancer Fund by emailing info@waynecountykids.com or call Bill Bolling at (315) 576-0698.

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