Lauren Bendesky was first diagnosed with neuroblastoma in June 2012, when she was 14 years old. She endured three and a half years of treatment, and spent more than half of the last year in the hospital. Through it all, she was determined to stay on track with her studies, taking online classes and completing the coursework from her hospital bed. Lauren managed to receive all A's and completed two advanced placement classes, all while attending online school.
In 2014, Lauren served as a St. Baldrick's Ambassador and continues to advocate for better treatments for childhood cancers. She aspires to one day be a pediatric oncologist and is now in college at Washington University in St. Louis, where her tumor was first diagnosed.
March 1, 2016, was the last day of a 27-month clinical trial meant to keep the 18-year-old in remission. The trial that Lauren was on is a study of the drug difluoromethylornithine, or DFMO, which is being looked at by St. Baldrick's researcher Dr. Giselle Sholler as a potential tool to keep survivors of high-risk neuroblastoma in remission.
Through it all, Lauren's mom, Sharon Frankel, was by her side. So, in observance of Mother's Day, she has written a thank you letter to her:
I remember sitting at the dining room table with my family after my final day of ninth grade. I never could have been prepared for what laid ahead. Before the plates were cleared, our conversation took a deep turn. You and my step-father made immediate contact and tears began to swell up in your eyes. At the moment, I was aware that the tumor previously removed from my abdomen was malignant. I remember you shook as you uttered the words, "I'm sorry Lauren, but the tumor and surrounding lymph nodes were malignant." As a typical adolescent, I was most fearful about losing my hair. You were aware that I felt most comfortable with you, so you took me into the bathroom and encouraged me to release my anger and anxiety. You not only stood as a shoulder to lean on, but stayed strong for me at this moment. From this day on I asked you to keep a promise: to never show sadness or frustration in front of me as I needed to be strong to overcome this beast. Do you remember?
For the next 18 months, you spent over 200 days in the hospital with me, walking over to work before sunrise and then coming back to care for me after a long day at work. My well-being and health were your No. 1 priorities, forgetting about your own worries to ensure that I would win this battle. There were nights where I would scream in disgruntlement, so over-tired from the medications being pumped into my body that I was unable to sleep. You dealt with my tears and anxious screams to ensure that I fell asleep. Even as an older adolescent, there were times that I felt helpless, unable to stand up, eat, or function as a normal person. I can only imagine the fear and helplessness you felt as you were unable to keep your only daughter safe and healthy. As a mother, you felt it was your responsibility to do everything in your power to prevent me from facing cancer. Often heading to my grandmother's house to pick me up, you would call to give an estimated time of arrival. Especially following my diagnosis, you often took longer than expected. I was fully aware that you felt guilty and needed time to compose yourself before entering my presence. But you never once broke your promise with me, doing all in your power to keep your emotions distant from my view.
Even through this trying time, there are positive memories. During my autologous stem cell rescue, we spent several weeks in an isolated bone marrow transplant unit with special ventilation. You and I laughed for hours on end about our living conditions, which resembled a horse stall. Smiles and chuckles were also shared regarding my odor immediately after I received my stem cells back. Remember how the chemicals used to preserve the cells smelled similar to that of raw meat? As you entered the room, we made immediate eye contact and smiled, thinking about the nauseating smell radiating off my body.
I remember how you encouraged me to get involved with organizations like the St. Baldrick's Foundation by sharing my story and standing by my side in D.C. as we advocated for more funding for childhood cancer research. During this time, I found my voice and my dream to become a pediatric oncologist.
There are times that I forgot all you'd done for me over the last 18 years. You have always been a role model in my life, as I aspire to be half the woman and mother you are. However, as I reflect on my journey with cancer, I could not imagine reaching success without your presence. You served as a shoulder to lean on, my confidant, and an advocate for my emotional and physical health. So this Mother's Day, as I reflect on everything we've been through together, I thank you, Mom, for all you have done for me and continue to do.