Lauren’s Brain Tumor Journey Ends

She inspired those who witnessed her courage.

By Joey Kennedy

Lauren Beck’s brain tumor journey is over. The 14-year-old died peacefully at home on Sept. 17. She knew her life was ending. The tumors in her brain, at first responding well to treatment, fought back hard and won. They multiplied, crippling Lauren. At the end, she couldn’t walk or talk.

But Lauren smiled. She smiled when she recognized somebody. She squeezed hands when those hands held hers.

And she inspired those around her who witnessed her courageous, valiant battle with a terrible disease that showed no mercy on her body.

I wrote about Lauren in this space last September, a few months after Lauren, my great niece, was diagnosed with the tumor. Almost immediately after her diagnosis, Lauren and her mother, Leanne Blackmon, started a Facebook page, “Lauren’s Brain Tumor Journey,” to encourage others facing the difficult challenge of a terminal illness.

The final entry, posted the day after Lauren died, was written by her mother:

Lauren left us yesterday, September 17, to be with God and Jesus in Heaven. Multiple tumors took over her brain and spine and after many chemo treatments and radiation treatments, her body was tired. She went through what no child should ever have to experience, yet she remained brave.

Lauren was so very brave. And while her short life is over, hers was a life well–lived. Thousands of people have been inspired by her journey, and the way this teen approached her illness.

Lauren was part of a trial at the University of Georgia in Athens through much of her treatment. But her cancer was simply too aggressive to turn back. After an MRI in June, doctors told her there was nothing else that could be done.

Leanne, her husband, Danny, and Lauren’s father, Steve, naturally took the news hard.

“All of us broke down and started crying,” Leanne remembers. But not Lauren. The doctor and chaplain told Lauren there was no shame in tears. “She just said ‘I’m going to get through this,’” Leanne said. “It’s almost like she knew. She knew what the future held. She didn’t complain not one bit about being sick. And she was sick so many times.”

My wife, Veronica, and I visited Lauren when she was at Children’s Hospital and we’d drive to her home in Gadsden to visit the family. I never once saw Lauren cry or act as if she was feeling sorry for herself. She was always cheerful, facing her fate with amazing bravery and curiosity. Her smile was bright and sincere.

“She was an old soul,” said her father Steve Beck. “She was not a free spirit. It was definitely an old soul that had been around. And it was a kind soul.”

After the family was told there was nothing else the doctors could do for Lauren, Steve said Lauren never once cried. “She said ‘I’m not worried. I’m going to be just fine.’ She told the chaplain that she was glad it happened to her, that she hoped people could learn though this ordeal, to gain strength, and to know everything would be OK.”

Lauren’s inspiration to others is evidenced in the response to her death. Dozens of her classmates and teachers from Westbrook Christian School in Rainbow City attended her visitation and funeral. The day Lauren died, her locker at the school was covered with Post-It notes with words that described Lauren: “Loving.” “A good friend.” “Godly.” “Kind.” “Giving.” “Caring.” “Selfless.” The hashtags #LoveLikeLauren” and #LiveLikeLauren took off. A slogan was born: “Lauren = the one who helped the broken.” T–shirts are being made to sell and fundraisers set up to benefit a pediatric brain cancer group. Lauren’s locker at Westbrook Christian was painted in her favorite color, rose–gold, and the locker retired, never to be used again. During the school’s homecoming parade, the back of the ninth-grade float was dedicated to Lauren. One of Lauren’s best friends, Ethan Pratt, a regular visitor throughout her illness, spoke at her funeral. And Lauren’s father said they hope to set up two scholarships in Lauren’s name, one for college and another for Westbrook students who have trouble paying the school’s tuition.

“She was not only my daughter,” Leanne said. “She was my little buddy. There were times where I thought she was older than 12 or 14, whatever the situation was. She would offer advice to me, and I would think: ‘Is this my daughter?’ She knew how to comfort people.”

The week before she died, Lauren had a massive seizure at her home, where she now was in hospice. “When you’re in hospice, you can’t go back and forth to the hospital,” Leanne said. “Everything you go through you have to go through at home. And we had to go through it with her.”

Leanne suspended her popular fashion blog (“Classy Yet Trendy”) to care for her daughter. Danny, Leanne’s husband, and Steve, Lauren’s father and Leanne’s ex-husband, stayed with Lauren 24/7.

That there was nothing else doctors could do for Lauren was “the worst thing you can ever hear, that there is nothing else you can do, that you just had to let her die.”

Leanne is crying softly as we talk. The pain and loss and grief are raw. Time, she hopes, will help her cope better. But losing her only child has altered her world forever.

All the medical equipment is gone from the house now. Lauren’s room has been restored to what it was before she got sick. The single-level home her family bought so Lauren wouldn’t have to climb stairs is much more quiet. In the silence, Leanne has restarted her blog, sitting in her small office where the sun shines on her back.

“Lauren had such a good heart,” Leanne said. “She was strong in her Christian faith.”

Lauren’s birthday is Nov. 14. She would have been 15 years old.




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