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Meet Lauren, Our New COO

Hello everyone!  I’m Lauren and I’m so excited to be a part of Cactus Cancer Society!  So you’re probably wondering, who are you and why are you here?  Well, like most, if not all of you, I’m here because of my personal experience with cancer.  But my story starts long before that. 

I grew up in San Diego, but went to college in Oregon.  After college, I moved to Atlanta, Georgia to attend a one-year program living in the inner-city, building community with our neighbors, and volunteering at a small nonprofit that provided free legal counsel and social support for people who had been accused of a crime but couldn’t afford a lawyer.  After that year was over, I decided to stay in Atlanta for another year as a paid staff member with hopes of attending graduate school after that.  But as you all know, cancer loves to get in the way of our plans.  About half way into my second year in Atlanta, I started feeling sick and after a few weeks of trying to figure out why, was told those three little words we’re all too familiar with: “you have cancer.”  

I was 23 at the time, had just started my first full time job, was paying my own rent, buying my own groceries, and was finally starting to feel like an independent adult.  But I quickly realized I wouldn’t be able to continue working throughout treatment.  So I quit my job, said goodbye to all my friends, moved across the country, and back in with my parents (isn’t that every young adult’s dream?).

I had four months of chemo at a cancer center in San Diego.  While I was on treatment, I just focused on what I needed to do to get through it.  I had a checklist of appointments, labs, and meds to take.  Four months seemed doable.  There was a finish line in sight.  I just needed to push through and get to it.

During treatment, I was at the cancer center three or four times a week for labs, appointments, and chemo. Then, all of a sudden, I was finished and they said, “Bye!  See you in three months!”  I went from having a full schedule to having all the free time in the world.  In the stillness, all the emotions that I had pushed down bubbled to the surface as I began trying to process what I had just experienced.  Physically, going through chemo was terrible.  But emotionally and mentally, those first few months as a “survivor” were the hardest.  I was expected to pick my life back up, but I had no clue how to do that!  I was living in a different state with no friends or community.  I didn’t have a job.  I didn’t even have hair!  I didn’t feel like myself, so how was I supposed to pick my life back up and move forward?  I had received excellent medical care, but as a brand new survivor, I felt a void.  There was no support for dealing with the emotional or mental issues that came after cancer.

When I was diagnosed, I knew just one other person who had gone through cancer in their twenties.  She was a few years older than me and had gone through cancer a few years before me.  Talking with her was one of the things that really helped me.  She could say, “yes, I’ve been there and it sucks, but you will get through it.”  It meant so much more to me because it was coming from someone who had been through it themselves.  Being able to interact with others my age who had gone through cancer really helped me to process my own experiences and begin the healing process.  That realization helped me decide that I wanted to help other cancer patients and survivors through it.  I wanted to help make sure cancer patients, survivors, and their families get the support they need, not only physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, too.  

So, I went to grad school to study social work and public health.  After grad school, I got a job as a program administrator at City of Hope, a large cancer center just outside of Los Angeles.  I spent five years there, building programs for cancer survivors, developing educational materials, facilitating a support group, and managing grants.  Now, I’ve come on board at Cactus Cancer Society as the Chief Operations Officer and I couldn’t be more excited!  I’ve been on the Board of Directors for the past three years and can’t wait to get even more involved.  I’ll be working on marketing, fundraising, grant writing, program evaluation, and other operational activities.  You’ll probably see me in some programs, too!

This summer, I celebrated nine years in remission.  Cancer sucks and I’m not going to say it was a blessing (it’s not!), but I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for having had cancer.  It has led me down a path that I wouldn’t have chosen for myself, but I am so grateful to have ended up here, doing something that allows me to use my terrible cancer experience to hopefully help others get through it.  That being said, there is so much more to my life and my story than cancer.  Four years ago, I met the love of my life, Dave, and got married shortly after that.  We moved to the gorgeous city of Bend, Oregon about two years ago.  We have a mini Australian shepherd named Summer who is an adorable ball of energy.  She’s pretty little, but can outrun every other dog at the dog park.  I love cooking, baking, drinking coffee, and taking the canoe out for a paddle in one of the many lakes near our house.  (Ok, I’ll be honest… Dave does most of the paddling…).  And I love getting to know the stories of people in the AYA cancer community.  Like me, cancer is part of your life.  But there’s so much more to you than that and I can’t wait to get to know you!