Four years ago, under sad and frightening circumstances, four young girls met each other while being treated for cancer at John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.
McKinley, Chloe, Ava and Lauren, now between 5 and 6 years old, helped each other get through the treatments and each year had a photo taken in the lobby of the hospital.
At last year’s reunion all four girls were in remission for the first time and dressed in their now customary tutus and statement t-shirts, with the word ‘Survivor’ announcing their health status.
In September this year the girls had their fourth reunion with the message ‘Never EVER Give Up’ on their shirts. Chloe, McKinley and Ava are in remission but Lauren’s cancer came back and she was at the hospital for treatment and the girls spent their reunion in Lauren’s room.
Ava’s mom added the glittering mantra inspired by the girl’s own words, ‘Never EVER Give Up’.
“I heard all the girls start saying it around the time last year when we found out Lauren had relapsed,” says Lauren’s mother, Shawna Glynn. She and the three fellow moms agreed the message was a perfect fit. “The girls have never given up on each other,” Glynn says.
This year’s reunion lifted everyone’s spirits, she says: “Lauren was sitting on the bed when the girls walked in and she was just bouncing up and down because she was so excited to see them. I wanted to pause time and just live in that moment.”
Lauren, Ava and McKinley had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), one of the most common types of childhood cancer and often shows up between ages two and four and affects the blood and bone marrow. Symptoms can include bone and joint pain, weakness, and unexplained weight loss. ALL is usually treated with chemotherapy, and can be cured. Lauren, unfortunately, was one of the 15 to 20 percent of children who received the treatment but the cancer returned.
After her relapse, Lauren’s treatment included a bone marrow transplant and more chemo earlier this year. She also received a type of immunotherapy treatment called CAR T-cell therapy where doctors took a type of white blood cell (T-cells) from her blood and changed them in a lab, making them more efficient at finding and attacking cancer cells. The cells were then returned back into her blood so they can latch onto the cancer cells and destroy them.
Lauren has felt “really well” since she got the therapy, her mom said. Lauren continued with regular follow-up check-ups and care at the hospital’s outpatient clinic.
And indeed, the treatment was successful! Lauren is officially back in remission since October 30, 2019. “We are so thankful that Lauren continues to feel well and are very hopeful that this CAR T is her cure,” her mom says.