Year in Review: Top features #4
GVSU alum tells about her battle with cancer during college
Originally published 10/9/14
When a life-altering situation interrupts the gradual adjustment of experiencing milestone moments, such as transitioning to a university, it can be anything but easy. However, with the right kind of support networks and community resource centers, the word ‘easy’ soon evolves into an understatement.
In her freshman year at Grand Valley State University, Lauren Wagner experienced a different version of what many students would call the hey-days of their college experience. Hers involved a battle with cancer, as she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a cancer originating from white-blood cells that develops in the lymph nodes – one of the most common cancers among young adults between the ages of 15 and 30.
“No one in my family up until that point had any involvement with cancer on both sides,” said Wagner. “I was kind of a rarity.”
As an 18-year-old embarking on what ended up being a successful path to a degree in social work, it’s not to say that Wagner’s journey experienced a few speed bumps along the way.
After discovering a lump a week prior to enjoying a fun weekend at Michigan State University, Wagner had to put her plans on hold as her doctor sent her to further examination with an oncologist. Undergoing multiple tests, surgeries and biopsies, Wagner was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma on Nov. 18, 2010 and was scheduled to begin chemotherapy nearly one month later.
“I was devastated,” she said. “It was surreal – how do you, at 18, find out you have cancer and be okay? You’re not.”
Once initially diagnosed, Wagner took to YouTube in an effort to cope with cancer’s accompanied emotions of fear and loneliness, as well as to spread positivity and hope for others dealing with a similar situation. Through a series of video blogs, she recorded every step along her chemotherapy journey, with a more-than-open willingness to share with others.
“One, (the videos) helped me verbalize what (I was) feeling,” Wagner said. “Two, it helped me share what was going on with everyone in my life, so it was easier than explaining things a million times. And three, (it was) to help others.”
Her YouTube videos received thousands of views, and people from around the world began reaching out to her for insight.
Needless to say, this sparked a domino effect in which Wagner began to pursue more options to participate in support groups around the community and around GVSU’s campus. Within one group in particular, Wagner found an even greater opportunity to share her story.
“I started working with the GVSU Cancer Warriors Network because I was getting really involved with all of the cancer organizations around campus,” she said. “It’s a network of individuals who have been affected by cancer to connect and come together to talk and have support…We are all affected by cancer and it can be very lonely when you are, so we wanted to have some sort of network for students, faculty and staff, or whoever belongs to the community to come to.”
Within the Cancer Warriors Network, Wagner met Sue Sloop and Ingrid Johnson who asked her to participate in a documentary to be filmed by GVSU alumni, Randy Strobl and Mallory Patterson.
Wagner particularly stood out to them due to her unique way of sharing her cancer journey through video blogs, but also because she felt it would be a great way to share her story which was kept in such isolation within herself.
“(During filming) she (Lauren) definitely had her down days, but she’s very optimistic and hopeful in life,” said Strobl. “The documentary serves as a window into
the cancer journey, because nobody should have to go through this alone.”
The documentary, aptly called Cancer Warriors, made its debut on WGVU on Sept. 28. The film is available for viewing on http://www.wrinklecreative.
Now 22 years old and a GVSU graduate, Wagner has celebrated three years of living cancer-free as of June 2014. To further expand on sharing support, she currently serves as a Relay for Lif
e specialist at the American Cancer Society where she helps put together events around communities within West Michigan to raise awareness and funds in the fight against cancer. She will be in charge of putting together GVSU’s Relay for Life event which is set for April 10, 2015.
“I am loving this right now,” she said in regard to working with the American Cancer Society. “It’s a lot of fun. My aspirations are to keep going for right now.”
Wagner encourages students, faculty or anyone in the community battling with cancer or know someone who is to use any and all resources that are available, even if it’s just once.
“Reach out and use the resources, ask a bunch of questions and advocate for yourself,” said Wagner. “(It’s about) finding that support either through Cancer Warriors, Gilda’s Club or the American Cancer Society. Grand Rapids is full of resources at your fingertips.”
For more information about GVSU’s Cancer Warriors Network, visit http://www.gvsu.edu/healthwellness/cancer-warriors-network-329.htm