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Dance Marathon patient singing on her tiptoes following cancer recovery

BY CASSIDY RILEY | JANUARY 30, 2013 5:00 AM

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A 15 percent chance of survival. That is what Lauren Ballard’s doctors told her parents after her second relapse in 2011.

At the age of 2, Lauren was diagnosed with Wilms tumor. The tumor starts growing in the kidney while the child is still in the womb, and it can spread to other places in the body, such as the lungs.
“It was the size of a grapefruit,” said Sarah Ballard, Lauren’s mother.

After the discovery of the tumor, on March 16, 2009, Lauren underwent chemotherapy to shrink it and then had surgery to remove it two months later. Since then, Lauren, now 6, has undergone chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and a stem-cell transplant. Currently, she is considered to be stable, and she is not undergoing any treatment.

“For me, it’s been very life-altering,” Ballard said. “I feel like I’m a totally different person … after watching her suffer and going through the grief process. You treasure your children more.”

After diagnosis, Ballard said her daughter’s chance of survival was at 85 percent and it dropped to 50 percent after her first relapse. Although Lauren’s chances of survival dropped down to 15 percent after her second relapse, the whole family, Lauren included, is optimistic.

“I killed cancer three times,” Lauren said triumphantly.

Ballard said she is confident in her daughter’s future because of everything she has overcome.

“I feel very confident just because it’s just kind of miracle that she’s doing so well,” she said. “She just seems like a miracle to me, and I think a miracle has happened.”

Lauren’s father, James Ballard said he is grateful for the way things are going and that what she has gone through has only affected her and her personality in positive ways.

“We just feel unbelievably lucky that things are going so well,” he said.

Family friend Katie Coons said she and daughter Emilee Coons have tried to be there for Lauren and her family while she was going through treatment.

“I was there for Sarah,” Coons said. “Whatever Sarah needed, I tried my very best to do whatever she needed, because I can’t imagine the emotional stress that she was under, and it was hard for her, very hard for her.”

Coons and Sarah Ballard would schedule play dates for the girls to help keep Lauren’s spirits up.

“I was surprised over and over and over on Lauren’s strength and ability to have fun no matter what she was dealing with,” she said. “Her personality seemed unaffected.”

Lauren’s grandmother, Maxine Ballard, said the experience has made the girl very independent and strong.

“She doesn’t wait for anyone to fight her battles,” she said. “She’ll fight them herself.”

While Lauren was an inpatient at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, Dance Marathon participants visited her and helped the family out however they could.

“Before I even knew what they were, they were giving us money,” Sarah Ballard said. “I think it’s amazing. It’s the neatest thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life as far as charities.”

The Ballards have been attending Dance Marathon events since 2010, and Lauren is very excited about the upcoming Big Event on Friday.

“I’m looking forward to dancing,” Lauren said. “I’m looking forward to all of it.”

At the Big Event, she will sing in the talent show. She is allotted five minutes for her performance, and she hopes to squeeze in all of her favorite songs.

“I have three favorite songs: ‘We’re going to Go on a Sleigh Ride,’ ‘Listen to the Bells,’ and ‘It is Written,’ ” Lauren said.

Today, she enjoys the everyday things of a typical 6-year-old only at a slightly higher height considering she is often seen walking, leaping, and dancing on her toes.

Sarah Ballard said her treatment made her feet very sensitive, so Lauren got into a habit of walking on her toes —something she finds hard to break now.

“She really enjoys doing normal kid stuff now,” Sarah Ballard said. “Going to school is really exciting.”

While going through treatment, Lauren missed out on a lot of school and now finds herself excited about school even after she comes home. Sarah Ballard said Lauren often enjoys pretending to be at school and making up math problems because math is her favorite subject.

“Her main hobby is just using her imagination,” she said.


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