“ Be your own advocate! I know it’s cliché, but you really know your body more than anyone, and it’s ok to push back when doctors tell you something that doesn’t seem right.
Lauren Kewley is another young mAss Kicker based in San Diego California. We met her at an event earlier this year at a San Diego State baseball game and ran into her again at a conference in Denver. Lauren is currently a Master’s Degree Candidate in Social Work and Public Health at San Diego State University. She also serves as a legislative ambassador for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and as a social work intern at Serving Seniors. After college at George Fox University, she moved to Atlanta, Georgia, to participate in Mission Year, a year-long, full-time volunteer program. She is getting more involved in the cancer advocacy community! We were very fortunate to find some time in her busy schedule to ask her some questions!
mK: Thanks for doing this Lauren! First question… How did you find out about your diagnosis?
LK: I was diagnosed when I was 23. I had a lymph node biopsy on a Friday and was supposed to have a follow-up appointment the next Wednesday, when the surgeon would tell me the results. I specifically asked if there was any way they could tell me the results before that appointment (since a week is an excruciatingly long time to wait to hear if you have cancer) and the nurse said that no, I would have to wait for the appointment. So when I got a phone call on the Monday morning after my surgery, I wasn’t expecting it to be the surgeon. I was at work in my little cubicle when my cell phone rang. I answered it and the surgeon responded saying, “Well, I just wanted to call and let you know that you have Hodgkin lymphoma.” And I said, “I do?” And he said something along the lines of, “Yes, I wanted to let you know, but we will talk about it more at your appointment on Wednesday.” And then, I literally said, “Well, thanks for calling.” Because what else do you say when a surgeon calls you on your cell phone to tell you that you have cancer? And that was that.
mK: Whenever a doctor calls, it always makes people nervous. It is better than having to wait days for the results tho… Before your appointment, what were your symptoms?
LK: I was living in Atlanta at the time, but went home to San Diego for Christmas. I started having night sweats, but I figured I was just getting hot because it was winter and we had the heater on at night. I didn’t realize they were a symptom of cancer, so I didn’t really think anything about it. I flew back to Atlanta on New Years Eve and went to a party that night. The next day, I was exhausted. I slept almost the entire day, but figured it was just because of the flight and staying up late the night before. That was really the start of my symptoms. After that day, I started feeling exhausted and nauseated and just generally icky. I thought I had the flu, but when I didn’t get better, I decided to go to the doctor. I went to a minute clinic (because I hadn’t established a primary care doctor) and they did a blood test and told me it wasn’t the flu, but that’s about all they did. About a week later, I felt a lump above my collarbone and realized that this illness was something more serious than the flu. So I went to a different doctor who told me my lymph node was swollen due to a UTI. He gave me antibiotics and told me to come back in a week. When I returned and my lymph node was still swollen, he referred me to a surgeon for a biopsy. It turned out to be Hodgkin lymphoma.
mK: How are you doing now? What are you up to?
LK: I’m doing really well! This summer marks three years of remission for me, so that’s really exciting! And I’m up to a lot right now. I just finished my second year of a three-year dual masters program at San Diego State University for my Masters in Social Work and my Masters in Public Health. I’m glad to be on summer break because it is a lot of work, but I’m keeping busy this summer. I’m currently an American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Legislative Ambassador (that’s a mouthful!) and I work at a nonprofit that helps low-income seniors. I also just started working on my master’s thesis, in which I will look at organizational factors that can minimize fear of recurrence among cancer survivors.
mK: Congrats on 3 years! What motivates you?
LK: I know it’s taboo to talk about religion, but I’d be lying if I said anything other than God. My motivation is knowing that God loves me and has me on this earth for some purpose. We all have an impact on one another and the world around us, and I want my impact to be a positive one – one that spreads peace and compassion, and one that leaves people knowing that they are loved.
mK: That is cool. Who are your personal heroes?
LK: I don’t really have a “hero,” but some people who inspire me are Dorothy Day, Jane Addams, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Shane Claiborne, C.S. Lewis, J.B. Phillips, Timothy Keller, Wendell Berry, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Paul Farmer.
mK: What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
LK: A lot of things make me laugh. I try to find humor and the bright side in everything. Also, my friends make me laugh a lot. I’m lucky to have a handful of really energetic and hilarious best friends.
And a lot of things make me cry. I’m much more emotional now than I was before I had cancer. It’s not that I get upset a lot, but rather that I find myself easily moved by really sappy things, like puppies or Hallmark commercials haha.
Injustice makes me really angry. Poverty, hunger, homelessness, and all of that really upsets me and I could go on a big rant about it, but I’ll spare you. But that anger is part of why I’m going into social work. I think anger is pointless unless we channel it into doing something positive. Smoking also makes me angry. I don’t know what caused my cancer, but if I knew that something contributed to it, I would definitely stop doing it. So it just baffles me that people still continue to smoke, even though we all know without a doubt that smoking causes cancer. But what really makes me angry about it is that smoking isn’t just bad for the smoker, but it impacts all the people around them. It just seems like a really selfish thing to me.
mK: Yeah! What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve ever done?
LK: You mean besides surviving cancer? This is a really hard question for me. I’ve been really fortunate to experience a lot of crazy and extreme things. I think one of the most interesting things about me is that I spent a year living in the inner-city of Atlanta on a budget of $17 per week in order to better understand what it truly means to live in poverty in America. I also spent that year volunteering at a not-for-profit that helps the indigent criminally accused. It was one of the craziest, but most fulfilling years of my life. Other than that, I’ve travelled to more than 20 countries, been black water rafting, zorbing, skydiving, and have parasailed on dry land behind an SUV.
mK: Whoa… had to look up “black water rafting” and “zorbing”. Looks pretty fun! You definitely appreciate life! What is the toughest challenge a survivor faces?
LK: Isolation. This is a major problem, especially for young survivors. After you’ve been through such a crazy experience, it’s easy to feel alone and like nobody can relate to you or understands what you’ve been through. I’ve found it really important and rewarding to get out and meet other survivors. This can seem daunting at first, but that’s why I’ve gotten involved with organizations like First Descents and StupidCancer, which help to connect survivors to one another in fun ways.
mK: What is your guilty pleasure?
LK: Definitely donuts. Haha! I’m gluten intolerant, but I always make an exception for a donut.
mK: HAHAHA! OK, this is where we get to ask weird questions and get to know the real you… If you created a TV show about your life, what would you call it? Who would play you?
LK: It would be called “A World of Difference” and it would be about all of my travels, the small acts of kindness that people commit all over the world, and the ways those acts make a difference in the world. It would sort of be “Amelie” meets “Touch.” And people used to tell me that I look like Zooey Deschanel, so she could play me.
mK: What is next on your agenda?
LK: Well, I have one more year of grad school left. And this fall, I’m going to start an internship doing administrative social work at UCSD Moore’s Cancer Center, which I’m really, really excited about!
mK: Very cool! Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
LK: Be your own advocate! I know it’s cliché, but you really know your body more than anyone, and it’s ok to push back when doctors tell you something that doesn’t seem right. I had to keep pushing for more tests before they finally diagnosed me. Sometimes it can make a huge difference.
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know…
LK: When I was born, my parents named me Laura, after my mother’s grandmother, who was named after her own mother’s best friend, Laura Ingalls Wilder (you know, the author of Little House on the Prairie). But after spending a day with me, my parents decided that I have more of a “Lauren” personality instead of a “Laura” personality (whatever that means?!), so they officially changed my name to Lauren when I was a few days old.
mK: Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
LK: One of my favorite professors always said this to us, and while it’s seemingly simple, it always gave me a little boost of confidence: “You got this!!”
Lauren Kewley: Originally she was her mother’s grandmother’s mother’s best friend’s name-sake, Zooey Deschanel impersonator, donut horder, black water rafter, zorber, devout Christian, Public Health and Social Work Master’s degree Candidate, and sweet girl! Thanks for taking the time to answer our silly questions. We’re excited to see what you do next!