Teen Beats Cancer, Studies to Help Others Win Too
By Christina Nicholson / April 1, 2016
When she was just 14, Lauren Bendesky began the fight of her life. It was against Stage 4 neuroblastoma -- a cancer with a survival rate of 30 to 50 percent. The cancer is most common in infants and rare in children over the age of 10.
Lauren was an exception, diagnosed the last week of her freshman year at Coral Glades High School. "It became the new normal," Lauren remembered. "Being in the hospital and chemotherapy seemed difficult, but staying positive and going through it really helped because then I could do it easier. I had to go through it anyway, so I might as well do it with a positive outlook."
Lauren spent her entire sophomore year in the hospital undergoing intense treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation, and a stem cell transplant. She enrolled in online classes through a virtual school. "I never needed to go to a set building or meet with a teacher in person," she said. "I could maintain a rigorous workload from the comfort of my home or hospital bed."
Lauren was able to return to school physically during her junior year. Her positive outlook on life and hard work as a teenager earned her a Silver Knight Award for Science from The Miami Herald as well as the title of valedictorian at Coral Glades High. "I was proud of myself for being able to go through such a difficult time junior and senior year and still being able to come out at the top of my class senior year," she said.
Before heading off to college, she was given a scholarship from the Chiera Family Foundation, a Coconut Creek-based nonprofit organization for children and teenagers with cancer.
"For me, the most important thing is to make sure 100 percent of your donation makes a difference in someone's life and is not covering administration or overhead costs," founder and Coral Springs resident Lou Chiera said.
Chiera's dad, Nicholas, was a recreation and parks commissioner in New York state before passing away from cancer. Wanting to do something in his memory to help kids, Chiera started the foundation to give kids battling cancer a week of summer camp. As the foundation grew, it added college scholarships for young adults who had beaten the disease. "Some of the kids we first sent to camp are now doctors and social workers helping kids with the same cancer they once battled," Chiera said.
The foundation held its 23rd annual golf tournament to raise money on March 21st. Parkland Golf and Country Club, a longtime supporter of the foundation, was host. "We love it because it is one of the finest private courses in South Florida," Chiera said. "The general manager, Michael Maloney, has been gracious to keep having us back. People who come to our event love playing on a golf course they would normally not be able to get on and play."
The money raised at the golf classic will fund N.I.C.K.'s Camp, a summer camp for more than 200 kids fighting cancer at Camp Boggy Creek near Orlando. It will also send a dozen kids undergoing treatment at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital to golf clinics with the help of First Tee of Broward. N.I.C.K.'s Golf is a nine-week program that teaches them the game of golf as well as many of life's important lessons. N.I.C.K.'s Scholarships is the third and final program the Chiera Family Foundation offers. It allows young cancer survivors a chance to earn a college degree.
One of the repeat campers and scholarship recipients is Lauren Bendesky. "I think passing on the lessons I've learned is part of what makes me a survivor and helps those currently facing cancer and other diseases," Lauren said.
Today, the Coral Springs native is a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis. While daily medication and monthly visits to the doctor are on her schedule, so are pre-medical classes. She is studying to become a pediatric oncologist and has already studied the kind of treatment that kills the cancer she had.
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