PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Lauren O’Malley’s cancer journey began innocuously at the age of 7 when she failed a vision test at school.
“I didn’t realize I couldn’t see out of my eye,” said Lauren. “Your body just gets used to it.”
Lauren’s parents brought her for an MRI and halfway home from the appointment, they got a phone call.
“We just kind of looked at each other and I just said, ‘Our lives have changed forever and we can’t get back to before we left this house,’” said Patrick O’Malley, Lauren’s dad.
Lauren’s MRI showed a glioma on her optic nerve – a brain tumor – and because of the location, it’s inoperable.
Thus began six years of treatment: a brain biopsy, multiple rounds of chemotherapy and clinical trials, even a chemoport.
“There’s no playbook so what you have to do is you have to put a lot of trust in people there that know what they’re doing,” said O’Malley.
During one of her marathon chemo sessions, Lauren wandered into the CHOP playroom and found herself in front of a mural of Alex Scott.
“I always saw this mural and I never understood what it was,” said Lauren. “My birthday was coming up and I looked at the mural and I was like, ‘Can I do that?’ And there were like OK.”
That year, the O’Malley’s launched their first lemonade stand, and they have been top donors in the Alex’s Lemonade Stand charity ever since.
“This little girl had an idea and now, what 15 years later, now it’s a remarkable wave across the country and we’re doing it for our reasons, but whatever we do for her, and they will get diagnosed,” said O’Malley.
Now 14, and entering high school, Lauren is described by her family as an “old soul.” She still has the tumor, and likely always will. The goal is just to keep it stable so Lauren can live a normal life.
“I’m still a normal person. I just kind of have like a secret almost,” said Lauren. “I look fine, I look normal, you can’t tell but there’s a lot of history on me.”
“These experiences have made you more mature, have made you more compassionate and understanding and you bring something to the table in every experience,” said Marianne Scoma, Lauren’s mother.
“I got it because I can handle it. I feel like life puts you in a bad situation, you can’t say, ‘Why me?’ You have to say, ‘Try me,’” said Lauren.