This is an episode I recorded a few weeks ago with Lauren. Lauren is a firefighter from Virginia, but more importantly, she is a survivor of a rare form of childhood cancer. Her battle with and victory over the illness is a huge part of who she is as a human, a mom and a firefighter.

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.Thank you for joining me for another episode of the things we all carry. This is an episode I recorded a few weeks ago with Lauren. Lauren is a firefighter from Virginia, but more importantly, she is a survivor of a rare form of childhood cancer. Her battle with and victory over the illness is a huge part of who she is as a human, a mom and a firefighter.

I’ve had the pleasure to get to know her some, and she’s just good people. Lauren has a strength and determination that’s much larger and more imposing than her size would ever lead As you will hear. Lauren’s story is a little mingled and intertwined with past episodes of the she is yet another affirmation of the old adage that it is indeed a small world. A quick reminder to please help us build a community which not only recognizes, but support each other through the struggles and recovery.

I reach out through instagram@thethingsweallcarryoremailmystoryatthethingsweallcarry.com. To offer support and share your story please remember to leave a review on itunes and give a shout out to any first responder you know love or care about y’all enjoy the show

Loren: You ready? I’m ready.

Stack: All right. So I’m gonna, as I, you normally do, I’ll do the introduction. I’ll probably butcher it, but then I’ll leave you take over and it’ll be all yours. Today we’re sitting down with Lauren, she’s from Virginia, she’s seven years into fire service and she’s a childhood cancer survivor, which is a big part of her story.

She’s also a mom of a 10 year old and I’m going to let her start and tell you a little bit about her family history, tell you about where she is now and some of her fire service history. , how you doing Lauren?

Loren: Good doing good today. Thanks for having me on today.

Thanks for coming. Absolutely happy to be here. So let’s see. I was born in Manassas city, Virginia, and I stayed there until I was about nine or 10, and then we moved to Bristow Virginia. So I’m local. I’ve always been in the area. And I went to school in prince William county and I graduated from battlefield high school, which is in Haymarket.

I have I’ve grew up with my mom and my dad and my little brother who is five years younger than me. And

did you play any sports? I did. I played soccer and then I was a competitive cheerleader and then I also cheered in high school. And then, yeah, it’s hard to talk about or I guess point out things. Because the biggest thing when growing up was me getting diagnosed with cancer. My parents, they stayed together.

My mom, she worked from home some, and then she worked in Manasis and then my dad was ups driver. So he worked a lot of hours, long hours. He was home on the weekends, but he was exhausted a lot. It’s a very physical job. And yeah, I got diagnosed with cancer when I was 14 Ewing’s Sarcoma bone.

When I got.

I was a cheerleader. So I had a lot of aches and pains and sore muscles and things like that. I never thought anything was wrong with me physically. I started limping because my hip was hurting and I lost a lot of weight. I was really skinny for my age. But I’m already tiny, so it didn’t really look abnormal normal or anything.

And then my mom, she noticed that one day she left me home. Like I didn’t go to school cause I was sick. But usually if I, had a cold or the flu or whatever, I would get up. At some point during the day and go make myself food or whatever, while she was at work. When she got home from work, which was around like three or so, I hadn’t left my bed at all.

Like even to get up, to get food, like nothing, I just stayed in my bed all day. And so she called the pediatrician and they were like, Hey, bring her in right away. And so she brought me in to the pediatrician and she checked me out, took my vitals and then she fell around on my stomach. Cause I was having hip pain and right away, she was like, whoa, she’s I think maybe have appendicitis.

She felt something like in my abdomen in the right lower area. And so she said to my mom, you need to take her to the emergency room right now. So she took me to prince William hospital and. They took one, look at me, limping around and stuff. And they actually got me in pretty quick and they did a CT and the doctor came in and I don’t remember like a lot of the beginning parts.

Cuz I was 14, so I was pretty young, but also I feel like everything happened really fast, but there are a couple of things that I really remember. And after I got my CT at prince William, they admitted me and a surgeon came in, he was an orthopedic surgeon and he came in and he said, Hey guys, like I have really good news.

I think it’s just an infected muscle. We’ll just put a needle in it and drain it, give you some antibiotics. Like you’re gonna be good to go. Don’t worry, like trying to put our minds at ease. And I just remember him like looking at my mom and smiling and everything felt like it was gonna be okay. There was another surgeon there and he did general surgery and I guess he pulled my mom’s side and I didn’t know this at the time.

My mom told me after obviously, and I guess he pulled my mom to the side and said, Hey, I think you should get a second opinion. He said, I see cancer all the time in surgery. And this doesn’t look like an infected muscle to me. So I think you should go to Fairfax to get a second opinion. So that’s what my mom did.

They transported me by ambulance to Fairfax and they did a biopsy and a few hours later I woke up and they told me I had cancer

Stack: and say the name of the cancer again, Ewing

Loren: sarcoma. How

Stack: rare is this? Very rare. So percentage wise, what do you say in, in childhood? Or do you have

Loren: a guess? I used to know all the percentages and all the numbers, but it’s very rare.

And even more so it’s rare. To not metastasize, which is spread and mine was localized. It was not metastasized. So it didn’t spread it from it did not spread. Okay. No, which is very rare, especially based on the size of tumor I had. And and just bone cancer in general is rare.

Stack: So 14, you go to prince Williams and you end up with Fairfax what are the next steps?

Loren: So then I woke up from the biopsy and I had already had a port a central line placed in my chest, which it basically goes into a main artery. in your chest and then it comes out and you have these two ports for access for like chemotherapy. If you need to get blood products, all kinds of stuff, basically for treatment.

So I woke up with this in my chest. Like I had no idea that was gonna happen.

Stack: I was gonna ask. Did you even know that was gonna be no clue there when you woke up? Nope, no idea. So it, a 14 year old, you wake up, like what the

Loren: fuck? Exactly. Yeah, I ha and again I don’t, there’s like little blips that I like really remember.

Like the next part I remember is my parents hugging each other and crying. I don’t even remember the context or that’s just like the memory that comes to mind. And then I remember my mom telling me I had cancer and I immediately cried because not because I thought I was gonna die because I asked her if I was gonna lose my.

and that’s the only thing I really knew about cancer. yeah. You’re 14.

Stack: That’s a logical

Loren: question. Yeah. So I was devastated about that. And that I wouldn’t be able to go back to school or see my friends, or that’s what I was thinking about at 14. I wasn’t thinking I’m gonna die or what else is gonna happen or any of that stuff?

Not right away. But later on, those thoughts came up, obviously. So then I was in the hospital, I think it was around 10 days. They gave me my first chemo cycle. And so the way that it worked for my protocol, and these are all experimental trials for pediatric The trials and the medications, the chemos that I was getting are the same exact ones that the kids are getting now.

And this was 17 or 18 years ago. The drugs have not changed at all.

Stack: So in 18 years there’s been no change. No.

Loren: And if, say so and so got diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, it’d be the exact same protocol. Exact same drugs. Yeah.

Stack: Yeah. I never, would’ve been aware of that. I would’ve figured there’d been some improvements or some, no, I dunno, developments at least.

Loren: Nope. And then also the experimental drugs or trial or protocol that I did, a lot of those drugs are from like the 1970s, 1980. So even the stuff that I was being given is old stuff and it’s highly toxic. And so before they would even let me start this trial or this protocol, my mom had to sign like pages and pages of paperwork, just saying all the things that this treatment could or would do to me.

Yeah. Cuz you’re

Stack: just putting poison

Loren: into your body. Exactly. And they come in with all this news too, and this is still my first hospital stay. They’re talking about all this stuff. The treatment that we’re gonna give you, it’s probably gonna make you infertile. So do we wanna harvest your eggs now?

Do we wanna do this? Do we wanna do that? Talking about all these things that, I haven’t even thought about getting married much less having a baby. I was gonna say

Stack: no 14 year old should be thinking about having to harvest eggs.

Loren: No. And then you have all these and it, Fairfax is great because it’s a teaching hospital.

However, when you’re in that position, it’s hard because you have all these people coming in 10 people out at a time, whether it’s students interns, residents, and they’re all coming in and they all wanna touch you and they all wanna examine you. And you’re this is my body. And people are just coming in here and doing whatever they want to it.

And you just feel really isolated and scared. And it just, I don’t know, it felt like I was losing control over everything.

Stack: Yeah. You’re losing control at an age where you’re fighting to have control to begin

Loren: with. Yeah. So then I my treatment was about 14 months long and basically you do cycles.

You rotate between I did two different like cycles of chemotherapies. It was like five chemotherapies and it would be like two of them on, and then you get a little break and then three of them on, and then you get a little break that way your immune system can try to replenish itself a little bit.

Cuz like you said, it’s like poison and it’s killing everything. So a lot of times I would become like neutropenic, which means you have no white blood cells in your body at all to fight even like the common cold. So I’d have to take shots every day to try to rebuild those. And then I also had to get blood and platelet transfusions because it was killing all my red blood cells and my platelets.

And so actually I got a really bad infection that I went into sepsis because it got into my central line. And so I had to be hospitalized for that. And that was really scary. Cuz I got a fever and then within just a few hours. I was in the hospital and I had, and my heart rate was like in the two hundreds, it was really scary.

And so again, just a another side effect, that was a side effect of the treatment, not the cancer,

Stack: talking about hospitalizations. How often were you, how often were the hospital stays during the

Loren: treatment? Anywhere from two days to five days. So every

Stack: time you’d go in for chemo, you’d.

Loren: almost every time.

Yes. Some of them towards the end of my treatment, I would go into the clinic all day and then they would let me go home at night with an infusion bag. But mostly I was impatient just because one of the ones it’s called the red devil, it’s called Doxorubicin. You probably never heard of it. No, I have

Stack: heard of it because of Marshall’s episode back in episode seven, that’s the same, I believe.

And he might kill me for this, but I believe that’s the same medication that he was given

Loren: for his right. That’s a common one for pediatric cancer. And so it has to run over I think 24 hours or 48 hours, and the side effects are so horrendous. You pretty much have to be hospitalized for it.

And it com it’s like red orangeish in this bag and they cover it. And then when you P a U P that color out. Oh, wonderful. It’s

Stack: really nice. Yeah. Yeah. As a kid, you’re just

Loren: probably freaking out. Yeah. Yeah. Cuz they have to wear like actual gowns and stuff. The nurses to protect themselves from giving you this stuff, that’s going in your veins.

Stack: So how long does the treatment last

Loren: altogether? It was about 14 months. So halfway through my treatment, they did scans again to see if my tumor had shrink, which it had. And so that’s when I had surgery on my pelvis and what they did is they took the infected bone out and the rest of the tumor and that was, and they all, so they took out my right ileum.

And so when I had that surgery, they told me, you may never be able to walk again. We may have to place a cadaver bone. If you do walk again, you’re gonna have like catastrophic disabilities for the rest of your life. You’re not gonna be able to do stuff anymore or get in an amputation. There’s just so many different factors.

And so I had that, like that surgery, like halfway through my treat. . And I remember the night before my surgery which it just goes back to like my child, like mind at the time I was like skipping around the Ronald McDonald house, which is like a, basically a hotel for families. They can stay if they need to be close to the hospital for like treatment and stuff.

Anyway, I remember just like skipping around the room because I was like, I might not be able to skip again, to

Stack: take advantage of what you have when you

Loren: have it. Yeah. And so anyway, I had my surgery, I woke up the next morning and the first thing that I did was look down and see if my leg was still there.

Cause I was so scared that it wouldn’t be there, but it was there. , and so then I began a whole new journey of trying to recover from that because, and I was still in the middle of treatment, so I was still getting all that high dose chemo. And then dealing with this massive surgery.

And so that was hard, cuz I had to relearn how to walk. I went from a wheelchair to a Walker to crutches, to a really cool cane and then I didn’t have anything. But that was hard for me because that’s where I found, I guess my true self or cuz I really struggled with my identity at the time.

As a teenager kind of working on that anyway, and I decided I don’t care what they tell me. I’m gonna prove those motherfuckers wrong no matter what, I don’t care. Like even if they show me if they throw something on the table and they show me something documented, I’m gonna be that one person that does it or doesn’t do it or whatever, like that’s gonna be me.

And so that’s what I put like everything in to proving to everyone else. I can do this just because you said I can’t it’s good

Stack: motivation. It’s really good

Loren: motivation. Yeah, no it definitely got me through a lot of things. And yeah, so I did that. I relearn how to walk. I did all the physical therapy and my big goal was to be, cuz I loved cheering.

I loved the I don’t know if you have heard of flying in like the stunts and stuff. I that’s what I loved. And I loved the tumbling. I did backhand Springs and all that stuff. And my big goal for after my surgery was to be able to go back to that. And so I did, I made the cheerleading team in high school, which was not the same as competitive cheerleading , but it was like a, it was like my first thing that I strived to and I was able to achieve it.

High school in itself was extremely challenging for me because I was so far behind academically just because of being sick. They try to give you resources. Like they gave me a tutor and all that stuff, but you don’t feel like,

Stack: yeah, I was gonna say it can’t be the same thing cuz you’re overwhelmed with just staying alive.

Loren: Exactly. Like puking your guts out and you got mouth sores and you, you just, there’s no way you wanna do homework. Yeah. School is the

Stack: last thing on your mind.

Loren: Yeah. And And I also, I think a lot of my friends at that time, they don’t know how to deal with something like that. So I don’t blame them now, but at that time it was very hard for me to watch everyone else moving on with their lives without me.

And I had a lot of that. Like they all came to the hospital the first couple months, but then even like my closest friends, they all just moved on without me. And I don’t know if that’s cuz they thought I was gonna die or, and they couldn’t deal with that or think about that, but it was very lonely.

And then I had fr I met friends and created bonds like Marshall. While I was sick with other sick kids, which I thought this will be a great idea. Like we’ll fight this together and then we’ll be on the other side and it’ll be awesome. And except for Marshall, pretty much all of them died.

Stack: Yeah.

That’s that’s one side you don’t look at when you

Loren: think about that. No. And so that, that was really shitty. Anyway, sorry. I keep jumping all around. You’re fine. So yeah, I made the cheerleading team, which I thought would help, prove that I was normal and one of the kids and all of that, because that was really what I wanted too, is I wanted to show that I was normal.

I was just another kid. I never got sick. I never lost my hair. I never, that’s not me. That’s in my past. I’m normal. I’m cool, whatever. But I found that that was more, I think my, myself I guess per my perception of myself was not really how people saw me. A lot of people did see me as a sick kid and the sick girl, which I absolutely hated, but I did have, Some good friends that, that didn’t see that.

And I think, I just wish I saw myself maybe in a different way, cuz it was really hard for me in high school. My first day of high school, I was bald as Q-tip and and there were people that made fun of me that called me names and things like that. I think when I went to high school, there wasn’t really any awareness of kids or teens getting cancer.

I think now people are a little bit more receptive and people are more aware of kids or teens getting cancer and stuff like that. But yeah, I was completely lost in high school. And so I decided though that I wanted to. , I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew I wanted to help people and I wanted to use what I had been through to help others.

But I also still had that mindset. Like I have to prove to the world that I can do X, Y, and Z. So why not be a firefighter? it’s almost like a

Stack: vendetta.

Loren: Yes. Yeah. So I went to I got my EMT basic through Nova. And as part of that, you have to volunteer or you don’t have to volunteer. You have to go to like rotations at a firehouse.

And I went there just doing EMS, but it was, there was suppression, there was fire stuff around too. And from the first time I was there, I fell in love with it. So I started volunteering for a little bit. And I decided this is what I wanna do with my life. I wanna do this, especially because I am smaller in stature.

I’m four 11

Stack: yes. Smaller

Loren: in stature. I’m teeny. So especially now people are looking at me saying, there’s no way you can be a firefighter. Like, all right, cool. I’ll show you. So that became like my next, big I’m gonna prove you wrong thing. And and then, so I also no, I got, so I got pregnant with my daughter and I got married.

And so I couldn’t I was like applying to other fire departments and stuff everywhere, like in the Nova region. And I had to pull out when I got pregnant with my daughter, obviously. And what age did you get pregnant? I got pregnant at 21. And

Stack: married to the same age or married right before or right after?

Loren: Yeah, the same age. Okay. I got married, pregnant. I was like eight months pregnant. We got married. So we were in a relationship. We had lived together. We had been in a relationship for a few years before I got pregnant. But not to go in too deep, but that relationship was very toxic, unhealthy and not a good part of my life for sure.

But we, so we did get married and then I worked as a tech at Fairfax hospital which I loved. And then I also worked as a tech at Heath coat ER, in Haymarket. And so after about a year after my daughter was about a year old, I started applying to fire departments again, cuz I started to get back in shape and everything.

And I also started. Running, which even before I was sick, I was, no, I hated running, like with a passion. Like I don’t even think I ever ran the full mile. Like you’re supposed to do in school. I was always the one, like walking in the back. Like I hated it. I was not athletic in that way. That’s cuz running sucks at all.

And so after I had my daughter and I was getting ready for the C P a, so I did the C a training stuff in prince William, where they do I guess it’s like a mentorship kind of thing. They like run you through a bunch of stuff and help you get ready for the C a and

Stack: let’s define what C a is

Loren: real quick.

Okay. it’s the candidate, physical ability tests, something

Stack: like that. Yeah.

Loren: So basically it’s to show that you’re physically able to do the job as a firefighter.

It’s a

Stack: standardized test of physical abilities.

Loren: Yes. Yes. Me being teeny tiny, and at that time I only weighed like 88 pounds. I was really tiny, but my cardio was nowhere near where it should be. And and I still had this, I had, at this time, I had, my limp was still really bad.

Stack: I was gonna ask how the surgery on your under leg and the hip affected your.

Loren: Yeah, it was very noticeable just from walking. And so I said, I had like a coming to Jesus moment with myself. And I was like, if you’re serious about this you gotta be serious about this. You can’t just go and wing it or you’re too. You’re not that I’m too small to do it, but just the way that I’m made, I can’t just go in there.

Some of these guys are six foot, blah, blah, blah, whatever. And they just go in and run that’s not gonna be me. I’m gonna have to work for this if I want it. Yeah. You have to earn it. Yes. And so I also one of my friends that, that died so we treated at the same time he had bone cancer, his name’s Ryan and he relapsed and died right around when my daughter was born.

And so a combination of those things, I made a decision that I was gonna get good at. I wasn’t gonna like it, but I was gonna get better at it. And so every single day I started, I had built up from being able to run for 30 seconds to doing the Marine Corps marathon. And it was something that I really had to work at.

I am not a natural born runner at all, but it also helped strengthen my hip. And so I was able to work on my strength through that. That kind of started my fitness journey, if you wanna say that. And so anyway, then I started training for the CPA and really getting serious about it. And that’s when I met Trejo.

Stack: For those that may not have listened before Marcello Trejo was a firefighter in Prince William county and he had an effect on a lot of people and unfortunately his story doesn’t end well, cuz he, he took his own life, but he’s, he affected a lot of.

Loren: He really did. And he affected my life in a huge way.

Trejo he had the most contagious smile still that I’ve ever met to this day. And he was just one of those people. If you didn’t believe in yourself, or you had some kind of doubt or hesitation or chip on your shoulder insecurity, whatever he was gonna show you, that you could do it and that you could be great and that you could have what you want.

And he saw me struggle with the CPAT because I would get really mad at myself if I couldn’t do it fast enough or whatever, the StairMaster was really hard for me. But he, for me, it was physical, but it was more mental for me, for the C P a. And I believed all these people, I guess saying you’re not gonna be able to do it.

You’re smaller, all these things. And I started believing that. And also my ex-husband was part of that. Not being able to do it as well. and Trejo He helped me see, and he, coached me in a way or mentored me in a way where I didn’t take anybody’s shit. And he was like, do you really want this?

Then let’s do it. Let’s go, come on, stop with the excuses. Let’s do it. And so he’s the one who walked me through the, my CPAT when I passed it. And I honestly, I owe a lot of it to him for sure. Like you said, unfortunately, his story did not end well, and it still I’ve heard a lot of people talk about it, how it shocks him.

And it shocks me too, because it was like he was able to fix and help all these other people, but not himself. And that sucks. So I definitely have Trejo to think for. I think the beginning of my career in the fire service, for sure, because I don’t know what would’ve happened if I didn’t meet him, if we didn’t cross paths, I don’t know how it would’ve ended.

So anyway, I passed CPAT with prince William, and so I get your CPAT’s good for I don’t know how many counties in this area, but it’s good for like various counties in Northern Virginia. And so Fairfax just happened to be the one that called me first. And so I did their process and then they called me and except for my daughter being born, it was the best day of my life.

Cuz I, I worked so freaking hard for this. Like it was a honestly like a dream come true when they called me, I still remember I was walking out of an elevator and they called me and they’re like, is this Lauren Jewel, blah, blah, blah, blah blah. Is this Fairfax county fire up? And. I fell to the ground.

Like all my knees, not to be overdramatic, but I know it sounds dramatic, but seriously, like I, at one point I never, I didn’t think that this could be mine and something that I did. And this might sound crazy, but something I did when I was getting ready for my C P a test date was that I would visualize myself passing it in my mind.

And I think that helped a lot. I don’t think that

Stack: sounds crazy at all. I think it’s a great tool.

Loren: Yeah. I would actually visualize and see myself passing it. And when I went and took it, I just said, you know what? Today’s the day.

Stack: Yeah, no that’s not crazy at all. That’s like a manifestation.

Loren: Yeah, absolutely. And and then, so I went through the academy and then

Stack: how was the academy on you with the, with after that recovery from that surgery. And then I know you progressed through with the running, but the academy is a different kind of wear and tear. It was so how was that

Loren: for you and with gear and everything else?

Again, a whole nother beast that, I remember like the first day I put all the gear on and stuff and I was like, what the fuck have I got myself into just cuz it’s a lot for anybody. But then like I’m pretty small, pretty tiny. So it was just something else that I had to prove to everyone else.

And I had to prove to myself that I wasn’t only gonna do it. I was gonna do it well. And I think that also work ethic really plays a role. You can not be the best at something and you can. maybe not be the biggest or the strongest or whatever, but you will not outwork me. Like you can outwork someone just by having that mindset.

And I think that can be just as important. I think it’s even more important. Yeah. Yeah, the academy was definitely hard physically, but it made me stronger. It made me better. I also, in the beginning of my career as a firefighter, I had, I wanted to prove everyone, like I was tough shit and I could do everything that everybody else could do the exact way they could do it.

And I had to figure out like number one, I’ve already proven myself. I don’t need to prove anything to anybody. There’s, there’s something to be said, like if you’re working with new people and stuff like that, you need to be respectful and prove, that you’re a hard worker and X, Y, and Z, but just because I can’t do it the way that somebody else can do it, it doesn’t mean that it’s not good enough or not just as good.

I just might have my own way or have to figure out my own way to do it. And that’s okay. And I have to be okay with that. I still struggle with that.

Stack: yeah, the job is it lends itself to a certain body type. It does. When you’re six foot or six foot two or whatever, and in 180 to 200 pounds, it lends it, it lends to this job.

Absolutely. And everything is taught at that size, basically. Yes. And so for you at four 11 and what in the academy, what were you a little bit over a hundred pounds. Yeah. That’s not taught to your job, to your body

Loren: type. Not at all. But I figured out like now that I’ve been there for a little bit, I’m still a baby.

I’ve only been there seven years, but I’ve run enough calls to know now that I have a role and it’s important and there’s things that I can do that the bigger guys can’t do. There’s a role for everyone. It’s a very like team sport. And so again, I still struggle with that, cause I’m not great at asking for help.

But I think it’s been really good. I will say the fire service has definitely molded me and helped me become who I am today for sure. Absolutely.

Stack: So what’s your fire service career been

Loren: like? I started at a single pool house engine and medic well and a brush truck. And I stayed there for about a year and it wasn’t the best experience. I just don’t think that it was a good fit personality wise.

And then I moved onto the station that I’m at now with 17 people, which is a lot of personalities, but it’s like a family. It’s the best. I literally feel like I’m at a second home when I’m at where I’m at, where I’m at now, I feel like they’re my family. And so you

Stack: say 17 people. So what units run


Loren: of it?

So we have an engine, a tower, a hazmat unit, hazmat support unit and an ambulance. Okay. So it’s

Stack: a busy house. It is. Yeah. I prefer the big busy houses. So yeah. I understand where you’re

Loren: coming from with this one. When I first went there, I wasn’t sure I was like, whoa, there’s a lot of people like, how’s this gonna go?

And I can’t imagine now going to a smaller house. No, I love it. No,

Stack: I would be bored to death in a small house

Loren: right now. Yeah. Cuz there’s always something to do. And if somebody else is doing this, you can go over and do something with somebody else and it’s great. And we have a really good dynamic.


Stack: that makes a hell of a lot of difference.

Loren: It does. And we have a lot of station pride. We have we have really good people there that actually care. I think a lot of the stuff in our job, it. it’s hard with the sleep deprivation with now. We have extra days that we have to work with on call our schedules.

Like it makes it tough, but if you have a really good crew or gr a good shift where the end goal is the same, it makes it a lot better. I think you build morale from the ground up. So it starts with you and your shift.

Stack: So how do you think cancer shapes you for a fire service career?

Loren: I think that,

Stack: O other than the obvious, the determination,

Loren: I think that it gives me a lot of perspective.

I think that when we run some of these calls, not so much like fire calls, but EMS calls, which 90% of what we run is EMS don’t remind me, you can tell you that it gives me a whole ton of perspective, like just on relating to people. It helps me maybe see things from a different way, than maybe somebody that hasn’t been through cancer.

And my big thing. And I tell the guys too, that I work with, I know we all get frustrated and we get burned out and we get tired and all of these things. But if you show up and say, you don’t even have to do much for that person who called say, they just, I don’t know, you do something like maybe you make them coffee or I don’t know, like something small.

Like you have to remember that you’re showing up for that person. It could be like the worst day of their life. And if you can just do something small to make a difference or help them. I right there, I think that’s worth everything, you can do the smallest thing. You can just be kind to that person and it changes their whole day and their whole perspective.

So I think that kind of ties in with being through cancer. I’ve learned that your perspective, it really. It’s everything. It means a lot on how you see things in the way that you view the world. I think that’s really important.

Stack: Yeah. I definitely agree with that. It’s the small things

Loren: matter.

Absolutely. And yeah, along with the fire service, I help out with a nonprofit the name of it is still brave. And basically we help with non-medical things relating to the hardships that families have to go through financially. Anything you can pretty much think of when you,

Stack: and this is for childhood cancer, correct.

Loren: For childhood cancer. Yeah. And so a lot of the stuff that we do some of it’s, gas cards getting groceries, we do room makeovers for the kiddos. My particular role is mentorship. So I help mentor or I help be there for teenagers and young adults that are going through cancer. Cause I always felt like when I was going through what I went through, if I could’ve just talked to somebody on the other side, so to speak, maybe just relating to somebody, I wouldn’t have felt so isolated and alone and depressed.

And like I was gonna feel like this forever. And so a lot of what I do is just going and get in a cup of coffee, going out for lunch, going to go do something fun. Or, and it’s getting a little better now, but with C it was really hard. Actually go visit in the hospital and just spend time with them, get to know them.

Teenagers are hard to relate to. Anyway, they put up a lot of walls. And so if I go in and I say, Hey. I had cancer. This is what I went through. They’re a lot easier to relate to and like open up.

Stack: It goes hand in hand with one of the subjects I’ve had on these podcasts about therapists for firefighters and therapists.

We want somebody that knows what we’ve been through. Exactly. And so it’s exactly the same correlation to, to someone going through the treatments for cancer and talking to a cancer survivor. Absolutely. And I think maybe more so just to the fact that you can see that, okay, this is an example of success, yes. She beat, this is possible for

Loren: me to do this. Exactly. No, you’re absolutely right. Yeah, you don’t wanna talk to just some random person on the street or, and I think therapy is wonderful and great, and there’s a time and place for. But if you’re a teen and you’re going through all this stuff and you’re just talking to a therapist again, it’s helpful, but they have no, I, they can’t, if you haven’t physically gone through it yourself you can, you can’t relate.

So it’s really hard to, just to, to your point, what you said, if you can actually talk to somebody that’s been down that road, it’s a lot better, I think.

Stack: Plus as a teen, you don’t want, there’s still that stigma of it’s a therapist. Exactly. And I hate to say that, cuz I’m trying to defeat a stigma, but it’s there.

Yeah. It’s there, especially as a teenager, you’re so supposed to be out and enjoying these

Loren: years. Exactly. And I think with the therapy thing. I feel like in the firehouse as we have our own little like therapy sessions and I’ve gotten healing and felt better after those more than talking to a therapist.

Stack: I think it’s definitely an opportunity for that. Yeah. If it’s done correctly. Yeah. Yeah. And I know some stations won’t even talk about some stuff and luckily I’m in a station where we do talk. Yeah. So it helps. Absolutely. I add in my own

Loren: therapy as well. no, absolutely. I’m just saying if you can, if you have a good group or you can actually like talk about stuff and even talk about stuff that’s going on at home, or, you have a safe.

Space just venting. But knowing that person’s not gonna judge you or go tell somebody else or even say I totally get it. Like I’m dealing with the same shit at home, just to me, like that’s healing right there.

Stack: Yeah. It’s amazing what conversation does. Yeah. And it’s not, and especially when it’s not a forced conversation, it’s just something that’s organic and it just happens.

And all of a sudden it snowballs into 12 guys sitting around the table talking

Loren: absolutely.

Stack: I also know that your health issues didn’t stop with childhood cancer, correct? Correct. so what happens next?

Loren: So the plot thickens so about four years ago I got diagnosed with a brain tumor. The brain tumor was benign.

It was not cancerous. However most likely I got the tumor from the treatments that I had as a kid. So again, another. Toxic horrible side effect of the treatments that I had as a child. So I had to have brain surgery and one of the risks that they told me was that just because of where the tumor was placed is that I would lose my vision.

And oh, that’s

Stack: it just your vision just by the . Okay, great. Thanks.

Loren: Which, it’s okay, number one, there goes my job that I work so hard for. And then also I won’t get to see my little girl grow up. So that was really hard that in some ways going through that was maybe harder than what I went through as a kid.

Just because as a kid, I didn’t understand or have, this is gonna sound bad, but not much to live. no, I

Stack: think I, I get what you’re saying there.

Loren: I had a lot more to live for. Yeah. A couple years ago. And I had built this life and worked really hard for this life that I had created after already being thrown down into the ground.

I had the brain surgery and something that they did not tell me is that when you wake up, you’re gonna have this eye patch over your face, over your eyes or whatever. They could have just thrown that in. They’re like, Hey. Yeah. Also that would help just saying, Yeah. Anyway. So

Stack: tell the 14 year olds, they’re gonna wake up with ports and then tell the adults they’re gonna wake up with eye patches.

Loren: So they won’t. So you can see why. When I wake up from surgery, it’s not good. I tell them they have to give me something because I wake up fighting. So anyway, I woke up and I couldn’t see. And so I was like, all right, so I lost my vision. And then also when you have brain surgery, like you can’t, sometimes you can’t talk like all your motor skills are delayed.

And so I couldn’t talk, it came out like that. And I was like, all right, so I’m a vegetable. This is it. I could see where you

Stack: might think that.

Loren: Anyway, so I started freaking out and then they had to gimme some medicine to calm me down. And then also, by the way as you’ll find, as you hear my story, if there’s like a, oh, don’t worry, this won’t happen.

That’s what happens. And I blame it on because I was born October, Friday, 13th. I still think that’s why . But yeah, so they said there’s a very small chance that you’ll get a CSF leak, which is when your cerebral spinal fluid leaks from inside your skull. That definitely probably won’t happen.

It happened. And so they had to put a lumbar drain in and then I was in the ICU for a week. That part sucked. Cuz you get these like massive headaches cuz your fluid is imbalanced. And so that was the worst part by far of the surgery. And so I went home after a week and brain surgery is like recovery from that is no joke.

Because I think like with my hip, people could see that I was recovering from surgery with your brain. Like you can’t see it from the outside. So you look okay, so you should feel okay. That’s not the case though. Like I could, I had to be in a dark room for. Probably two weeks, like even watching TV was exhausting, talking was exhausting.

Like I couldn’t really do anything. So that sucked, but they told me, my doctor told me, Hey, I think you’ll probably be able to go back into the field maybe about a year. So I went back in three months.

Stack: I’m starting to learn that’s also a theme.

Loren: Yeah. So I just didn’t, it was like, as soon as I could do anything, I started doing it.

I started going for walks. I went to light duty at work. And so there I was fortunate enough to be able to work at the gym, like the county gym. And so I started working out. So yeah, I went back to work as soon as possible. I just wanted to, okay. Let me put this on a shelf and forget about it. I wanna get back to my life that I’ve created.

So that’s what I did. It was definitely hard, but I feel like just, all right, come on. This is the next thing. Let’s go. We gotta do this.

Stack: So in the last few years how have things been?

Loren: They’ve been good. I’ve been really busy with, work with the stuff I do in the childhood cancer community, mentoring, young girls.

I also, one of the fundraisers that we do for still brave is a big ultra run and it’s 200 plus miles. Various races Tattoo Tom, the director of still brave is the one who started this fundraiser and basically just long story short. He would run. These races and each mile would be dedicated to a child and it would have their story.

Like we would create a website online and all that stuff, and it would have their story. And then he would print out the cards of the children and take the children with him and honor them each mile. Cause the biggest thing, especially if your child dies from cancer, is that they’re not forgotten. I think , it’s a huge thing.

Like you don’t want the world to forget them. And so that’s part of what we do is honor them and then also raise money for our nonprofit. And so he had done a couple of these races and they’re out west where the terrain is like ridiculous. And the elevation is ridiculous. And one of the ones that he had been trying to do, it’s called Bigfoot.

It’s one of the hardest ultras in the United States and it’s up through Washington state and it goes up like Mount St. Helen. It’s ridiculous. And he had attempted it three times before. And I came up with this idea. I was like, Hey, what if I go with you?

Stack: Let’s talk about the distance real quick before , before you say this what’s the distance to Bigfoot.


Loren: is 200 miles. All right. Now, go ahead.

Stack: Okay. Now people have a frame of reference for what we’re gonna, what you’re

Loren: gonna say. okay. And he was like I never thought of that before. And just to give a little background on Tom his daughter Shayla died from childhood cancer. And she also treated at the same hospital.

I did different times, but we had the same nurses, same staff and stuff like that. And actually one of the nurses that took care of me and her ended up being one of the Pacers for the race, which is cool. Nurse, Katie, shout out I don’t know if I can do that, but of course you can. Okay. hell yeah.

She’s amazing. And anyway, I started training for my first ultra. I’ve never done an ultra before my furthest race was the Marine Corps marathon. Yeah.

Stack: So 26 miles versus 200. Yep. Flat basically versus

Loren: mountainous. Yep. And I had a year to train, so it makes sense. Totally makes sense. Why not run it? And that’s where I was, had this kind of, I don’t, maybe it was my ego, but like this mental head game where if I say it and I put all this hard work into it, it’s gonna happen.

And I had to learn the hard way that yes. But there is something to be said for maybe. Giving yourself enough time to train, maybe giving your, maybe hitting these other objectives and then going for the big objectives. Let’s do 50 miles. Yeah, exactly. yeah, that’s a good goal to start.

So it knocked me down a few pegs. I timed out at 65 miles because I fell in the first five miles and it was in like a a rock scramble and Tom, he had done it. This was his fourth attempt. So he was moving through it. I had never done some like a rock scramble in my entire life. And so I’m like, oh yeah, let’s go.

And then I’m like bouncing through it. And then I fall and Jack up my leg and. Anyway. So I slowed way down. I told him to keep going, cause I didn’t wanna mess his race up. And so he ended up finishing it. So I do feel like maybe in some way I helped I think he finished, I think, because he knew that I wanted to finish it so badly.

He was like, I have to finish it. And so he did finish it, which was incredible. And so then after that race I didn’t run any other races in between, but decided to attempt the Moab 240, which is 240 miles and the Moab. But in a desert, but in a desert. Yeah. Yeah. . Yeah. And , I attempted that last year again, like maybe going into these races, like this isn’t the smartest, but I think the meaning behind it is really cool and I really enjoy.

Honoring these kids and remembering them. And, I feel like that’s a huge part of my purpose is honoring my friends and these kiddos and making sure their stories get told and that they’re not forgotten. And so I attempted that one by myself and I sprained my ankle, like in the 20 ish mile range.

And so it slowed my pace way down, but I timed out at 103.6 on the sprained. yeah. I would not recommend that. No, because the recovery for that was a pain in the ass. I ended up having nerve damage and I had to one of my nerves was in trap, so I had to get it released and whatever. I will go back to attempt it but I’m gonna do some, I learned my lesson.

I’m gonna do more training before. Okay. .

Stack: So tell me, I know you got into it a little bit and I got you off track. I apologize. Tell me a little bit more about still brave and how maybe people can get involved. And some of the things, some of the other things events or whatever that are being done.

Loren: Okay. Yeah, if you wanna check out our website, it’s stillbrave.org. And some of the things that we do we actually have, we’re gonna be part of an event coming up in September. So September is childhood care, cancer awareness month, and every year there’s an event in DC called cure Fest. And basically it’s, it has workshops.

It has we bring a lot of awareness. It has a lot of resources for kids treating kids that have treated parents and families that have lost their children. It’s basically a big festival that kind of encompasses and embraces everything that goes along with that. And we’re gonna be a part of that.

We’ll have a booth set up there, but we do a lot of things like that. What weekend in September is that? It is the 23rd, 24th and 25th. Okay. So yeah, that’s coming up next month. And again, like a lot of the stuff that we do is of like the little things that are the big things. So making sure that if there’s like a, say a family needs like babysitting, cause they have other siblings we’ll make that happen.

If they need to get to the clinic or the hospital and there’s a snowstorm, we’ll make sure they get there. We pay for mortgages, we pay for auto repairs, car PA, anything you name it, we show up and that’s the big thing. Is that’s the big thing that still brave represents is showing up because a lot of times when you go through something like this, a lot of people don’t show up, even though they say they’re going to,

Stack: so other than donations, how can people be

Loren: involved?

I think just talking about childhood cancer and spreading awareness is huge. I think just I, if we could make a whole podcast about childhood cancer, like I would blow your mind. There’s just a lot of things that people don’t know or understand.

Stack: Shit, there’s no reason why we can’t do that.

now you bring Marshall back and you two

Loren: can talk about it. That would be amazing. It’s not rare, even though they keep saying that childhood, cancer’s rare. It’s not I’m not a scientist or a researcher, obviously, but with all like adult cancers, usually not all of the time, but most of the time, the.

You can circle back to environmental, some kind of why, or because, or whatever, or some kind of factor that contributed, our jobs in the field, there’s certain things or factors that you can contribute it to. When a baby is born with cancer or six month old has cancer, a one year old has cancer.

How do you explain that? Yeah, it’s hard to fathom. Yeah. And so in the treatments that they’re giving these kids, it’s God awful. We’re cutting and chopping kids limbs off in America as a first thing of treatment for kids. Like how is that? How’s that okay. Yeah,

Stack: I, that stuns me because I’m, I’ve not realized


Loren: Yeah, it’s crazy. And the treatments that we’re giving them, I told you some of my side effects, but like losing all your hair and on your body killing all your good cells the mouth sores, you can get the sores all throughout your body and it’s basically like the skin just sloths off so you’re exposed completely.

A lot of the, I went maybe a lot. I’d have to think I’d have to sit down and think about it. But I do know a lot of the kids that unfortunately I’ve been to their funerals, they died from the treatment, not from the cancer.

Stack: Yeah. And like we, we’ve already, we’ve said that already it’s poison, it’s toxic

it’s, you’re not supposed to have that in your body. And there’s, I’m not saying that nobody’s researching it, but Jesus, you think they would have something other than what they were doing in the eighties.

Loren: Yeah, exactly. And so I don’t know what it’s gonna take, but that’s my life goal basically is to change that.

All right.

Stack: So make, have a discussion about it. It’s what people can do is some bring some awareness to it. Yeah, absolutely. Do you guys take

Loren: volunteers? Yeah. Oh yeah, absolutely. And there’s actually like a, an icon on our page that says become a volunteer.

Stack: So what I’ll in the show notes, I’ll just link to still brave.

And yeah, I know that they have some merch that they sell and that, that money goes to the kids. And then obviously if they just wanna donate money, they can do that as

Loren: well. Yeah. And actually Tattoo Tom just signed up for the Moab for next year. So he’ll be attempting the Moab two 40. He just got a hip replacement.

Jesus. So and that’s the thing it sounds like we’re crazy. Maybe we are a little bit, but we know what goes on and we wanna change it. And how do you do that? Radical things. You have to be radical. That’s a

Stack: perfect way to put it. Yeah. Yeah. I think that. Any change takes some radical change.

Absolutely. If that doesn’t make sense at all to say any change takes radical, it takes some radical thinking. How about that for change? Yeah. For sure. Anything else you wanna share?

Loren: I don’t know.

Stack: Okay. I didn’t and I gave you the fair warning about the two questions I was gonna ask you. The first one is about an everyday carry, just because I call the show, the things we all carry.

So as a firefighter, you take stuff into a call that set irons, a bag, whatever aid bag, whatever you take into a call, but there’s always something from a call that kind of stays with us when we come out of a house or we come out of an environment. But what’s an everyday carry something that you have on your, on you every day that you feel naked without if you don’t have it.

Loren: Okay. So my bracelet here. It’s a pink bracelet and it says, hashtag Jenny strong with the cancer ribbon. And I have worn it every single day since the first day that I put it on. And it represents my friend, Jenny that died from childhood cancer. It’ll be two years is September. And one of the big things that she asked from me before she died was never forget me.

And so I don’t, and every single day I’m reminded by something about her or something that reminds me about her. And I just feel if I have this bracelet on, I have her, I’m remembering her and I’m honoring what she asked me to do. Nice.

Stack: What about a book? Do you have a book, a movie

Loren: song? I do actually, and I don’t.

It’s been, it’s a popular book, so I don’t know if somebody else has brought it up already. Okay. It’s can’t hurt me by David Goggins. I

Stack: think it’s brought it once before, but that’s a good one for you to bring up, cuz he’s got that same kind of mindset that you’re talking about, the way it takes to do this two 40 and the 200

Loren: that book has that concept let’s say has changed my life.

And I listen to a lot of his podcasts or a lot of his, I listen to part of his stuff during Moab, which Moab is the race that he did. Okay. And it’s just incredible if you can, like he says, if you can tap into what you’re truly capable of, it is like times two, what you’re actually think you’re capable of.

And I wholeheartedly believe that I think we set limits on ourself or our brain, like self-consciously sets limits on what we think we can and can’t do. And I think it’s bullshit. I think we’re all a lot capable more than what we think for sure.

Stack: okay. . I’ll link everything into show notes. Let’s put it that

Loren: way. Sounds good. Yeah. And it’s a good on audible. Say you’re going for a long run. You can listen to that. So it’s good.

Stack: All right. That’s perfect. I think that’s a good spot to end. Awesome.

Loren: Thanks for having me.

Stack: Thank you for coming out. I appreciate it. And hopefully you can enjoy the rest of your day. Absolutely.

Loren: You too.

Stack: All right. We’re out.

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