Leukemia not slowing Hamilton's Anderson - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

Leukemia not slowing Hamilton's Anderson

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Posted: Friday, April 10, 2009 3:30 pm | Updated: 2:42 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Everyone had the same question: Where did Lauren Anderson go? She wasn't doing her trademark dugout dances. She wasn't screaming at the top of her lungs. She wasn't inhaling food anymore, and she no longer guzzled Dr. Pepper like it was going out of style.

Everyone had the same question: Where did Lauren Anderson go?

She wasn't doing her trademark dugout dances. She wasn't screaming at the top of her lungs. She wasn't inhaling food anymore, and she no longer guzzled Dr. Pepper like it was going out of style.

Instead, the Chandler Hamilton junior infielder was moody instead of happy, stopped eating and lost 30 pounds, and rushed home from school every day in the fall to take naps.

Weight was coming off as the clothes sizes dropped and new ones had to be bought, only she couldn't see herself shrinking in the mirror.

Getting sick was for Lauren's younger sister, Kelsey, not her. Two missed practices in three years of high school and club ball was her proof in the pudding.

This was something beyond side effects from her new Attention Deficit Disorder medication. When she went to a Scottsdale Fever club practice on Jan. 11, surrounding brightness prevented her from seeing the ball, answers slowly and painfully unfolded.

Terrified of needles and the realization something was really wrong, she had to be dragged off the practice field to the hospital. Two days and a series of exams began, including a pregnancy test.

"I was pretty upset about that one," Michele Anderson, her mother, said.

Two nights later they were immediately summoned back to Banner Desert in Mesa, and the E.R. doctor cried while revealing Lauren had chronic myeloid leukemia, a form of cancer typically found in older men.

She had 500,000 white blood cells and only four red blood cells in her body, or one-third the amount of a normal person. Lance Armstrong once passed out with seven blood cells in his body.

The words "chronic" and "leukemia," immediately led to worst-case scenarios.

Lauren instantly conjured up the movie "A Walk to Remember" - a Hamilton softball team favorite in which Mandy Moore's character suffers from terminal leukemia - and the Huskies initially freaked out as the news bounced around.

"Worst phone call I've ever gotten," teammate and best friend Bianca Vallejo said.

Only this won't be the end. Nine days spent in the hospital with needles in her arm "felt like 30," but a relatively new medication called Gleevec is helping to block the chromosomes that tell her body to produce more white blood cells she doesn't need.

In other words, the end is nowhere near.

"Lauren said it was a slap in the face to her feeling like you're a spoiled teenager, and it could have been a lot worse," Michele Anderson said. "We talked about her experience in the hospital with people who looked so much sicker and going through real, invasive chemo, and it became, 'Who was I to feel sorry for myself?'"

All is well in her world for now. She missed a week's worth of Hamilton softball tryouts but coach Matthew Weiner already decided she was going to be on the team. A catcher in club circles, she plays first base regularly for the Huskies while her strength returns.

She's gained back 15 of those 30 pounds, eats everything in sight, chugs Dr. Pepper again, and wails inside the Huskies' dugout.

"She has lots of life and energy again," Weiner said. "The big smile is back, and if she has her bad days she hides it well."

The question now is how long will it last? Since Gleevec is less than a decade old, nobody knows how long the medication will work. It could be forever. It could be for another year. No one knows.

With an eye toward the future, each family member has undergone bone marrow tests to see if any match Lauren. They're waiting for those results.

Meanwhile, the Huskies wear orange ribbons in their hair and will be yearly participants in the Relay for Life, which is April 25-26 at Tempe Marcos de Niza High School.

They still gather to watch "A Walk to Remember" most weekends, and it usually makes a couple girls cry each time.

Those nine hospital days surrounded by peers who have spent weeks or months in bed don't make hangnails and unmatched nail polish as big of an annoyance as they used to be.

Aside from monthly blood tests, life is normal for Anderson. She delightfully bumped and bruised herself while learning to snowboard last winter with her uncle in Utah. She's determined to play college softball somewhere in the Southwest and pursue a life of either physical therapy or anesthesiology.

Her leukemia is a subject she'll only talk about when asked, and she's learned to stand up for herself in the school hallways a couple times when painfully necessary.

There's still a fear of an unknown future, but her rediscovered smile keeps it from compounding.

"I feel like I'm back, and a little part of me is scared but I don't show it," she said. "I don't want friends seeing when it hurts, so I smile and think for the best even though you know it could be bad. No one ever knows about anything, so I'll do what I have to do, and I've done pretty well so far."

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