A Documentary Tribute to Lauren’s Cause

ndg sand coverSince around September of 2017, we have been working on a labor of love to continue Lauren’s cause of raising awareness for childhood cancer.  Lauren had been on the Capital Public Radio show “Insight” with Beth Ruyak for two shows before she passed away.  Mom was interviewed for the show by Beth after Lauren passed away.  At that time, Beth asked if we would agree to a documentary about Lauren and her cause.  Of course, we agreed!  It was exactly what Lauren would have wanted.  The time wasn’t right to start the project until just over a year ago.

It’s been very difficult to go through the details of Lauren’s initial cancer diagnosis and her struggles throughout her treatments, but those were mixed with heartwarming details of how Lauren touched others and how others touched her.  It also brought to the forefront the depth of our loss, missing Lauren every day that passes.  However, this was a project that would have made Lauren so proud!  She wanted to raise awareness of childhood cancer, not for her own benefit, but for the children who were yet to be diagnosed.  We’re hoping this will help in some way to raise awareness, which can lead to increased funding for research to find better treatments and cures for children across the US and the world.

The documentary, titled “The Not-Dying Girl”, will be premiered on Thursday, January 31, 2019, at the Crest Theater in Sacramento.  The doors open at 5:00pm and the show will start at 6:00pm.  The event is free, but you need to reserve your tickets through Eventbrite.  Below is the link:


There is a trailer preview of the documentary on Beth’s website:


When you click the link you’ll see Lauren’s smiling face.  Scroll below to “Featured Project” and click on “About the film” and it will take you to where you can watch the trailer, link to this blog, and also see behind the scenes photos from filming the show.  The show also airs on KVIE 6 on February 6 (7pm), February 8 (4:30pm) and February 10 (6:30pm).

We’re all so thankful that Beth Ruyak felt a special connection to Lauren and wanted to spread her message to others.  She took the utmost care in writing the outline and editing to tell her story the way I believe Lauren would have wanted it.  The documentary is by Ruyak Media with Dos Eckes Productions and was co-written and co-produced by Beth Ruyak, Jim Eckes, and Suzanne Eckes-Wahl.

Beth interviewed Dr. Wayne Jolly, Lauren’s oncologist, who took such amazing care of her through both of her battles.  She also interviewed Mom Deanne, Dad John, and Brother Mark.  Of course, Egor, Lauren’s “husband”, and DeAngela, Lauren’s bestie, were also interviewed.  The story centers around Lauren’s fight, but also on her amazing bucket list wedding.  DeAngela is the person who asked Egor to marry Lauren, and away we went, planning a wedding in just three weeks!

We know Lauren would be proud of this project.  The final interviews were done in Hawaii, where Egor was stationed with the Navy.  The interviews took place on July 6, 2018, exactly five years after the dream bucket list wedding.  Lauren gave us a sign of her approval by creating a rainbow in the sky the minute the last interview was complete.  It was truly beautiful. beach rainbow

We hope people are able to come to the Crest Theater to share in the experience.  There are also the three air dates on KVIE for those who can’t attend, or those who just want to watch it again.  We thank everyone who made this happen and all those who read her blog and kept her motivated to keep writing.  Lauren lives on through her blog and all of us.


Lauren is Inducted into the Diablo Valley College Athletic Hall of Fame

Lauren CollageLauren HOF PlaqueLauren HOF Yearbook Page

Lauren was honored by her college, Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, CA, by being inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame on February 18, 2016.  The MC of the event was Steve Ward, head coach of the Men’s Baseball Team.  Many of Lauren’s family, co-op family, and friends were in attendance to show support for Lauren.  Beth Ruyak, who gave Lauren an opportunity to get her message out during two of her Insight radio broadcasts at Capital Public Radio, was in attendance also.  She was at the Sochi Winter Olympics when Lauren’s Celebration of Life was held, so she felt compelled to be at the ceremony to show her support of Lauren.  You could feel the love in the room.

Steve introduced Lauren with the following speech:

“I am not sure that our HOF has any members as inspirational, courageous, gracious and humble as Lauren. She attended the very first DVC Hall of Fame induction in 2006 as an 8th grader with her dad, John, who was an All-American swimmer on the 1973 State Champion swim team.  Attending high school in Elk Grove, she earned varsity letters in four different sports. Then… just after she graduated she was diagnosed with an extremely rare cancer, Ewing Sarcoma, in one of her quadriceps. After nine months of non-stop chemo she was told her cancer was in remission. She enrolled at DVC in the Fall of 2012 and in the Spring 2013 term joined the DVC swim team. She finished 2nd in the 50 Back and 3rd in the 100 Back at the Big 8 Conference Championships. Her times were good enough to qualify in three events at the State Championship Meet the following week in L.A. On the first day she swam the 50 Free, but complained after the race that her side hurt and that she could hardly breathe. She was in the emergency room the next day and had fluid on her lungs, which kept her out the remainder of the State meet. Soon after, Lauren learned her cancer had returned. She still attended the end of the season swimming awards dinner and found out her 50 Back time had earned All-American status.

In her last nine months she started a blog called, “Thenotdyinggirl” and her story was covered extensively by Sacramento area media. She gave anti-bullying rallies, got married, tirelessly spread the word about pediatric cancers, and was the honorary captain of the DVC Lacrosse team, who in November of 2013 held an American Cancer Benefit in her honor…In life, according to her father, she exhibited strength, humility, and a positive attitude right up until she died February 2, 2014 at the age of 21.

DVC now has the privilege to induct her for eternity into the DVC Athletic Hall of Fame…Lauren McCullough.”

Lauren’s mom then spoke about her achievements in high school swim, her positive outlook during her cancer treatment, and how her spot on the DVC swim team remaining open for her until she was able to join the team kept her motivated during her year of chemo and many hospitalizations.  The coaches of the swim team treated her like she was a competitor, and not an “honorary” member of the team.  That pushed Lauren to achieve so much during that season.  She came incredibly close to achieving her pre-cancer personal best swim times.  Like every girl, Lauren looked up to her dad.  Lauren became an All-American swimmer, just like dad; swam at the State Championship Swim Meet, just like dad; and was now in the DVC Athletic Hall of Fame, just like dad.

Lauren’s dad then spoke about how DVC has been so supportive of Lauren, both during her recurrence of cancer and after she has passed away.  He thanked the school for supporting her and continuing to keep her message of childhood cancer awareness out in the public.  The DVC Lacrosse team continues to hold American Cancer Society benefit games every November to raise money for cancer research and honor Lauren.  He spoke of how he entrusted his two most precious things in life, his two children, to the swim team and Coach Rick Millington, and thanked Coach Millington for being there for both Lauren and Mark.

This was an unforgettable event for all in attendance.  In addition to hearing Lauren’s story, it was inspirational to hear the stories of the other eight inductees into the DVC Athletic Hall of Fame.  She is in great company.

DVC Article: http://dvcvikings.com/General/2015-16/Spring16/Hall_of_Fame_2016

Deanne Speech John Speech Beth and Group

Lauren’s Legacy Updates

Wednesday, January 7, 2015, I was surprised to see my beautiful daughter’s smiling face on the front page of the Elk Grove Citizen.  They were honoring Elk Grove’s Leaders, Trailblazers, and other inspirations.  They were profiling those who passed away in 2014.  Lauren’s beautiful modeling picture graced the story’s main page.  What a surprise and honor to see that the Elk Grove Citizen felt she was an inspirational person the city lost.  She was also the youngest, with the next youngest being in his 50’s.  Attached is the link to the article: http://www.egcitizen.com/articles/2015/01/09/news/doc54ac75dc32022617398935.txt

Upcoming event alert!  Diablo Valley College continues to support cancer awareness and keep Lauren in their hearts.  On Friday, January 30th the men’s and women’s basketball teams with be having a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society and will be holding the event in honor of Lauren.  The swim team will also be in attendance to show their continued support of Lauren and how much they meant to each other.  The event is Coaches vs. Cancer, which is a nationwide collaboration between the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

There will be a pregame ball presentation with the swim team and coaches prior to the women’s game.  Lauren’s dad and I will be saying a few words prior to each game.  We continue to be amazed at the ongoing love and support from Diablo Valley College Athletics.

The women’s game starts at 5:30 pm. and the men’s game starts at 7:30 pm. at DVC in Pleasant Hill.  Please come out to Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill and support this wonderful event.  All proceeds will go to the American Cancer Society.

DVC Lacrosse Video and Hell’s Kitchen Video

DVC JerseyThe Diablo Valley College Lacrosse game that benefited the American Cancer Society was a tremendous event.  The team is inspirational and won in sudden death overtime.  The game winning score came just after the team shouted, “LaurenStrong!”  I’ve attached links to the DVC article and a video of the retirement of Lauren’s #1 jersey video that Lauren’s uncle, Alan Kingsley, recorded at the event.  http://vimeo.com/112349447


Hell’s Kitchen was an excellent show on the night Lauren was in attendance.  To watch the show and see clips of Lauren enjoying her night was awesome!  The clips come quickly, so watch for when we enter the dining room at the beginning of dinner service.  Lauren enters first, followed closely by mom, then dad and the Dream Foundation representative, Dawn Reid.

The next clips are of the four of us at the table being served our dinner entrees, with Lauren front and center.  Then a quick clip of Lauren’s first bite of her beef wellington.  If you run the clip in slo-mo, you can see Lauren roll her eyes upward as she savors the bite.  Truly Lauren at her finest foodie moment.  At the last minutes, Hell’s Kitchen added a tribute to Lauren and included  the photo of Lauren with Gordon Ramsay.  It’s the last shot of the episode, after the previews to the next week’s episode.  The video link is attached to the Hell’s Kitchen episode. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yJlabj_2MY

Hells Kitchen Tribute

DVC Lacrosse and Hell’s Kitchen Updates

The Diablo Valley College Lacrosse Team will be hosting their second annual American Cancer Society benefit game on Saturday, November 15, 2014. The game begins at 7:00 pm at the Diablo Valley College stadium in Pleasant Hill, CA.  They will be honoring Lauren McCullough and retiring the #1 jersey that they presented her last year.  Lauren’s parents will be there to speak and accept the jersey for Lauren. Please come to support this team and their continuing efforts in raising awareness of childhood cancer, Lauren’s #1 mission.  Click on the link for more information.


Lauren was personally invited by Chef Gordon Ramsay to attend the filming of a Hell’s Kitchen episode last September 2013. That episode is due to air on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 on Fox.  We don’t know if Lauren will make it on air, but look for her, her dad, mom, and a Dream Foundation representative, Dawn Reid, on the red team side of the restaurant, near the front.  The food was fabulous!  This was an incredible dream for Lauren, since Gordon Ramsay is her most favorite chef of all. He treated her like a celebrity and was so nice to her (Nothing like how he treats his competing chefs on the show!).  Please check your local Fox station for the time in your area.  The attached pictures are from the filming last year.gordon 5 gordon

Lauren’s Celebration of Life Video

Lauren’s celebration of life was held February 22, 2014 at Laguna Creek High School, her alma mater.  The school celebrated her life with the choir singing songs, the swim team helping to greet guests, the color guard presenting the flag, ASB setting up the gym and multi-purpose room, and the activities director and principal organizing and attending the entire event.  Lauren would have been so honored.  The attached video was made by the Laguna Creek High School Video Club.  Special thanks to Nicole Skinner, Class of 2014, who made the film possible.

For those who were unable to attend Lauren’s service, please click on the link to hear the beautiful things that were said about Lauren’s life and fighting spirit.  We thank all who sent caring messages of support for the family.

Lauren’s Celebration of Life and Her Legacy

Lauren’s Celebration of Life was a very touching event on February 22, 2014. There were somewhere around 500-600 people in attendance, with people from all areas of her life. Some people read her blog or heard her on the radio and felt compelled to attend, although they had never met her in person. As parents, her dad and I were extremely touched that Lauren had such an effect on so many people. Lauren wanted people to know that cancer happens to young people and her message certainly got out.

Laguna Creek High School was instrumental in converting the gym and multipurpose room into warm, inviting rooms. The principal, Doug Craig, and activities director, Jerry Haynes, were on site since the early morning until everything was taken down in the afternoon. The ASB set up all the chairs and tables and the LCHS swim team handed out the programs and memory pages for guests to note memories of Lauren. Lauren’s cousin, Leslie Kavasch, designed the program and my bosses, Chris and Valerie Rhodes supplied the printing. As the celebration was about to begin, the ROTC came in with the flags to present the colors. This was the wonderful idea of one of the members, who had wrestled with Lauren and is now a senior at the school. The high school choir sang some beautiful songs during the service, including a touching version of “Tears in Heaven.”

There was an opening slide show that is attached to this post and is also available on YouTube that Lauren’s uncle, Kent Kavasch made. The “babysit” co-op was in full attendance at the service, with Steve McKibben leading the prayers and Howard Davis speaking about the co-op and memories of Lauren growing up. One of Lauren’s teachers, Eric Johnson, spoke about having Lauren as a student. Next was one of her high school swim coaches, Brenda Smart. Brenda touched on Lauren’s stubborn nature and how, once she trusted you, she trusted you completely.

Egor spoke about how Lauren had affected his life and how important their friendship was. It was so emotional to see his pain and obvious love for Lauren. They were true “best friends forever.” There was a short tribute video that I found on YouTube that we didn’t know had been made. It turns out it was made by a previous classmate from high school. The clip has also been attached to this post. Lauren’s aunt, Catherine Kavasch, spoke about Lauren’s desire to get more awareness of childhood cancer and how she wanted research funded, if not for her, for other kids yet to be diagnosed.

The celebration ended with the wedding video. If anyone has missed watching the video, it is on her blog that she posted October 22nd. Be warned, you will need Kleenex while watching. It was important to show the video because at the end Lauren thanks everyone for their support. She was truly thankful to everyone who wrote kind words, sent her cards, or gave her unique experiences. She felt her life had purpose when so many followed her blog and sent messages of support.

Following the wedding video, guests were invited to the multipurpose room for some food and drinks. The food was really good and was provided by Plaza del Sol in Elk Grove. The owner and his wife helped serve the food during the entire reception. Around the perimeter of the room were beautiful tables that had mementos from Lauren’s many activities. There were six tables that represented the co-op, high school, swim, other sports, Kaiser, and the wedding. They were beautifully set up, just like a high-end store or museum.


The babysit co-op made the entire celebration possible. They came over and helped put the table items together days before the service, arranged for the flowers, supplied the desserts, and set up the multipurpose room so beautifully. In addition, they had set up a beach chair, palm tree, and a water-looking backdrop at the front of the gym. It was so Lauren! We are truly blessed to be surrounded by such caring people who truly loved Lauren as their own.

Slide Show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1YLi6lBhn0

Tribute Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkiNICVo188

LCHS Anti-bullying Assembly: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZSAESLFs70

Bay Area Article: http://us.topnewstoday.org/us/article/9771502/

Obituary: http://www.egcitizen.com/articles/2012/07/17/lifestyle/doc5005f12e4b0d8588674944.txt

DVC Lacrosse Article: http://dvc.stage.lacrosseshift.com/news/oh-captain

DVC Paper: http://www.dvcinquirer.com/news/2014/02/11/dvc-swimmer-loses-battle-to-cancer/




Since the service, there have been many people helping to keep Lauren’s message out there. KCRA did a follow-up story and I was interviewed by Beth Ruyak at Capital Public Radio. It’s still amazing how Lauren made such an impact on the people at KCRA and Capital Public Radio. I hope they realize the impact they made on Lauren.

There was a St. Baldrick’s event in Sacramento on March 10th. Steve McKibben shaved his head for Lauren, including another 20 more on Team Lauren. As a team, they raised over $5500 for childhood cancer research. Overall, the event had 259 participants who raised a total of $143,646. That will certainly make a difference to children diagnosed with cancer! In addition to Team Lauren, one of Lauren’s oncology family, Eden Melgoza, had a personal participant. Eden’s six year old brother, Mason, decided to get his head shaved in honor of Eden and in memory of Andrew Rundle and Lauren. He raised over $1200 in one weekend. What a big heart he has!  Travis Air Force Serviceman, Rob, showed up for the event and participated too.  He followed Lauren’s blog and visited her in the hospital in January so he could meet her.



There will be an Elk Grove St. Baldrick’s event on April 22nd from 4:00 – 8:00 at BJ’s Brewhouse. BJ’s will donate 15% of their food sales from 11:00 – 9:00 that day to St. Baldrick’s for every flyer that is presented. Lauren’s brother, Mark, has a good friend who is on Team LaurenStrong. Brice will be shaving his head, along with two of his brothers, Chris and Parker. Parker is 14 years old and this will be his 7th time participating in St. Baldrick’s. Mark, dad, and I get to shave the three brothers’ hair that day. They have been growing their hair all year for this event. People can join Team LaurenStrong or start their own team for the event. See the attached page from St. Baldrick’s. http://www.stbaldricks.org/events/laurenstrong


Bring the BJ’s flyer to the April 22nd St. Baldrick’s event to have 15% of food sales donated to St. Baldrick’s to support childhood cancer research.

Diablo Valley College will recognize Lauren at the school level, conference level, and the state level. Plans are in the early stages, but it is so awesome that they feel so strongly about honoring Lauren. She loved that school and it appears the school loved her back.  The DVC Swim Team created a large banner that is displayed at the pool for all to see.  It simply says, “We are LaurenStrong.”  They also presented the family with a special photo album/scrap book of the swim team and Lauren.  It touched our hearts.  Also, the DVC Lacrosse team will retire the #1 jersey that they presented Lauren with at a match in the Fall.


Lauren’s aunt, Catherine Kavasch, has set up a team for Relay for Life in San Lorenzo called “The Not Dying Girl.” It will be held August 9th. The page can be reached here: http://main.acsevents.org/site/TR/RelayForLife/RFLCY14CA?team_id=1573192&pg=team&fr_id=57861&__utma=2443503.1371112106.1395637240.1395637240.1395637240.1&__utmb=2443503.4.10.1395637240&__utmc=2443503&__utmx=-&__utmz=2443503.1395637240.1.1.utmcsr=main.acsevents.org|utmccn=(referral)|utmcmd=referral|utmcct=/site/TR/RelayForLife/RFLCY14National&__utmv=-&__utmk=155796792


KCRA Update: https://vimeo.com/89264483

Insight with Beth Ruyak: http://www.capradio.org/news/insight/2014/03/13/insight-031314/

If anyone would like to continue to get the message out that children get cancer, please ask the government to support research efforts and find an event to participate in. Many people think, “It’s not my child.” Three years ago it wasn’t our child either. Cancer does not discriminate.