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The Impact You Have

Posted on 10/12/2015 @ 10:00 AM

Trust me, it’s bigger than you think...

In January of my sophomore year, two weeks before my 16th birthday, I was diagnosed with Stage One Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma - Thyroid Cancer for short - and my community was struck with those shocking words that no one ever wants to hear, “Lauren Keats is sick, she has cancer.” I wanted to focus on school, my friends, and my responsibilities to BBYO as Chapter MIT Mom, but I was overwhelmed and confused; my whole world was turned upside down.

Fortunately, I would only have to go through surgery and radiation treatment, which was an easier alternative to chemotherapy. It was reassuring that I knew I was facing a cancer that wasn’t as severe as other types, with a low mortality rate and a quick recovery period. But, after a successful surgery, I had two unexpected complications that forced me to return to the hospital and remain there for two weeks.

There wasn’t much to do in the hospital. There were some board games, Netflix and books, but I needed something else. On top of that, I found out that I wouldn’t be able to attend International Convention in D.C. because I would still be sick, and so I desperately needed something to keep my mind off of everything going on.

While on the pediatric floor, there was a Child Life Specialist who focused on recreation for pediatric patients and monitored their wellbeing. She heard that I was going a little crazy with nothing to do (surprisingly, you can only watch so much Netflix…) so, when a blizzard hit New York while I was sick and I asked her for some art materials, she was more than happy to help me out.

I absolutely love snow. The entire city was covered in snow, but my window was too small for me to see anything. Instead of being discouraged, I took the paper and a pair of scissors that the specialist got for me and made my own blizzard throughout my room. Little paper snowflakes were strung from one corner to the next, and we realized that I needed art and activities relating to art to keep me preoccupied. The specialist then continued to bring me art supplies and I worked on projects throughout my time there, helping bring me to a speedier and easier recovery.

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Lauren Smiling

When we started planning for our terms as the 91st and 71st Boards, we were introduced to the new Movement initiatives: Student to Student, ENOUGH., Lean In – Bold, Not Bossy and Bottles of Smiles. I have always been inspired and impressed by our BBYO Stand UP causes and the Movement initiatives, but Bottles of Smiles truly resonated with me because of my personal experience.

Bottles of Smiles provides chapters with plastic bottles they can fill with art supplies or other fun things. The bottles are then delivered to sick children in hospitals or at Ronald McDonald houses. As a teen that has been sick and was dramatically affected by art and small activities, I can attest that projects such as Bottles of Smiles really do make a difference to those kids.

I find every Movement Initiative and BBYO Stand UP campaign to be important and worthwhile. From preventing sexual assault and domestic violence to supporting schools with supplies to bringing a smile to a sick child’s face, each cause will have an impact on an area in the world that needs help. When working on a community service project or leading a program based around an initiative, realize that you are making a real difference; that you will be making an impact on a teen or kid just like me.

Do not only make that initial step of creating a connection with an organization, but also continue to follow up to build a strong relationship. Advocate, fundraise and help in any other creative and thoughtful way. As movement approaching 20,000, we have power in numbers, so pick a cause, plan a program and recognize the meaning in everything you do.

The resources for Bottles of Smiles have been released, and you can find more information about them here.

- Lauren

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