By Marcy J. Levinson
Bright blue eyes and bouncing golden curls are two striking features Janis Zagoria recalls of her firstborn daughter, Lauren.
Besides her smile and spritely personality, Lauren was a joy at home because she was “so deeply wanted — just being ready to have a child, we were just so grateful for her,” Zagoria said in a phone interview. “We couldn’t have wanted her more.”
Until she was almost 2, Lauren was happy, healthy and playful, Zagoria said. But the happy three-person home turned into a place full of community, prayers and doctors because of neuroblastoma, the brain cancer that killed Lauren before age 3.
Lauren died in 1992, only 14 months after she was diagnosed with cancer, but her legacy lives on through Lauren’s Run, which since its inception has raised more than $3.4 million for CURE Childhood Cancer. The 22nd annual Lauren’s Run, presented by AutoNation, will include 10K and 5K runs, a 2K run/walk, and a tot trot Sunday, April 24, at the Concourse Office Park in Sandy Springs.
The fundraiser is an example of a family repaying the community support offered at a tragic time.
“Our family rallied, and the community rallied around us. We had so much wonderful support; we were just stunned and grateful,” Zagoria said. “My parents were at every treatment and every hospitalization for us.”
After Lauren had a checkup at 21 months old, “her left eyelid began droop, so we went back to the doctor,” Zagoria said. A surgery in the socket of her eye revealed a malignant tumor that had metastasized — Stage 4 neuroblastoma.
Meanwhile, Zagoria and her then-husband, Marvin, had a new addition: son Daniel, born 14 months after Lauren.
Now a 25-year-old commercial real estate professional in New York, Daniel said that although he does not remember Lauren, he knows her death was hard on his family. “Had I been aware, it might be different. But I definitely have a greater appreciation of knowing that things are not always within your control,” he said. “I am more appreciative and aware that not everything is easy.”
Lauren’s Run is the positive from those hard times. According to the CURE website, the money raised gives families a “tangible way to fight back against a devastating disease.” The run also became a memorial for a second neuroblastoma victim, Lauren Kochman, who died at 20 months old.
Janis Zagoria said the opportunity a neighbor brought them to establish a memorial and fundraising event made her and Marvin think, “Hopefully we can channel this great and wonderful energy to help other families.”
Daniel Zagoria and his younger sister, Haley Zagoria, grew up with the legacy of a sister they never got to know as a youngster or as the young adult she’d be today.
“Lauren’s Run has proven to me that good can come from the worst situations. No one is too small or young to make a difference in the world,” said Haley, 23, who lives in Orlando. “The money we have raised has done a lot of good and saved so many lives. It makes me proud of my family and the fact that we could help Lauren leave a lasting legacy on this world despite her leaving it so soon. I love her so much for the person she has helped me become.”
Daniel said every story of a child with cancer strikes a chord with him. When professional athletes visit children in hospitals, he said, those children get a chance to be just regular kids.
Janis Zagoria said some of her best memories of Lauren are regular kid things. Lauren went to preschool at Temple Sinai and had a group of close friends.
Hospital life was drastically different with its hundreds of walks up and down corridors with an IV hanger in tow, but Zagoria said Lauren was too little to understand and never questioned things.
Zagoria cherishes memories such as Lauren’s 2-year-old birthday party after she began treatment and the pink Gund bear that Lauren called “Biwwy” and clung to tightly everywhere she went.
“It was just simple, day-to-day things,” she said.
Lauren was too young to understand that she was dying, but Zagoria said she was a strong little girl. “She was so courageous. She was quite stoic, and she was so little, so so little. She was just really a trooper and just hung in there.”
What: Lauren’s Run and CURE picnic
Where: Concourse Office Park, 4 Concourse Parkway, Sandy Springs
When: 8 a.m. Sunday, April 24
Registration: For adults, $35 for the 10K or $30 for the 5K or 2K in advance at bit.ly/1N53MUl, $40 on race day; for children 12 and under, $25 for the 10K, 5K, 2K or tot trot