Influential and Inspiring Community Members

January 25, 2015  |  Posted by Ingrid Schaefer Sprague

In life, many of us look to role models who serve as an inspiration for how we should live our lives. Typically, these can include parents, professors, clergymen, elders, community leaders, and even celebrities. However, sometimes inspiration comes from unlikely heroes – like young people who are overcoming or perhaps just coping with insurmountable odds. One local inspiration is Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School Student Lauren Berish, 16, who was diagnosed with cancerous brain tumors (atypical teritoid rhabdoids) as a toddler. Her mother Joan Berish has stated these tumors are "universally fatal." Yet, Lauren's love of life and determination to fund research to find a cure have been the source of phenomenal fundraising.
Despite her young age at 2 1/2, Lauren was treated with an experimental protocol of surgery, chemotherapy, three stem cell bone marrow transplants, and 3D conformal radiation. One year later a scan showed a secondary brain tumor in which gamma knife radiation and 30 more treatments of 3D conformal radiation were applied to Lauren's brain. At the end of all this treatment, Lauren was placed in the care of hospice. "She was very weak and could no longer speak, but she never stopped smiling," said Berish. "Through a divine miracle, Lauren's illness evaporated before the disbelieving eyes of her Rainbow medical team. Her kind, loving, undeniable spirit that many of you witness today is the same spirit that carried Lauren and her family throughout her illness."

As a result of the treatments she received, Lauren has learning disabilities, loss of hearing in one ear, hair loss, physical and social difficulties, and thyroid and growth problems. Despite these disabilities, Lauren works diligent long hours to always make merit roll and honor roll.

Lauren knew she wanted to give back to the patients at Rainbow Babies and Children's where she had received treatment. Specifically, she wanted to give the patients "Fatheads" – celebrity big-head cut-outs – to brighten the walls of the pediatric cancer floor. "Lauren put together a list of Fatheads that she wanted the patients to enjoy and place on the walls of Rainbow," said Berish. "She came to me and my husband, Dean, and asked for the money and when we said we didn't have it she went to Maria [Schneider] for help. "

Initial efforts to raise the money failed, but Schneider introduced Lauren to Allison Clarke, Founder of both Flashes of Hope and Kick It. Flashes of Hope raises funds to accelerate a cure for children's cancer while honoring the unique life and memories of every child fighting cancer though beautiful and thoughtful photographs. With chapters in 55 cities, Flashes of Hope photographs more than 50% of the children annually diagnosed in the United States.

As in other cities, Cleveland hosts an annual Flashes of Hope fundraiser at the Quicken Loans Arena where local "big stars" walk the runway with "little stars". Lauren was asked to participate in the fundraiser at Quicken Loans Arena this past October where she was escorted by "big star", Jeff Cohen, Minority Owner of the Cavs. "While Lauren was backstage with Jeff, she told him about her Fathead wish," said Berish. "As Lauren walked the catwalk she found her teacher, Maria Schneider, and her parents in the audience and yelled to them that Mr. Cohen is going to give her the money for the Fatheads."

In December, Lauren, her family, and BBHMS Teachers Maria Schneider and Kim Taylor delivered Fatheads for the patients and for the Activity Room. Berish also wrote a heartfelt letter to the patients of the pediatric cancer ward, inspiring them to "hang in there" because "you can do it." She also thanked the doctors and nurses. "Someday it will be your turn to give back to those who are battling childhood cancer," Berish said.

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