Memories and Music Motivate Parents to Fight Cancer

Lauryn Oliphant

Music had to be part of the fundraising event Scott and Theresa Oliphant created in 2017 to honor the memory of their daughter, Lauryn “Lu” Oliphant.

“Lauryn loved music,” Theresa said.

“She taught herself how to play the piano,” Scott said, adding that his daughter then taught herself how to play the guitar, and was determined to learn how to play the ukulele and mandolin.

“The hardest part of her hospital stay, after her bone marrow transplant (to treat her aggressive acute myelogenous leukemia), was she wasn’t allowed to play her guitar,” Scott said. The recommendation to refrain from playing was made because of her weakened immune system and the possibility of infection-causing cuts.

The 2nd Annual Rockin’ to Beat Leukemia fundraiser will be held February 24 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. at the Nationwide & Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center on the campus of The Ohio State University. There will be food and drinks, raffles, a silent auction—and live music.

Last year’s inaugural event attracted 400 people and raised more than $18,000. The money was split evenly for research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

Lauryn was treated at both hospitals, and the Oliphants have connected with some of the top leukemia researchers at the OSUCCC – James. Lauryn passed away on May 5, 2016 at the age of 17.

The music at Rockin’ to Beat Leukemia will be supplied by The Martini Affair, a local and popular band that Lauryn and her dad loved.

“When we’re there, we feel her presence—it’s like she’s there with us,” Theresa said.

And what a presence it is. Lauryn was a multi-talented young woman who taught her family and friends quite a few lessons about courage and determination. Lauryn was an outstanding high school golfer, a versatile musician and singer, and someone the younger patients at Nationwide Children’s looked up to for strength after their cancer diagnoses.

“When there was a new patient, some of the staff would ask us to visit with them,” Scott said, adding that he could relate to the “deer-in-the-headlights” look in the eyes of the parents of those newly-diagnosed children. “Lauryn took so many of the other patients under her wing. She just wanted to help everyone and was a mentor to them. They looked up to her.”

Lauryn was diagnosed with ALM on December 12, 2014. She and her parents and older sister, Kristin, were there when the doctor walked in with the news.

Every detail of those few, life-changing minutes—which seemed to go by in slow motion—are still etched in Scott’s memory. “I can remember where everyone was standing. I can see Lauryn in the bed and Kristin in the rocking chair next to her, and I remember Lauryn saying, ‘I don’t want to die.’”

Lauryn initially went into remission, but her ALM returned and was quite aggressive. She had a bone marrow transplant from a donor in Germany and was part of multiple clinical trials.

“Eventually, they said, ‘We can’t cure you,’ but Lauryn wanted to keep fighting, to try something, anything,” Scott said.

As the end neared, she said something her parents will always remember.

“She said, ‘I’m not afraid of dying, I just don’t want to be in pain,” Scott said. “She didn’t want the pain to turn her into someone she wasn’t at the end. She was so strong and someone so special.”

Acute myelogenous leukemia is an even more aggressive form of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). There will be an estimated 19,520 AML diagnoses in 2018 and 10,670 deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.

“They haven’t developed any new treatments in several years and that’s why we think the time is right to raise money for research,” Theresa said. “They’re just starting to figure some things out.”

Soon after Lauryn passed away, the Oliphants emailed John Byrd, MD, co-leader of the Leukemia Research Program at the OSUCCC – James. He is a pioneer in leukemia research and developed the drug Ibrutinib, which has shown remarkable results in treating adult patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).

Byrd and his team at OSUCCC – James are involved in developing new drugs and clinical trials to treat several types of leukemia.

“We heard back from them right away,” Theresa said.

“They wanted to meet and hear our story, and they gave us a tour of their lab and showed us what they were working on,” Scott said.

Being part of the research solution is what motivates the Oliphants.

Scott, Theresa and Kristin also host a fundraising golf outing every year, and Kristin is a Pelotonia rider.

“We want to honor Lauryn’s legacy and we can do that by raising money with Rockin’ to Beat Leukemia,” Scott said. “We don’t want any more parents to go through what we went through.”

For more information on attending Rockin’ to Beat Leukemia on February 24, click here.

To view the TeamLauryn Facebook page, click here.