It was January 2019, and instead of concentrating on spring softball season, West Feliciana High School student Lauren Mendenall was experiencing strange bouts of stomach pain. The Mendenall family would remember January 22 as the day that changed their lives forever.
“Even if I had a big appetite, I’d take a few bites and be full,” Lauren recalls. “Some days, I couldn’t lay on my stomach because it hurt so bad.” The then-West Feliciana High School junior realized things were serious when she couldn’t get up after sliding into a base at softball practice one afternoon. “I thought, ‘I need to go see a doctor.’”
Lauren’s mother, Becky, brought her to see Dr. Timothy Lindsey at St. Francisville’s Daniel Clinic. The Mendenall family would remember that day—January 22—as the day their lives changed forever.
“We knew there was something wrong, but I thought that our worst case scenario was a hernia or maybe an ulcer,” Becky says. Their reality would prove to be far more severe. Within minutes, Dr. Lindsey sent Lauren to West Feliciana Hospital for an ultrasound and a CT scan, and made an appointment for her the very next day at Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge. “They didn’t know what it was, but they knew it was big,” Lauren says.
At Woman’s Hospital, Lauren and her family learned that the stomach pain she’d been suffering was due to a large, potentially cancerous mass in her abdomen. By Thursday—just two days after her initial appointment at Daniel Clinic—Becky and Perry Mendenall watched their daughter undergo surgery to remove a 15-pound cancerous tumor from her ovary. The tumor was growing fast, and the cancer had already spread to other parts of her body.
Caught in a devastating whirlwind in the stretch of only a few days, Becky and Perry were nevertheless determined to set the best example they could for Lauren. “We’re not a family that wallows in sorrow or frets over what we don’t know,” Becky says. “Before we even knew for sure that it was cancer, I told Lauren that her attitude was going to determine so much of what would happen throughout recovery and treatment. She really took that to heart and was amazingly, inspirationally positive throughout everything.”
While a cancer diagnosis undoubtedly altered their day-to-day routine, Becky notes how important it was for Lauren and their family to not let the disease disrupt their lives. “It was really important to try to keep everything else in our lives as normal as possible,” Becky explains. “If you always have Friday night movie night at home, keep doing that.”
The care Lauren received at West Feliciana Hospital was of critical importance, both in the sophistication of imaging services available locally, as well as the hospital’s ability to act fast in ordering her tests. Had she needed to go to a hospital further afield for an ultrasound and CT scan, Lauren’s doctors may not have been able to arrive at a diagnosis as quickly. “Having West Feliciana Hospital available to do Lauren’s initial testing was a huge blessing,” said Becky. “Everything happened so fast, and it was so nice to not have to travel far to get those initial answers.”
Although Lauren’s surgery and ensuing cancer treatment was delivered at Woman’s Hospital, Becky found the proximity of West Feliciana Hospital to be a comfort while Lauren underwent three rounds of chemotherapy. “It gave us great peace of mind to know that if she spiked a fever, or if she had nausea or some other ailment, we didn’t have to drive over an hour to get immediate care,” she says.
“Going through something like this really shows you the kind of community you have,” Becky says.
Lauren had to take a break from school while she received treatment, but her softball family rallied around her at every turn. Her teammates—as well as rival softball teams in Zachary, Brusly, and Baton Rouge—organized benefit games and sold t-shirts to help her family fund the treatment. Members of the LSU softball team visited Lauren at the hospital, and invited her to speak at the Geaux Teal Ovarian Cancer Awareness Walk. Several other college-level softball teams also held raffles in Lauren’s honor and involved her in their events.
Lauren, now 17, has completed her treatment and is back in school to finish her senior year. She’s slowly returning to doing what she loves—competing in rodeo and playing softball and volleyball. The staff at West Feliciana Hospital still reaches out to check up on her, Lauren says. Though this year tested their family in ways they never could have imagined, Becky says the outpouring of support they received from the community was crucial in the midst of a trying time—especially considering that the Mendenalls are originally from Michigan and relocated to St. Francisville, she says.
“Without a doubt, this is a community that loves and supports its neighbors,” Becky says. “No matter what the future holds, St. Francisville will always have a very special place in our hearts.”