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The story behind Lauren’s Run & Picnic

Lauren’s Run & Picnic was inspired by two special girls named Lauren, who each battled cancer. The event carries on today in each of their memories. Janis and Marvin Zagoria started Lauren’s Run at Zoo Atlanta in 1994 in memory of their daughter Lauren, who died after a courageous battle with neuroblastoma. A few years later, the Zagorias were joined by Heather and Gil Kochman, who lost their daughter, also named Lauren, to the same cancer. Together the two families have continued leading this inspirational event along with many long-time volunteers and families who participate year after year.

Since those early days, hundreds of families have gathered to walk and run in support of CURE, raising more than $5.5 million for lifesaving pediatric cancer research.

Lauren Zagoria

Lauren was a perfectly normal child. Her eyes were the deepest blue imaginable, brimming with curiosity and intellect; they were the focal points of a little girl’s beautiful face. Total strangers would stop to marvel at her beauty and ask whether her hair was natural. She was a child who was easy to adore.

In retrospect, though, her beauty was fragile; her eyes were those of an old soul.

In 1991, when Lauren was just 21 months of age, a new vocabulary was introduced into her world – a litany of words full of dread, horror, and very little hope. A perfect daughter diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a particularly brutal pediatric cancer that to this day has beaten doctors and researchers and remains a nightmarish disease with no cure.

Literally overnight, Lauren’s world changed from dolls and birthday parties and the security of her home to medical teams and punishing treatments and the insecurity of hospitals. Doctors, residents, interns, and nurses, scanning, invading, and almost always delivering one more bit of bad news, chipping away one more piece of her family’s collective soul. And the loathsome chemotherapy – how it changed her. It robbed her strength, stole her hair, deformed her body, and deadened her deep, blue eyes. From bone marrow biopsies without anesthesia to twice-a-day radiation treatments, she bore it all with a courage, bravery, and dignity well beyond her years. She never complained; she never quit; she never stopped loving or trusting those who cared for her. After 14 long months of struggling, the disease was just too big for one little girl.

In the end, Lauren left us a legacy. It is in her memory and her honor that her family carries her fight forward each year with Lauren’s Run – committed to finding the cure for the disease that took this beautiful child from us.

Lauren Kochman

Lauren too, was a perfectly normal little girl with no signs of illness or disease. She was so full of life and enjoyed every minute of her short time on earth. She always had a twinkle in her eye and a smile you could see peeking from behind her “binky.” The thing her family remembers most is her love of music – she loved music and loved to dance.

One December morning the Kochmans’ lives were forever changed. What they thought was a common stomach virus turned into their worst nightmare. Lauren was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. She was only 16 months old. Lauren was immediately admitted to the hospital to begin what turned out to be a never-ending round of procedures: surgeries, blood tests, bone scans, bone marrow biopsies, chemotherapy, and more.

Lauren was so strong and brave; after each invasive procedure she quickly bounced back to her happy, loving self. She never lost trust in her family. Her illness forced her into maturity; in some strange way she seemed to understand what was happening and knew her time here would be brief.

Lauren’s treatment went extremely well; her family had high hopes for her recovery. She took chemotherapy with ease. Her doctors called her the “chemo poster child” because she rebounded so quickly after each round. However, after Lauren’s fourth round of chemo, she became extremely sick. Her immune system was too weak to fight off the illness. She fought hard, but could not recover.

Ironically, it was the treatment, not the cancer, which took their little girl’s life.

Even though it is difficult, they decided they must go on – but on a different course with different priorities. They now feel the need to help fight for a cure for cancer and prevent this awful disease from taking another child’s life. In Lauren’s memory, her family continues the fight the Zagorias started with Lauren’s Run.