Teen brings focus to ‘invisible epidemic’

A year after surgery to remove a brain tumour, Lauryn Vander Molen is still haunted by the memories of the nightmarish onslaught of her seizures.

Penticton’s Lauryn Vander Molen tosses the dough into the air at Panago Pizza where she works part time. The Penticton Secondary grad recently received a BC Epilepsy Society scholarship for her accomplishments and dedication to raising awareness and helping others with the condition.

A year after surgery to remove a brain tumour, Lauryn Vander Molen is still haunted by the memories of the nightmarish onslaught of her seizures.

“It’s scary,” said the 18-year-old who was diagnosed with epilepsy four years ago. “It comes at me from the corner of my eye and I get a really creepy cartoon image from hell. It’s like an aura, a sign or a warning.”

And then blackness.

With no conscious recollection of the time during the seizure, she was often left struggling to determine what happened.

“That’s what it was like when I had the first one, it was the summer I was going into Grade 9 and I was home alone,” she recalled. “The chairs were knocked over and I threw up and we thought somebody had broken in. We really didn’t know until I had another one at Halloween and then we went and had all the testing and we found out.

“Oh God, it was really scary, especially just going into high school.”

Like many people diagnosed with severe medical conditions at first Lauryn lived in a state of denial — pretending nothing had happened — and hoping it wouldn’t happen again.

But all that changed one day at school.

“I think we were sitting in English class in Grade 9 and we were reading some kind of sad poem and I started thinking and just sort of freaked out and ran to the office and talked to a counsellor.

“At that point I accepted it and said: ‘Oh yeah, I have to deal with this.’”

It was around this time she and Pen High counsellor Karen Boyd got to know each other.

Since that time Boyd has marvelled at the teen’s perseverance and determination that has helped her become the person she is today.

“Lauryn Vander Molen is an exceptional young woman,” said Boyd in a letter to the BC Epilepsy Society. “Despite the emotional and medical difficulties that Lauryn has faced she maintains a positive attitude, a strong sense of responsibility and a zest for life.

“She is not a young woman to be held back.”

Maintaining her honour roll status, assisting with a variety of school clubs and fundraisers as well as sports are just a few examples of that determination.

“She has adjusted so well to living and coping with epilepsy that she now has become a mentor for other students in the school who have epilepsy,” said Boyd.

It was in the fall of 2010 that Lauryn underwent surgery to remove a small, benign tumour which may have caused the seizures.

Doctors soon hope to take Lauren off her current medication to see if in fact that was the case.

Lauryn described epilepsy as the “invisible epidemic” because it affects over 50 million victims worldwide.

Despite that high number, very few people actually know what to do when someone around them has a seizure, which to her is unacceptable.

“After years of living with epilepsy I see it as a challenge and an opportunity (to educate others)” said Lauryn. “You don’t have to be all knowing about seizures, but just the basics of what to do to help and to call 911 because they can be fatal.”

The desire to help others is also the motivating factor in her path for the future.

“I want to eventually go for my masters (degree) in child psychology and then open a clinic or go to a Third World country and work with children,” said Lauryn, who received a $1,000 scholarship from the Epilepsy Society to help with that dream. “When I was little I had a lot of crap happen to me and I want to  help kids get through having bad stuff happen to them.

“I had my family and friends — they were awesome — but it’s hard when they don’t know what your going through. I just want to help because even with epilepsy I’m so lucky.”


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