Jason and Katie White don’t play the odds, nor do they pore over statistics. They learned nine years ago that stats aren’t everything when doctors gave their then-4-year-old daughter, Lauren, a 2 percent chance of surviving juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia – or JMML, one of rarest types of leukemia. Although Lauren’s suffered three relapses and has undergone several bone marrow transplants, chemotherapy, surgeries, total body radiation and most recently the removal of half of her left lung, the 13-year-old keeps surprising her doctors.
“Every time we go into transplant, the doctors have to remind you what the risks and odds are, but it’s always a life and death decision, so you have to stop thinking about the odds,” said Jason White, who lives with his family in Sibley. “Life doesn’t revolve around the odds. She’s beat everything so far; at some point in time, you have to believe you can reach the unreachable goal – that it’s possible.
Lauren’s latest relapse came in October 2012, after nearly five years of being in remission. The family had just begun to take her health for granted – thinking they were out of the woods – when doctors told them that her blood showed a secondary form of the cancer in her bone marrow. “If you get to five years, most doctors consider that a cure,” Jason said. “So we were thinking, ‘she beat this,’ but four years and eight months later, here we are.”
Although Lauren is facing more white blood cell transfusions from her 12-year-old sister, Kodi, and hospital stays, she isn’t feeling sorry for herself. Instead of dwelling on not attending school or having to spend part of her holiday in Children’s Mercy Hospital, she found a way to give her parents a wonderful Christmas present this year.
A double holiday surprise
With help from the Elves of Christmas Present, an association of anonymous people in the Kansas City area who surprise sick children at Christmas, Lauren was able to turn the tables on her parents.
Jason and Katie thought the group was surprising Lauren with a custom elf-built “Princess Bed” that she had seen in a magazine, as part of a bedroom makeover. What they didn’t know, was that the Elves were also conspiring with Lauren to give them a special second honeymoon on the Country Club Plaza.
It was a deception which kept the White household brimming with excitement in the days before Christmas.
Jason and Katie, who met in junior high and have been together for 25 years, have not had much private time together since their daughter’s diagnosis. Lauren with help from her aunt, Karalee, and the Elves booked the couple a weekend stay at the Plaza Marriott, complete with dinners at Gram & Dun and Capital Grille, Comedy City tickets, breakfast at the Main Street Grill, a $600 Plaza shopping spree for Katie, accompanied by her own fashion consultant, and a private screening of one of their favorite movies at the Screenland Theater, where Katie was serenaded to the tune of ‘Unforgettable’ by singers from UMKC.
Page 2 of 2 - “I just wanted them to have a fun time and have a weekend get-away,” said Lauren, with her huge blue eyes lighting up as she describes how much she loves her family. “My mom was really excited when she got to go shopping. She felt pampered and spoiled. She’s a really awesome mom and she’s always making sacrifices for us, so it made me happy to see them have fun.”
Lauren has a little bit of her mother’s sense of giving, even if she doesn’t want to admit it. Along with her room makeover, she received about $300 in Target gift cards but spent nearly all of it on her brothers and sister.
“If I hadn’t gotten my new room, I’d have had no problem spending it all on me,” Lauren said with a little smirk. “But it was Christmas, and I felt bad that they didn’t get their room rearranged or new furniture or anything, so I wanted them to get more, too.”
Although Lauren’s future isn’t a certainty, she’s busy planning for it. She’s excited for the day when she’s in full remission. As soon as she’s healthy, she wants to take growth hormones to catch up in height to Kodi, who most assume is the older sister. (The chemo has left her much smaller than most girls her age.) Lauren also wonders if she’ll ever go to public school or high school prom and is already looking forward to college. She can’t decide – yet – what she’ll study.
Lauren probably gets her positive spirit from her parents, especially her father, who said the entire family has learned to take things one day at a time.
“We don’t really talk about a ‘prognosis,’” Jason said. “If you only stare at the prognosis you never get to enjoy any moments. We are very much a ‘stop-and-smell the roses’ family.
For more information on the Elves of Christmas Present, go to