‘The Not-Dying Girl’: The legacy of Lauren McCullough


(Ethan Anderson/The Inquirer)

Hundreds of people gathered to witness the premiere of “The Not Dying Girl” on Jan. 31 at the Crest Theater in Sacramento. (Ethan Anderson/The Inquirer)

Emma Hall and Gavin Rock

SACRAMENTO — “The Not-Dying Girl”, a documentary about Lauren McCullough, an alumna of Diablo Valley College premiered on Jan. 31 at the Crest Theater. McCullough had died from Ewing’s Sarcoma in 2014, an extremely rare type of cancer that is common in adolescence and young adults.

During the last six months she was estimated to live, her experiences were documented and revisited by Beth Ruyak, a radio host from Capital Public Radio in Sacramento.

“As a reporter, I worked on stories with kids and families that I got particularly close to who were involved in the battle with childhood cancer,” said Ruyak. “I had to tell this story because I could see how it could be told, Lauren’s angel wings needed to be lifted up higher and I wanted to help with that.”

Upon entering the Crest Theater, there were tables of artifacts that symbolized the person Lauren was and the spirit that remains of her. There were shirts with direct quotes from her printed on them with anecdotes, the most striking and memorable being “do things in your life that you can be proud of.” A bright orange quilt laid across one table with notes of encouragement and love from McCullough’s closest friends and family, and on another laid dozens of sports medals and awards all bearing McCullough’s name. It was not only evident that McCullough was impactful and left an impression on the people around her, but that she had embodied strength, overwhelming positivity, and what it means to never give up.

“She had a sense of realness to her that is crucial,” said Deanne McCullough Chapin, McCullough’s mother. “She never said ‘oh no why me’. She focused on the positives and how she could help other children and young people with cancer.”

Despite McCullough’s struggle with cancer, she was still devoted to completing a bucket list. The activities included skydiving, swimming with dolphins, learning to bar tend, and more. Once McCullough learned that she had six months to live she decided to marry her best friend, Egor.

Among McCullough’s accomplishments of spreading awareness about childhood cancer, she also had an array of athletic achievements. McCullough holds the title of honorary captain for the DVC women’s lacrosse team while remaining a strong force on the swim team.

Even after enduring chemotherapy for nine months, McCullough placed second in 50 back and third in the 100 back at the Big 8 conference championships while she was a student at DVC. McCullough was praised for her hardworking and determined attitude during her swimming career. After McCullough passed, she was inducted into DVC’s athletic’s hall of fame.

“She didn’t present herself as sick, she presented herself as really strong, and she said ‘I have this stuff going on right now but I’m going to fight,’ said athletic counselor Jamie Bailey, who saw McCullough on a regular basis. “She told me, ‘I’m going to continue to swim, I’m going to educate people on it.’ She didn’t see herself as dying.”

After athletic counselor Terry Armstrong heard about McCullough’s condition he sought to spread awareness through the lacrosse program. According to Bailey, Armstrong set up a cancer fundraising game for lacrosse soon after hearing the news. The tradition has continued into 2018 when the men’s lacrosse team competed at Saint Mary’s on Dec. 1.

Although one of the more important subjects highlighted during the premiere is the lack of attention and effort to fight pediatric cancer. Ruyak stated that only four percent of federal government research funds are allocated for pediatric cancer. She believes that children with cancer should be more a open discussion in the United States. Chapin agrees.

“I think after seeing this documentary people will see how there is not enough is being done about childhood cancer,” said Chapin “We need to be passing legislation to make it a higher priority in this country.”

“The Not-Dying Girl” is being broadcast on KVIE to the public on Feb. 6 at 7 p.m.