Remembering Lauren McCullough – The Not Dying Girl
The vast majority of stories that I work on I will get involved with professionally, but generally there is a certain professional detachment that prevents you from getting too involved emotionally on a personal level. Every now and then, however, you work on a story and it just grabs onto your guts and your heart.
This happened to me last December when I was editing a regular news story. It wasn’t a story that I had shot or reported, but was simply one that was handed to me to edit up for the news.
It was reported by KCRA anchored Teo Torres and shot by photographer Mike Orcutt about a 20-year-old girl named Lauren McCullough, who was battling a severe and almost certain case of terminal cancer. But she wasn’t going down without putting up a fight — a fight that she wrote about on a blog about her struggle called The Not Dying Girl – thenotdyinggirl.com.
This is a brutally honest journal about every aspect of living with cancer and going through the treatments, as well as being about how she was trying to live every day to the fullest and accomplish a bucket list of things with what little amount of time she had left.
As I was editing the story, I went to her website to pull screen grabs to illustrate the news story. In doing so I was looking at all of the experiences she had written about. I was truly pulled into her story.
That was an everyday news story that ran about a minute and a half. But I felt it needed to be so much more.
I went to KCRA special projects producer Millicent Ozdaglar, who I work with on Common Ground, the once-a-month magazine program that airs on KCRA-3 TV, and told her that this is a great story about a unique person and that really cries out to be a much longer piece to tell more of Lauren’s story.
We have a great advantage with Common Ground in that we are free from the minute-and-a-half time constraints of daily news stories and can run three- and four- and five-minute long stories in the magazine format. I also told Teo about this and he was totally on board because there is so much of his interview with Lauren that he did not have time to fit in for in the same-day news story. Teo expanded the story into a three-minute magazine story.
Here is the expanded magazine story that ran on KCRA’s Common Ground on December 28, 2013.
Not too long after that, and early February 2014, I received this e-mail from
Deanne McCullough, Lauren mother:
Mr. Carroll,I don’t know if word got to the station, but Lauren passed away a week ago on February 2nd. We will have a celebration of life at Laguna Creek High School on February 22nd at 2:00 pm. Thank you so much for making Lauren feel special and telling her how much her story impacted you. We are grateful to you and KCRA for helping her to get her message out.Deanne McCullough
Lauren McCullough had lived to be 21-years-old for all of six weeks.
I can’t tell you how much this e-mail affected me. Something about Lauren’s spirit and love of life just stuck in my gut. And to think how this precious life, which so many of us take for granted, had been so cruelly stolen from her.
I immediately wrote to Deanne thanking her for telling me and letting her know how deeply moved I had been by her daughter’s bravery. I also asked if she would be willing to talk with us is a follow-up story about Lauren, because the initial story had been so powerful.
Deanne immediately responded that she would love to do an interview to talk about her daughter. She was so proud of Lauren and how she thought and bravely and unselfishly she shared her struggle with the world through her blog.
Here is the follow-up story which aired on KCRA-3 TV’s Common Ground on Saturday, March 16, 2014:
I’m sure there are thousands and thousands of people with stories very similar to Lauren’s. But what made Lauren McCullough stand out was that she made the extra effort to write about her life, what little she had left, and to make herself known.
Lauren’s blog, The Not Dying Girl is still up on the web and I encourage people to look at it and see this young woman’s tremendous strength. She truly was a rare soul. I regret that I didn’t get to meet Lauren when she was still here. But the time that she had left was so short and precious that I would not have wanted to have taken up a moment of it.
In posting these news stories I hope that in some small way they can help to keep Laura McCullough’s story alive.
My deepest gratitude to her mother Deanne McCullough for sharing Lauren’s story with us and being so open in telling about Lauren’s final days in her struggle. Deanne is an extraordinarily brave woman and mother who have had to go through this with her child.
My very best wishes to Deanne and her family.
All of my best wishes for Lauren and her spirit wherever she may be.