Lauren Ballantyne was having a mostly unremarkable high school career at Mt. Spokane High School filled with classes and slowpitch softball games until one day in October 2018.
Ballantyne remembers the day clearly. Her team was playing a game that would determine if their slowpitch team would go to the state championships. Her parents promised to be there, but they never came. After the game was over, her father showed up and took Ballantyne straight to the hospital. Her mother had just been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor.
There was little warning other than a terrible headache, Ballantyne said. The tumor was the size of a lemon when it was discovered and her mother had surgery to remove it, but it rapidly grew back.
“It was very immediate, which was weird,” she said. “We had 10 months while she was fighting it.”
Her mother died in August 2019, four days before Ballantyne began her junior year. “She was the definition of a light,” she said. “She could just light up a room with her smile.”
The two had a close relationship. “They called me Debbie 2.0,” Ballantyne said. “We were very, very similar.”
Though Ballantyne has maintained her grades and continued on, she said losing her mother was tough. It also made school awkward, because people were hesitant to talk to her about it.
“I knew that everybody knew, but no one wanted to talk about it,” she said.
Ballantyne said she thinks many of her fellow students just didn’t know what to say, but she said she likes talking about her mother.
“It’s more of an honor to be able to share her legacy,” she said.
School counselor Melissa Allen said Ballantyne has an “incredible ability to deal with adversity and choose a positive path. Lauren has turned devastating loss into something positive time and time again.”
Allen said Ballantyne has continued to do well in school despite the turmoil at home. “She is an outstanding student,” she said.
It was Ballantyne’s mother who inspired her to compete to become her school’s Lilac Festival princess.
“In high school my mom was part of the Montana state Junior Miss,” she said. “She had the pretty dresses and tiaras.”
While Lilac princesses do wear pretty dresses and tiaras, Ballantyne said she wanted to compete because she saw it as a way to serve her community. She was selected to be a princess in December and said she has enjoyed going to various events and learning more about the community she’s called home since she was born.
“It’s just kind of being a bigger role in the community,” she said. “I really like to be able to talk to other young girls about it.”
She and her mother volunteered together, including at Rising Strong, a family-centered drug treatment and housing program run by Catholic Charities. “I watched little kids while their parents went to AA meetings,” she said. “I would just play with them and get their minds off what was happening.”
Before her mother got sick, Ballantyne was considering a career in engineering.
But her mother’s experience convinced her to follow another path and study medicine.
“After my mom was diagnosed, I knew that I wanted to help people,” she said.
Though she plans to study medicine, she does not plan to be involved in cancer treatment.
“Doing oncology might be a little too much,” she said.
Ballantyne will begin classes at Gonzaga University in the fall, and memories of her mother won’t be far from her mind.
Though she misses her mother, Ballantyne said she’s glad her mother is not in pain any more.
“I wish she was still here, obviously,” she said.
Nina Culver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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