Faith and strength help teen through battle with cancer

This story was originally published on Oct. 24, 2014 and has been updated.

2011 was a blessed year for Laurel Dortch as she received news from her doctors that she was cancer-free. After three surgeries, 14 chemotherapy treatments and 25 radiation treatments, Laurel and her family credit God for giving them faith and strength to get through those gray days.

Laurel was just 5 years old when she was diagnosed with a primitive neuroectodermal tumor (PNET) in her right abdomen. PNETs are malignant tumors of the central nervous system usually found in infants, children and young adults. Laurel’s tumor was made up of soft tissue and about the size of a small balloon. Before the tumor was discovered, doctors attributed her side pain to a pulled muscle from gymnastics classes she had been taking at the time. She had also been tested for appendicitis, which came back negative.

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The “C” word is an unfathomable diagnosis no one wants to experience. Unfortunately, Laurel and her family were faced with a long journey ahead.

As uplifting and positive as Laurel is, she didn’t let cancer weigh her down. In fact, believe it or not, she gained several good things out of her experience.

“For one, I get to share my testimony with other people and be of support to kids that have cancer,” Laurel said.

One of those kids is a close friend of Laurel’s who was recently diagnosed with cancer. “I’m thankful to God that I’m able to be her cheerleader and help her go through the process.”

Laurel also met one of her best friends while they both were receiving treatment for cancer at Norton Children’s Hospital. They attend Camp Quality Kentuckiana together almost every summer. The camp serves children who currently have or have had cancer to promote hope, inspiration and healing.

“I’m also passionate about raising awareness and finding a cure for cancer through local fundraisers,” Laurel said.

One of those fundraisers is the Children’s Hospital Foundation’s annual Bourbon & Bowties affair. Laurel was the honoree at the second annual Bourbon & Bowties in June 2011. She designed a pink and green bow tie adorned with butterflies that was sold during the event to raise funds for Norton Children’s Hospital. Laurel and her family continue to be heavily involved with the event. In fact, mom, Cheryl, is on the Bourbon & Bowties planning board.

Laurel loves being an advocate for cancer awareness. Many great opportunities have come her way — ones that she never thought in her wildest dreams would be presented to her. She has been a spokesperson for the Children’s Miracle Network, taken a trip to Washington, D.C., to meet Sen. Mitch McConnell and President Barack Obama in support of pediatric cancer research funding, and in June she traveled to Holland and Belgium for seven days to train with a Dutch coach for her favorite sport, field hockey.

While training in Europe, Laurel also attended the Rabobank Hockey World Cup, which was taking place in the Netherlands. Laurel has been an avid field hockey player for five years and doesn’t intend to quit anytime soon. In fact, during a recent tournament at Miami University of Ohio, the university’s head field hockey coach, Iñako Puzo, married to field hockey Olympian Keli Smith Puzo, noticed Laurel’s confidence on and off the field and her remarkable playing skills.

During the tournament, Puzo approached Cheryl to tell her that he would love for Laurel to come play field hockey for Miami University. Cheryl stated in disbelief, “But she’s just a freshman.” Puzo responded in full confidence that he wanted Laurel to be part of his program and offered her an opportunity to join his team. In April, Laurel and her parents traveled to Oxford, Ohio, to tour the campus and meet with coaches, players and admissions counseling staff.

“I was so surprised,” Laurel said. “It makes me feel good. I wasn’t expecting at my last visit that I’d get an offer to play college field hockey. It seems so far down the road.”

While it’s too soon for Laurel to know exactly what career path she would like to take, she has an early interest in pursuing a major in business, photography or nursing.

Cheryl will never forget the day she was driving Laurel to a doctor’s appointment for a checkup: “I get emotional every time I think of this moment, but I apologized to Laurel during that car ride for the burden she’s had to carry over the years in dealing with cancer.”

Laurel’s response was a true, honest and heartfelt surprise. She said, “Mom, that’s my story. Many people live their lives without a story to tell, and this is mine.”

“We always talk about the silver lining throughout this whole journey and it gives Laurel a new perspective on life that a lot of 15-year-olds don’t have,” Cheryl said.

When asked what three words best describe Laurel, Cheryl didn’t hesitate, saying, “Strong. Loyal. And compassionate.”

Laurel and her family started The Laurel Foundation in 2006, which supports the work of Norton Children’s Hospital.

Update on Laurel: September 2016

Laurel just started her senior year at Christian Academy of Louisville, where she excels academically and athletically. She was given a wonderful opportunity to travel to the Netherlands and Belgium in the summer of 2014 with field hockey Olympian Keli Smith Puzo and will travel to Spain this year. She has made her final choice of college and will be attending Miami of Ohio in the fall of 2017, where she will also play on their field hockey team.

Through The Laurel Foundation, Laurel is very active in raising awareness in the fight against childhood cancer. The Dortch family is grateful for the care Laurel continues to receive at the children’s hospital, which has made it possible for Laurel to lead an abundant life.

Why choose the Addison Jo Blair Cancer Care Center?

Decades of pediatric expertise, comprehensive treatment and support services make the Addison Jo Blair Cancer Care Center at Norton Children’s Hospital an excellent choice for the treatment of all forms of childhood and adolescent cancers. Its multidisciplinary approach to children’s care integrates the efforts of many cancer specialists, including oncologists, surgeons, nurses, social workers, child life therapists, chaplains and pharmacists.

Norton Children’s Hospital oncology specialists believe it’s important to preserve quality of life during and after treatment, and that is why they include the entire family in the care plan. When a child has cancer, everyone in the family is affected. The Norton Children’s Hospital team works together to ensure that patients and their families are supported and nurtured. They offer resources and support to help the whole family cope, including psychosocial support for patients, parents and siblings; a place to relax or sleep; and family-oriented activities.

The Addison Jo Blair Cancer Care Center is home to:

  • Kentucky’s only multidisciplinary pediatric brain tumor program
  • The region’s only stem cell transplant program specifically for children
  • The region’s only pediatric apheresis and photopheresis program
  • An immunotherapy and cancer vaccine program
  • One of the country’s largest sickle cell anemia treatment programs


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