In February 2010, Cy-Fair parents Melissa and Steven Batchelder were given news that no parent ever wants to hear. Their 3-year-old daughter, Laurel, was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer.
To be specific, she was diagnosed with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, a sarcoma cancer affecting connective tissue. After a 10-hour surgery, 12 months of weekly chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation treatment, Laurel was back in school earning straight A’s while taking on a number of extracurricular activities, including dancing, piano and golf.
“If you met her and spent an hour with her, you’d have no idea she had been through any of that,” said Melissa, a Cy-Fair native and Cypress Creek High School graduate.
Although their daughter is considered to be “cured” as of February 2016 and is only required to go back to the doctor for check-ins once a year, the Batchelders said the experience has turned into a life mission.
It started when Laurel’s parents learned, in conversations with other parents at the Texas Children’s Hospital where she was treated, that a small amount of federal funding is dedicated to pediatric cancer research.
“As a parent, it makes you angry to find out that there is so little funding,” Melissa said.
Over the course of the next 18 months and with encouragement from Texas Children’s, the Batchelders formed Laurel’s Army Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to raising money to fund research in the fight against pediatric cancer. The nonprofit works directly with Texas Children’s, raising between $75,000 -$100,000 per year since its inception.
Steven said the cause has attracted a large following that has spread by word-of-mouth farther than they ever imagined. He said part of what people like about Laurel’s Army is that, outside of some overhead costs to maintain the website and produce promotional items, all proceeds go directly to research.
“It’s an incredible amount of money people have trusted with us, and it makes a real difference for [the] team at the hospital,” he said.
Funds raised by Laurel’s Army support research and clinical trials into pediatric cancer that are conducted by a team led by Dr. Wendy Allen-Rhoades, a physician at Texas Children’s Cancer Center. The research would be severely underfunded without the Batchelders, Allen-Rhoades said.
“We’ve come a long way in our research,” she said. “We used to have diseases that were completely incurable, and now they’re at a point where they can be cured 95 percent of the time. I know that me and my team are very grateful for what [the Batchelders] are doing.”