Like a lot of young students, Lauren Wilmot wasn’t sure what to pursue at university. Her father, an MBA graduate, had gently encouraged her to consider the Bachelor of Commerce program as a good fit for her practical, logical personality. She agreed and was accepted to the Sauder School in 2012.
Being a short flight away from her hometown of Calgary, Lauren could easily continue her medical appointments. At 17, she had been diagnosed with Atypical Choroid Plexus Papilloma, a rare disease affecting the brain and spine. She had multiple tumours, but they were benign and not considered life-threatening. She and her family expected her condition was survivable with ongoing treatment.
After two surgeries followed by chemotherapy and full brain and spinal radiation in grade 12, Lauren arrived in Vancouver determined to have a normal undergraduate experience. Her parents made regular visits and a pediatric neuro-oncologist at BC Children’s Hospital agreed to take on her care.
Few of her peers knew what she was battling. Lauren barely brought up her illness and never drew attention to herself. She believed in doing what she could, despite the setbacks. She completed her first two years at Sauder by working around classes for a routine MRI every three months, radiosurgery, a second spinal surgery and trips to Calgary for bi-weekly injections of a specialized drug.
In December 2014, Lauren experienced further symptoms from tumour growth, causing her gait to deteriorate. She started to use walking aids, which was especially hard given her active lifestyle. Lauren had grown up playing competitive volleyball, soccer and badminton as well as hiking, skiing and traveling.
“Things really started to deteriorate in January,” says her mother, Carol, who took on the task of distilling medical reports and supporting Lauren through most of her appointments.
Her parents worked with Sauder staff to develop classroom accommodations for the remainder of the term. To one student who asked what was wrong, Lauren smiled and said, “It’s just a nerve thing.” By Reading Week, she returned home for a break. She was proud of having made the dean’s list.
UBC lowered its flags to half-mast following Lauren’s sudden passing on March 11, 2015.
In memory of her incredible courage, grace and exemplary commitment to her studies, her parents created a scholarship to support future BCom students dealing with challenges, medical or otherwise.
“We wanted to do something that would keep Lauren’s spirit alive and help someone to stay in school so they can pursue their dreams like she did,” says Carol. “We know there are other students dealing with adversity who could benefit from that support.”
The Lauren Wilmot Memorial Award was first offered in September. More than 130 donors have generously given a total of $50,000 to the fund, creating an endowed annual award.
“Lauren didn’t leave living until later— she didn’t want to be defined by her illness. Having hope, staying positive, and even doing some independent travel was key,” recalls Carol, adding that many of Lauren’s friends and family contributed to the scholarship to commemorate her strength and resilience.
"She was proud of her results at school, and it’s incredible that she kept going through everything."