Wednesday | June 28, 2017
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Video storms Internet

By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald Staff Writer

Hilo’s own Lauren Selden, an 11-year-old cancer patient, became an Internet sensation this week, thanks to a little help from recording artist Kelly Clarkson.

A lip-synced music video of Clarkson’s hit “Stronger,” featuring the Connections Public Charter School student, her fellow patients, nurses and doctors at the Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Hematology Oncology floor went viral after its release on video-sharing sites this weekend. Audiences around the world have enjoyed watching the video and passing it along, prompting plenty of media attention from television news programs, talk shows and websites. On Wednesday, the kids even received a video response from Clarkson, the nation’s first “American Idol” winner.

Lauren is taking all the attention in stride, however, and appears to have a pretty good sense of humor about her new found stardom.

“I’ve always been a rock star, except now the world knows it,” she said with a laugh in a Wednesday phone interview.

Lauren is featured prominently in the video, wearing dark-framed glasses, holding a sign that reads “Fighter,” and sporting a bald head, thanks to the regular chemotherapy treatments she has undergone since moving out to the hospital in July. Her family went with her after they learned she had a rare and aggressive form of bone cancer, known as Ewing’s sarcoma, said her mother, Piper.

“Lauren plays roller derby with the Big Island Babes, a local junior roller derby group in Hilo,” she said in a Wednesday evening phone interview from her daughter’s hospital room. “They were doing controlled falls and drills, and she was complaining that her knee was hurting. … We were thinking it was a combination of sports pains and growing pains. But then we noticed a bump on her knee. We took her to get an X-ray, and we found out it was a tumor.

“The surgeon we needed wasn’t available in Hawaii,” she added, “so we had to come here to Seattle.”

Selden said the experience has been a frightening and difficult time for her family. The medical bills are piling up, and they’ve effectively had to put their lives on hold as they support Lauren’s courageous battle.

“We’ve been so busy, with the day-to-day, trying to make all the appointments and surgeries. She’s had four surgeries, in addition to multi-day chemotherapy every two weeks. It’s been pretty rough. The medical bills are astronomical. They’re really pretty outrageous, actually,” she said.

But, she said, through it all Lauren has shown an incredible amount of strength for someone so young.

“It’s really fitting that she holds the sign that says ‘Fighter’ in the video. Because that’s what she is. A fighter,” Selden said.

“Although it’s so scary, there’s also a lot of joy here. There are a lot of dark days, but there are also a lot of light days. There are kids laughing in the halls. Kids playing games. Just kids, being kids. You wouldn’t even know you were in an oncology ward except for all the bald heads and feeding tubes,” she said.

In addition, the support they have received from the Hilo community and the hospital has been overwhelming. Lauren’s teacher at Connections has been keeping the girl up-to-date on all her classwork and even paid her a visit at the hospital, Selden said. A few months ago, the Paradise Roller Girls, the sponsor organization for Lauren’s junior league, also paid her visit.

The video was the idea of 22-year-old cancer patient Chris Rumble, and gives the kids in the oncology ward an opportunity to put their best feet forward, with some breaking out some impressive dance moves. And Clarkson’s song is a fitting one, with a chorus that repeats the words “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

“The video shows the strength and perseverance and determination of the kids as they’re trying to fight such a scary thing like cancer,” Selden said.

By Wednesday evening, the video on YouTube had received nearly 450,000 hits, and has been featured on the “Today” show, Rachel Maddow and CNN, among others.

“That was so amazing. It made my day,” said Clarkson in a YouTube response posted Wednesday. “I know it’s making everyone else’s day online. Everyone’s been watching it and everyone’s been talking about it, and it’s just so beautiful and so meaningful. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. I just can’t wait to meet you.”

Lauren said she and the other patients in her ward were thrilled with Clarkson’s message.

“I’ve been listening to her music for quite a while now,” she said. “At first, I didn’t know much about what they (the video’s producers) were doing. But the next day, they said we would be doing ‘Stronger,’ and I was totally pumped! It was nice that she saw the video and she really liked it. She said she didn’t want to cry, because she had to go do a concert. … I was very happy.”

Lauren added that in addition to Clarkson, she wanted to thank everyone else who has given their support.

“My family and I have met a lot of new friends. And the roller derby community has been really nice. You lose track of how many days you’ve been in here. Sometimes I just kinda forget. But my friends, I miss them a lot, and hope I can get back soon. … Hi to all my friends at Connections and Jayda and Gann.”

The Seldens said they have had many requests from friends and community members about how they can help Lauren in her fight against cancer. Therefore they are accepting donations to help defray the cost of medical bills through PayPal. Donations for Lauren may be made to lauren@piperselden.com. Additionally, an account in Lauren’s name is available at any HomeStreet Bank.

“Stronger” video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihGCj5mfCk8

Kelly Clarkson’s response: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSFrPHWLKJg

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.