A blog by Jenni Walker
There is a saying, “When love is real, it finds a way.” That is the case for Lauren Carter and Rob DiFrank thanks to a group of match-making friends from Wind River Cancer Wellness Retreats (Wind River) – a 24 Foundation beneficiary partner.
Lauren and Rob are both young adult cancer survivors. Both received treatment at Carolinas Healthcare System’s Levine Cancer Institute. And both are Wind River alumni – attending just a month apart from one another in 2014. While Rob and Lauren traveled many of the same paths through their respective cancer journeys, they had never met.
Through the matchmaking prowess of Wind River alumni Maggie Fisher and executive director Shannon Carney, Lauren and Rob’s paths finally crossed. It was in January 2016 at a Wind River benefit concert at Charlotte’s Double Door Inn where the two were introduced by Shannon and Maggie.
“When I met Rob that evening, I thought he’d be a good fit for Lauren,” said Maggie who was Lauren’s Wind River cabin-mate and on the lookout for a boyfriend for Lauren. “As soon as Lauren arrived, Shannon and I introduced the two of them.”
Lauren and Rob hit it off that evening and went on their first date the following weekend. And the rest is history.
“We are tickled to have our first ‘Wind River Couple’!,” said Shannon whose first date with her partner Dave happened to be at the Double Door Inn 17 years ago. “What’s beautiful is that here are two people who met and share the cancer journey. The cancer piece was already out there for them, which made it so much easier.”
Lauren was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma over Labor Day weekend in 2012 – the beginning of her senior year at Queens University of Charlotte. “I was in total shock,” said Lauren who was one of the first patients treated in the Levine Cancer Institute building. While there, Lauren took part in art and music therapy, which helped take her mind off the chemo she was receiving. “I could not have asked for a better team of people to take care of me.”
Lauren became involved with 24 Hours of Booty when she received the “Spencer and Susan Lueders’ 24 Hours of Booty Scholarship” her senior year of college. She knew after meeting Spencer and Susan and learning how 24 Hours of Booty got started, that she wanted to stay involved. “It is with the support of Spencer, Susan, Queens University of Charlotte, my family, and the 24 Foundation community that I was able to complete my senior year of college while going through chemo!”
Today, Lauren is a third-grade teacher at River Gate Elementary in Charlotte. “Having the 24 Foundation support Levine Cancer Institute and Wind River means the world to me as both places were critical in my healing process!”
Shortly after transitioning from the news industry to marketing in NASCAR, Rob was diagnosed with testicular cancer in July 2013.
The testicular cancer had metastasized through his blood stream and attacked the bone in his spine – creating a very rare scenario. Rob also had four different types of testicular cancer and had an unrelated tumor in his spinal column. After several extreme surgeries that he nearly didn’t survive, Rob was told there was a good chance he’d come out this at least temporarily – if not permanently – paralyzed. Miraculously, he was not paralyzed, but had to learn how to walk again.
After completing radiation and an intense chemo regimen at Levine Cancer Institute, Rob regained his strength, returned to work as Marketing Manager at Roush Fenway Racing and began rebuilding his life. Then in May 2016 – three months after meeting Lauren – Rob was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of Sarcoma in his spine. “It was more radiation, more chemo, and this time, a loving woman by my side to help me survive it all,” said Rob, who is now back on the mend.
“I deeply believe in the work 24 Foundation does because I’m a direct beneficiary of this charity,” said Rob. “I can point to and ‘touch’ the work they do, and that’s often rare for charity work. I can say my life is better because of THESE programs and THOSE benefits that are available because of 24 Foundation.”
24 Hours of Booty
24 Hours of Booty 2016
Rob attended his first 24 Hours of Booty in 2016 to cheer on Lauren. While there, he met the Caped Crusaders 4 Cures team of superheroes who hoisted Rob on the back of a tandem bike for the Survivor parade lap. “It was extremely emotional and I promised to come back next year and ride next to Super Girl (aka Stratford Kiger) instead of behind her,” said Rob. “Fortunately, God allowed me to keep my promise.”
“Seeing the two of them together at 24 Hours of Booty was so special,” said Maggie who counts Rob and Lauren among her and her husband’s best friends.
A few weeks after this year’s 24 Hours of Booty, Rob planned a weekend getaway for Lauren and him in Southport, NC. They returned to their waterside hotel after dinner and sat on their patio overlooking the water and the Oak Island lighthouse when Rob got down on one knee and asked if Lauren would “spend forever” with him. “I could not have asked for a better way to be asked!,” said Lauren. The newly engaged couple spent the rest of the weekend exploring Southport, Oak Island and Bald Head Island. Their wedding will take place in Charlotte in April 2018.
“It makes me happy to see Rob and Lauren together,” said Maggie. “They get along beautifully and have a great sense of humor.”