Lauren Curwick is the Founder of Designing Dreams and a general surgery resident at UAB. Lauren grew up in the small town of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. She attended the University of Minnesota for undergrad where she was a pre-medicine student majoring in psychology and minoring in biology. Lauren completed her undergraduate degree and continued to medical school at the Medical College of Wisconsin. She graduated with her MD in May 2021 and will begin her general surgery residency this July in Birmingham, AL. Her goal is to ultimately focus on the cancer patient population as a surgeon. Lauren says:
"The opportunity to provide tangible solutions for patients in the operating room, while also developing meaningful relationships through a person’s most vulnerable of times, is what makes a career in surgery so valuable to me.”
Lauren's journey to starting Designing Dreams truly started when she was 7 years old when she read a book about a little girl with cancer and what her journey was like. From that day on, Lauren was fascinated with cancer and wanted to be just like the doctors that she had.
While Lauren was in undergrad at the University of Minnesota, she started looking for opportunities to get involved with kids fighting cancer, including helping out in a cancer research lab and volunteering in the surgery lounge at the hospital. While these opportunities were rewarding, Lauren was looking to get more involved directly with patients and help ease the hardships of their cancer journey. She decided to start an organization to help children cope with their cancer treatments.
In 2012 Designing Dreams came to fruition through Lauren's passion for art and healing. Lauren and her mother, Mardel, an interior designer, came up with the idea to transform bedrooms of kids actively fighting cancer, giving them a positive and uplifting space to heal, hope, and play.
Cancer in kids is devastating, and the toll treatment put on kids bodies is more than many people have to go through in a lifetime. When a child is diagnosed with cancer, their whole world stops. They stop focusing on tomorrow, on high school graduation, or any major life events, and they instead focus one day at a time. And these days consist of treatments, procedures, and doctor appointments. In addition to grueling treatments, they are also removed from the things they love to do. They often can’t go to school, play with friends, partake in extracurricular activities, sports, or even play outside due to compromised immune systems. Lauren and Mardel realized there was an opportunity to bring all the child's favorite activities, hobbies, and passions to them instead.
Lauren recruited her college friends to build Designing Dreams with her. After a full year of fundraising, Designing Dreams was ready to take on its first bedroom transformation. This bedroom transformation was for a 13-year-old girl named Jessie. Jessie had been battling ewing sarcoma since she was 3 years old. She had multiple rounds of treatment and surgeries, yet remained so incredibly positive.
During the bedroom transformation process, the team pulled back her mattress to uncover the words “Cancer Sucks” etched into her bed frame. This gave a powerful glimpse into the mind of a child facing cancer. Designing Dreams replaced these words with inspirational quotes, including Jessie's favorite quote "though she be but little, she is fierce." We transformed her room into a pink, butterfly, dream-filled escape.
After much anticipation, Jessie opened the door to her new room and gasped as her hands flung to her mouth and tears welled in her eyes. As she looked around her new bedroom, she said, “This feels like a dream.”
Jessie passed away a couple of years after completing her bedroom. Her mom said in her last days, she just wanted to be in her beautiful pink bedroom. The reaction when Jessie opened the door to her new room for the first time sticks with all of us and fuels our motivation to bring joy and healing to as many kids facing cancer as we can. While we know we are not able to erase the unfortunate reality that these children face, we hope to provide spaces that allow families to say "cancer doesn't such as much." Lauren says:
"My vision is to see Designing Dreams transform bedrooms for children with cancer across the entire country because every child deserves an uplifting space for hope and healing."