Each story is unique, intimate, and powerful. Readers, please come open-minded and ready to engage with the following stories. More importantly, be ready to interface with an intimate space and allow yourself to step inside someone else’s life. The following is the narrative of Lauren Zeller, a second-year medical student at KUMC.
Can you provide a one-minute summary of your life?
When I was a kid, I had a relatively normal childhood. Money was really tight though and I did not grow up wealthy, but I knew that even as a small child. I did have a very strong community within my small town. In elementary and middle school, I was bullied mercilessly because I was smart, and I cared about school. Then high school came through, and I really found my niche in the marching band with all of the other band nerds. It was really nice to find my people and I think that was when I started to kind of grow more as an individual.
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I think after my 14th birthday, maybe 15. That was a big shock to my world. It really showed me something about myself, that I had the ability to help myself. I also learned about patient care, health, medical knowledge, and medicine in general, from my provider – my endocrinologist. That really gave me an interesting perspective. Before that, I had a primary care physician. He had icy freezing cold hands so I didn’t like him. But my endo, he was awesome. He would constantly tell me that I needed to become a doctor so that way I could take his place, carry that torch.
High School eventually ended and undergrad came. Undergrad was really interesting because it let the world get even bigger for me. It let me learn more about myself, learn more about the people around me. I was also diagnosed with a second chronic illness – primary lymphedema while I was in undergrad.
Overall my life has been kind of like a nice testament to myself, showing me how strong I am and that I can fight back anything that tries to come at me. Now, I’m in medical school after working more than ten years to get here. It makes me feel so strong and capable to know that I can do that.
If you could use one word to describe yourself, what would it be and why?
Tenacious. I’ve just had to deal with a lot of crap in my life and I’ve always had to fight to get through it. I recently heard a quote that sometimes the only way out of the fire is through it. So that’s a general theme to my life, just run through the flames. Eventually, you won’t feel the fire anymore. So, I’ve been at this, coming out the other side, still smiling. So I like to think that I’m very good at being able to keep laughing through everything and still be ready for more.
What do you do in your free time?
That’s a good question. What is free time? I like to read and draw. I’m a big movie buff. I’m a big Quentin Tarantino fan. I also really like Wes Anderson and David Lynch, and just all kinds of different film directors. So, that’s something I like to do to escape for an hour and a half, two hours to escape for a bit. Also, I wouldn’t call myself a gardener, per se, but I’m a hardcore plant mom. I really like to take care of plants. It’s something that I think is reassuring that I can help something green really flourish, because I can raise plants like crazy and I can bring them back from the dead. Haha, you could call me a plant necromancer. I also love to hang out with my cat and do crazy cat lady stuff.
What are you passionate about?
The environment. I was the president of the Washburn Ecobods. The Ecobods was an organization centered around educating our community about green living and doing what we can as people to help the environment. I worked closely with the waste management system and set up more recycling bins on campus, made sure that recycling bin access was widespread around the arenas for football games and basketball games because that’s a big area where the community generates a lot of trash.
There’s trash everywhere and people don’t realize what it’s doing. On social media, we see a lot more pictures of ocean life, like turtles with straws in their noses and seals strangled by plastic rings. I think there’s a lot of good movement going forth, like trying to forego plastic straws, but there’s still so many things that we can do. So, the environment is something that I’m passionate about.
Then in general, health care for children is another thing [I’m passionate about]. I didn’t realize how limited public health care funding is for children, especially children of single mothers. That’s a thing I’ve been learning more about recently and hoping to be more active in. A lot of the pediatricians, especially associated with KU med, have been advocating for that. So that’s something I’m currently learning more about.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I tap dance. I danced for 14 years. From the age of four until I graduated high school, we [my sister and I] danced. My sister did more competition stuff. I didn’t want to hang out with girls who did competitions though. I was also in a lot of AP classes and getting like, only four hours of sleep a night in high school. I didn’t need to do competition [dance]. That was a little too much. But no, I can tap dance and I’m really pretty good at it.
What inspires you?
Definitely my mother and my sister and my dad’s mother – the strong women in my family have definitely brought me a lot of inspiration and helped me to build up goals for my life that require me to really push myself to my limits.
My mom was a single mother for 10 years. She also raised me with my dad, who has some mental illness problems. So, she’s kind of still been like a single parent while trying to also be a supportive person to my dad. My mom has been exceptionally patient through a lot of things in her life.
For a short period of time, my mom was kind of ostracized from her family for the first few years in my sister’s life. That was something that really stuck out to me, because that’s a huge deal to be cut off from your main family. My mom still made a family from that. She still had people that she relied on, and who were incredibly important to her. Her strength shows itself in so many different ways, in so many different colors.
My mom definitely proved to me that there’s no one definition of being a strong person. There’s no one way to define strength in somebody who’s also compassionate and caring. My mom showed me that I don’t have to be just strong, and not also be compassionate and caring. I can be both. I can be vulnerable. I can be incredibly resistant and resilient.
My sister is really impressive. She’s a forensic psychologist and a therapist. She does a lot of the court-mandated group therapy for men and women who are getting out of the penal system and are trying to like re-incorporate themselves back into society. She works with a lot of interesting, sometimes scary characters. I don’t know how she does it.
Then there’s my grandmother, my dad’s mom. She was in a very abusive marriage. She stuck it out until she was finally done and she left on her own terms. I was really proud of her for knowing her limits and knowing when she was ready to be done. She did that for herself. She also taught me, at a very young age like five, that no man or any person can tell me what to do. I am my own woman.