After being diagnosed with Stage IV cancer at age 14, Lauren Bendesky has been fighting the disease as a patient for most of her teen years. It wasn’t until this summer that Bendesky got to fight cancer on an entirely new front -- by working in a cancer research lab.
As an intern at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, Bendesky was able to run experiments and explore potential new cancer treatments.
Under the direction of cancer researcher Dr. Dean Lee, Bendesky , she was able to research the same kind of tumor -- a type of nerve cell cancer called neuroblastoma, she was diagnosed with in 2012.
“I thought it was really cool, we actually drew my own blood,” Bendesky told ABC News of her experiments. “We grew cells and could see how well my own cells were able to kill the tumor.”
Bendesky said she wanted to work in a cancer research lab after seeing firsthand how many pediatric patients had received treatments made for adults patients.
“In the last 20 years there’s only two drugs designed specifically for pediatric patients,” said Bendesky . “A lot of kids have adult types of toxic [cancer] treatments.”
Lee invited Bendesky to the lab after seeing her work as an ambassador for the St. Baldricks Foundation, which raises money for pediatric cancer research and treatments.
“She’s accomplished enough in the four weeks she’s been here that we have important pieces of data from the experiments she did,” Lee told ABC News affiliate KTRK-TV in Houston.
Bendesky was already a bit of an expert in cancer treatments after undergoing multiple rigorous chemotherapy treatments, stem cell transplants and radiation treatments after her diagnosis.
She said even though she was an expert in cancer treatments as a patient, it was different experience to see the cancer fight from a researcher perspective.
“I thought it would get redundant,” said Bendesky of working in a lab. “But every day…it was really interesting because all the data [was new.] I didn’t realize how much research and work goes into one new medicine.”
Last October, after years of treatments Bendesky was declared to show “no evidence of disease" meaning there is no sign of the deadly cancer in Bendesky's system. However, Bendesky's cancer has a high chance of reoccurrence, so as the teen plans for the future she also remains committed to finding a cure and new treatments for her cancer.
Next year Bendesky said she hopes to go back to Lee’s lab and spent another two months working on new experiments.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described neuroblastoma as a form of brain cancer; neuroblastoma is a cancer that can arise anywhere in the nervous system.