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Caroline heads off to college

South Boston News
Caroline Laughorn’s third bout with cancer delayed her move to college last fall. Over the holidays, news came that the cutting-edge CAR-T treatment at Duke University Medical Center had proven effective. She starts classes at James Madison University this month. (Photo courtesy Jennifer Hill Laughorn) / January 02, 2020
Like Madonna and Beyoncé, she is so widely recognized (locally, that is) that she can be identified by only her first name.

And this celebrity – Caroline – is going to college.

To recap the narrative that so many have been following with fervent hopes and prayers: Caroline Laughorn is a May Halifax County High School graduate who found out, about 20 days before she was to start classes at James Madison University, that her cancer had returned yet again, derailing her education plans.

“It was beyond devastating,” recalls her mother, Jennifer Hill Laughorn.

Cutting-edge CAR-T treatment at Duke University Medical Center followed. Fingers were crossed. Supplications were sent.

There were fund raisers, shows of support, outpourings of compassion.

Now she’s off to JMU.

On New Year’s Eve, the third of three bone-marrow biopsies since the CAR-T treatment showed no cancer cells and no B cells, clearing the way for her move to a dormitory in Harrisonburg.

“JMU is happening y’all,” proclaimed Laughorn on the Facebook page Caroline’s Journey.

Laughorn said Caroline spent a festive New Year’s Eve in Richmond with her roommate. JMU held her roommate, her room, and her spot in the freshman class. Caroline even appeared in an ESPN spot during the JMU-Northern Iowa football game in December.

Not all her doctors endorse this return to normalcy. Their main concern: the flu.

But, counters Laughorn, “She cannot keep living in a bubble.”

Caroline plans to major in health sciences with the goal of being a physician’s assistant who works with pediatric cancer patients.

Caroline has been battling leukemia since she was nine years old. She relapsed in 2015 and again in 2019.

Laughorn cautions against assuming that CAR-T — promising as it is — will be the cure.

“The battle’s far from over, but we’re headed in the right direction,” she says. “We need people to keep praying for her.”

According to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: “CAR T-cell therapy is a form of immunotherapy that uses specially altered T cells — a part of the immune system — to fight cancer. A sample of a patient’s T cells are collected from the blood, then modified to produce special structures called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) on their surface. When these CAR T cells are reinfused into the patient, the new receptors enable them to latch onto a specific antigen on the patient’s tumor cells and kill them.”

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