weather icon Light Rain

Las Vegas showgirl kept dancing through breast cancer battle

Updated October 19, 2019 - 7:59 am

When Lauren Clark felt a lump in her breast, she assumed it was a cyst and, worst-case scenario, she’d have it drained.

After all, she was just 29.

By the time she turned 30, though, Clark had undergone a lumpectomy, six rounds of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and had her eggs frozen in hopes of one day having a child.

Through it all, Clark, a showgirl in “Vegas! The Show,” just kept dancing — whenever her health would allow it.

“The show was so awesome and so supportive with me doing that,” she says, sitting inside the Saxe Theater, “because it really helped me emotionally to be able to come here. … It was something I needed to do for my own sanity.”

‘I was desperate’

On March 16, 2015, the course of Clark’s life changed forever.

The Los Angeles native, who moved to Las Vegas in 2013 to dance in “Jubilee!,” had been traveling back and forth to her hometown for tests. The night she learned the results of her biopsy indicated cancer, she says, “I cried all the way to work because I was just scared.”

Clark underwent a lumpectomy less than two weeks after that diagnosis. Before beginning chemotherapy, though, she looked into having her eggs frozen as a hedge against the infertility that can come from cancer and its treatments. What she learned was that the procedure costs around $15,000, it isn’t covered by her insurance, and there are no payment plans. So she swallowed her pride, launched a GoFundMe drive and begged strangers for help.

“I was desperate,” she admits. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

Those strangers, many of them from the local show community, came through in a little more than a day.

‘Push and push and push’

Almost nothing about Clark, or her cancer, is typical.

According to the Susan G. Komen organization, fewer than 5 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. are younger than 40. The median age at diagnosis is 64 for white women, and 60 for African Americans like Clark.

Then there’s the fact that her form of cancer — triple negative, meaning two common hormones and a protein aren’t present in the tumor, ruling out many types of treatment — left chemotherapy sessions every three weeks as her best shot.

“I was so scared for the first one, because I thought it was going to hurt,” she remembers. “But the actual process of getting chemo doesn’t hurt. It’s everything afterward.”

The first week of each round, she’d be nauseous with no trace of an appetite. During the second, she’d avoid contact with people, because her white blood cell count was too low to fight off infections.

That third week, though, was hers to dance.

Clark would have to pace herself and alter her schedule. If she danced in the show’s Louis Prima and Keely Smith number “Jump, Jive an’ Wail,” she’d need to sit out the “Mambo Italiano” segment of the Rat Pack tribute.

Some nights, she’d dance until she was dizzy.

“People would have to make me stop,” Clark says, “because I’d keep trying to push and push and push.”

Staying strong

Andrea McNulty is one of the dancers who filled in, and she remains stunned by Clark’s resilience.

“She’s just such a strong woman and never wanted to show any sign of weakness throughout the entire process. I’m still mind-blown to this day,” she says. “If you looked at her as an outsider, you would have no idea what she was going through that entire time.”

Clark kept her fellow cast members involved in her journey from the moment she told them, matter-of-factly, that she had cancer and would need to miss some work.

“She had all of us actually feel where the cancer was,” McNulty recalls, “because she wanted us to know exactly what she had found. ‘I need you guys to know, so you can be really self-aware.’ ”

From there, she made sure they performed monthly self exams as part of the Feel It on the First campaign.

McNulty was an easy convert.

“It’s something so important that women just kind of pass by. … It’s something so simple that you can catch so early if you’re conscious about it.”

‘Why would I do that?’

During her chemotherapy, Clark’s doctors discovered a BRCA2 gene mutation, which greatly increases the risks of developing additional cancers in the breasts and ovaries.

After the test once again came back positive — her mother insisted on a second one — Clark’s decision was easy to make yet difficult to accept.

“I wasn’t going to risk getting cancer (again) to keep my breasts,” she says, even though doctors gave her the choice of having them for a few more years while having radiation therapy. “Radiation is so dangerous, because it can cause other cancers. So I was, like, ‘No. Why would I do that to myself? Take ’em.’ ”

After recovering from her double mastectomy, Clark continued to dance whenever she could despite the pain of the tissue expanders, necessary for her breast reconstruction, “that felt so bad, it literally felt like bricks were on my chest.”

Once Clark was finally healed from all the procedures, McNulty says about 15 dancers threw a bra party, with each of them gifting their friend lingerie to celebrate her new breasts.

‘Go get it checked’

Clark, now 33, is cancer-free, but she’ll be living with the aftermath of her battle for the rest of her life.

She’s facing annual MRIs to check for cancer. And, because of that BRCA2 mutation, she’s decided to have her ovaries removed. Since she’s been told the risk of ovarian cancer increases at age 40, she’s planning to have them taken out at 37. That leaves her a four-year window to have a child.

Then there are the scars — both physical and mental — that she hides as best as she can.

For the most part, Clark talks about her cancer as though it were experienced by someone else. At times, she can sound detached, almost clinical. But emotion creeps through when she thinks about the future and the fact that she’ll never be able to breastfeed that child.

“It’s not easy,” she finally admits.

But that’s not the message she wants to leave.

This is.

“Definitely do self breast exams,” Clark says. “It’s huge. If you find anything, don’t be scared of it. Get it checked. Don’t let it linger. Don’t be afraid of it. Go get it checked.”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
Views of the first Las Vegas Pizza Festival - VIDEO
The inaugural Las Vegas Pizza Festival, held Nov. 16 at the Industrial Event Space, drew 1,500 pizza lovers to sample the wares of 20 local pizza makers. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Golden Knights documentary premiere brings out emotions - VIDEO
A couple of thousand ticket-holders braved marathon traffic and road closures to arrive at T-Mobile Arena three hours before game time to watch the long-in-the-works documentary. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rock ’n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon attracts 35,000-plus runners - VIDEO
More than 35,000 are registered to run in this year’s marathon or half-marathon. They’ll start their journey at 4:30 p.m. and conclude it under the neon lights on the Strip. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Heather Bray, as Elvis, wins women’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon - VIDEO
Heather Bray completed the 26.2-mile course Sunday in 3 hours, 13 minutes for her first marathon victory. She had run in two others, posting faster times in both. But the costume was heavier than her usual workout garb. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bobby Flay Celebrates 15 Years Of Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace
Bobby Flay talks about his Mesa Grill restaurant at Caesars Palace celebrating e its 15th anniversary. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Smoked Sazerac at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in Las Vegas
Chase Jefferies, a bartender at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in Las Vegas, makes a Smoked Sazerac by shaking Hennessy, Bulleit Rye, Pernod Absinthe, maple syrup and Peychaud’s Bitters with ice, then filling a snifter with applewood smoke and pouring the drink over an oversized ice cube. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Red Rock Canyon free to all Monday for Veterans Day - VIDEO
In honor of Veterans Day, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is free to all visitors on Monday. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Artist dedicates heart sculpture on Las Vegas Strip - VIDEO
Artist Katy Boynton dedicated her sculpture depicting a giant steel heart to the Las Vegas community Saturday night outside Fashion Show mall. (James Schaeffer /Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Warm Salt-Roasted Beets at La Cave Wine & Food Hideaway in Las Vegas
Chris Yamauchi, sous chef at La Cave Wine & Food Hideaway at Wynn Las Vegas, roasts fresh beets for three hours, peels, cubes and chills them, then sautés them with butter, sherry vinegar and black pepper and tops with goat cheese and pistachios. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
O.J. Simpson files lawsuit against The Cosmopolitan over TMZ story - VIDEO
A lawsuit filed Thursday alleges that The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas defamed O.J. Simpson when hotel employees told TMZ he was kicked out of the casino “for belligerence” in November 2017. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Smith Center will now be charging $5 fee to park - VIDEO
Patrons now have to pay to park to attend events at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in downtown, continuing a recent trend in the Las Vegas Valley. (James Schaeffer / Review-Journal)
Prove you're a local: Try to pronounce these Nevada cities - VIDEO
Try your hand at pronouncing these Nevada cities and watch as other locals from Downtown Summerlin attempt to get the names right along with you. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making Cochinita Pibil Tacos at Santos Guisados Tacos & Beer in Las Vegas
Lola Vasquez, a cook at Santos Guisados Tacos & Beer in Las Vegas, makes Cochinita Pibil Tacos by rubbing a pork shoulder with signature seasoning, marinating it in a mixture of achiote, peppercorns, clove, cumin, salt and fresh lime and orange juices and roasting overnight. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal )
Joey D'Ambrosio talks about playing on "Rock Around the Clock" - VIDEO
Saxophonist Joey D'Ambrosio, who lives in Henderson, was a member of Bill Haley & His Comets. “People were looking for something new,” D’Ambrosio said. "When they heard ‘Rock Around the Clock,’ there was something about that record that turned them on.” (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nation’s Largest Student Farmers Market
600 students participate in massive farmers market, Oct. 23,2019. (Elizabeth Page Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Giant Student Farmers Market in Las Vegas
The largest student-run farmers market in the country involved 600 kids from more than 50 schools in the Las Vegas area selling fruits and vegetables grown at their schools. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ryan Reaves beer special in the Las Vegas Arts District - VIDEO
James Manos of Able Baker Brewing talks about offering a Golden Knights game-day promotion to celebrate partner Ryan Reaves at its Main Street tasting room. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas native Ethan William Childress of "Mixed-ish" - VIDEO
Interview with Las Vegas native Ethan William Childress, a young star of the new ABC comedy "Mixed-ish." (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review -Journal) @bizutesfaye
Sourdough Cafe at Arizona Charlie’s in Las Vegas makes horseradish potato chips - VIDEO
Sean Gassaway, room chef at the Sourdough Cafe at Arizona Charlie’s Decatur in Las Vegas, makes horseradish potato chips by heating prepared horseradish to remove some of the moisture, mixing it with kosher salt and further dehydrating it, tossing it with house-made chips and serving it as a monthly special with a bratwurst on a roll, sauerkraut, spicy mustard and a cup of cheese dip. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Central Perk coffee shop opens for business
As part of Saturday’s “Friends” Fan Experience at New York-New York hotel-casino, the artist Nathan Sawaya debuts his life-size, 700-square-foot re-creation of the show’s Central Perk coffee shop that’s constructed entirely out of Lego bricks. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Binion's debuts a spinning bar overlooking Fremont Street Experience - VIDEO
Binion's debuted its spinning bar inside the Whiskey Licker Up Saloon. The Rotating bar only goes at one full rotation per 15 minutes overlooking the Fremont Street Experience. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Green Eggs and Ham at Carson Kitchen in Las Vegas
Scott Simon, executive chef at Carson Kitchen in Las Vegas, makes a Green Eggs and Ham Flatbread with pistou, smoked mozzarella, tasso ham and eggs. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Lemon Semifreddo Dessert at Vetri Cucina in Las Vegas
Ashley Costa, pastry chef at Vetri Cucina at the Palms in Las Vegas, freezes lemon curd with whipped cream, sandwiches it between polenta-based crumiri cookies, sprinkles it with powdered sugar and drizzles it with argrumato, a lemon olive oil. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Las Vegas supermarket has a full-service wine and beer bar - VIDEO
Smith’s Marketplace on Skye Canyon Park Drive draws 300 people a day to socialize in what has become a neighborhood gathering spot. (James Schaeffer/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hard Rock Memorabilia Exhibition
The 2,600-square-foot exhibit, which is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays to Mondays through Jan. 31, spans eras and genres alike. There are numerous rare and never-before-seen items here, featuring artists from ZZ Top to Nine Inch Nails, Bo Diddley to Britney Spears. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Museum of Selfies coming to Las Vegas - VIDEO
The interactive attraction offers several new selfie opportunities. (Museum of Selfies)
Show of Strength in 'A Choreographers Showcase' - VIDEO
"A Choreographers Showcase" pairs artists from Nevada Ballet Theater and staff from all facets of Cirque du Soleil to design an annual show. (Elizabeth Page Brumleyy/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
David Chang talks about what to expect at his new restaurant, Majordomo Meat & Fish - VIDEO
David Chang tells fans what to expect at his new restaurant, Majordomo Meat & Fish, at The Venetian on the Las Vegas Strip. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pink Lady and Rosey Mary cocktails at Therapy in Las Vegas
Terence Beach, bartender at Therapy restaurant in Las Vegas, makes original pink cocktails to benefit breast cancer research. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Torrijas dessert served at Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill in Las Vegas
Chef Christian Lee of Sugarcane at The Venetian in Las Vegas makes a dessert of torrijas, a Latin French toast, serving it with a caramelized-apple sauce and cinnamon ice cream. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Health officials find possible cause of vaping illness

U.S. health officials announced a breakthrough Friday into the cause of a mysterious outbreak of vaping illnesses, reporting they have a “very strong culprit.”