Hats on, ready to run

Sisters honor friend by raising money for skin cancer awareness

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Sisters Emily Gonsoulin, center, and Sarah Lomax, seated, are operating a nonprofit in memory of their friend Lauren Savoy Olinde, who died last year, at age 27, from melanoma skin cancer. With the sisters are their mother Ruthie Golden, top right, and Olinde's mother Nancy Savoy, who are helping with a Hat Run for skin cancer awareness scheduled for Saturday morning on the grounds of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Sisters Emily Gonsoulin, center, and Sarah Lomax, seated, are operating a nonprofit in memory of their friend Lauren Savoy Olinde, who died last year, at age 27, from melanoma skin cancer. With the sisters are their mother Ruthie Golden, top right, and Olinde's mother Nancy Savoy, who are helping with a Hat Run for skin cancer awareness scheduled for Saturday morning on the grounds of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

Organizers of the new “Hat Run” to be held Saturday, a fundraising and awareness event to fight skin cancer, already have two specific goals in mind.

One is to produce a skin cancer awareness video to use for educating young women at schools, summer camps and other settings.

The other is to provide sun canopies over local playgrounds, said the two sisters who have organized the run, Sarah Lomax and Emily Gonsoulin.

The sisters have taken the idea for a stand against skin cancer and run with it, in memory of their friend Lauren Savoy Olinde.

Olinde died in January 2012, at the age of 27, from the most serious type of skin cancer, melanoma. In the days before she died, Olinde knew of plans for the Hat Run, her friends said.

“Lauren was so excited about it,” Lomax said. “She said, ‘I feel like I learned about skin cancer and melanoma by having it. I really want people to know about skin cancer without having it.’”

Lomax and Gonsoulin have formed the not-for-profit organization, the Lauren Savoy Olinde (LSO) Foundation; the Hat Run is one of its projects that, it’s hoped, will become an annual event.

A native of Baton Rouge, Olinde and her husband, Andrew, had been married a little over a year and were living in Monroe, where she was attending pharmacy school, when she was diagnosed in the fall of 2009 with Stage III melanoma.

She had discovered the melanoma on the crown of her head, when she combed her hair one day and felt a painful spot, her mother, Nancy Savoy, said.

Olinde began a treatment program, under the direction of physicians at M.D. Anderson of Houston and administered in Monroe, and continued her third year in the pharmacy program of the University of Louisiana at Monroe, where her family has since established a scholarship in her name for students overcoming adversity.

Olinde went into remission in July 2010, a time she marked with special trips taken with family and friends.

Despite the return of the cancer in February 2011, Olinde was able to continue treatment, graduate with honors and begin working as a licensed pharmacist in Baton Rouge.

By the fall of 2011, the cancer had metastasized further. Olinde died on Jan. 21, 2012, surrounded by her loved ones.

During Olinde’s remission, she, Lomax and Gonsoulin, all friends from their high school days at St. Joseph’s Academy, had talked about the possibility of a nonprofit foundation that could bring awareness “to this dangerous but preventable disease,” as the foundation’s literature says.

On the day before Olinde died, the sisters were able to tell her that the foundation had been established.

They said they weren’t sure if Olinde would be able to hear their message.

But, in true Lauren Olinde fashion, “she was still able to bring the big old smile. She said, ‘Yay!’” Lomax said.

Throughout Olinde’s illness “she was determined to live every day. She woke up with a smile every day,” her mother said. “I’m convinced she was given a lot of grace every day, because she was very strong.”

The inspiration for the name of the Hat Run came from a “Hats Off” party that Lomax threw for Olinde in the summer of 2010, when Olinde’s cancer went into remission and her hair was growing back.

Later, Gonsoulin thought, “Maybe we could do a Hat Run and tell people about” skin cancer and how to prevent it.

At the run, which will begin Saturday at 8 a.m., with registration at 7 a.m., on the grounds behind the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, there will be free skin cancer screenings, a children’s activity tent, food and drink and live music.

People are invited to wear a hat for the run, too, and there will be a hat contest for individuals and teams.

The organizers said they’ve received great community support for the new venture.

“They’ve been living this for a year-and-a-half,” said Savoy of her daughters’ friends.

Their mother, Ruthie Golden, and other friends and family members are helping with the event, and Savoy has stepped up to help coordinate volunteers.

More information about Lauren Olinde’s story, the LSO Foundation, and the upcoming Hat Run can be found at http://lsofoundation.org.