Raising Awareness: The Greenes share Rozlyn’s story

September 25, 2020 chris
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Pictured above, The Greenes smile for a family photo. From left to right: Andrew, Autumn, Ben, Rozlyn, Lauren, Keegan and Braylen.

By Katie Bohannon, News Editor

Rozlyn Greene is a name few people do not recognize.

As the month of September represents a time to recognize the families and individuals affected by childhood cancer, Rozlyn represents more than the illness she faced, emerging as an inspiration of hope and a testimony of God’s unfailing promises.

Ben and Lauren Greene have five children: Andrew (15), Autumn (14), Braylen (14), Rozlyn (10) and Keegan who turns 7 in October. Their close-knit family sprouts a plethora of personalities, but love remains rooted in its center. As Lauren and Ben’s first child together, Rozlyn’s bright spirit and compassionate heart drew people towards her wherever she went.

From dancing to dressing up to gymnastics, Rozlyn’s captivating and endearing nature shined. At age four, she cheered with the sixth graders as the RAMS mascot and joined Ben in cheerful duets as they sang classic songs like Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” in the car. Her bubbly demeanor exuded optimism, and her winsome smile was always enriched with joy.

“To me, this really sums up Rozlyn,” said Ben. “The Christmas before she got sick, she came up to me and she said, ‘Daddy, I need to go to the Dollar Tree.’ I said, ‘What do you need to go to the Dollar Tree for? You’re seven.’ She said, ‘I need to get one more Christmas present; I’ve got one more dollar and I need to get one more present.’ I said, ‘Who is it for?’ and she said, ‘It’s for you.’ That’s who she was.”

On Saturday, December 8, 2018, Rozlyn went to bed after a full day of flips and back handsprings and no complaints, other than mentioning her leg hurt. When the pain never eased, Lauren took her to Gadsden Regional Medical Center on Sunday.

“I knew something was wrong,” said Lauren. “I felt like we passed everyone [in the hospital]. It was December, everybody’s sick, so it was packed. I’m thinking I’m just bringing her for leg cramps, but when we got there, they started asking a lot of questions. There was this one spot on her leg [that hurt]. I was kind of wondering, that’s a lot of questions for what I’m thinking is leg cramps, and I started kind of panicking. They put us in the triage room and were taking her blood immediately. That’s when I called [Ben] and I said, ‘I think you need to get up here.’”

Living nearby, Ben arrived at the hospital in minutes. As he walked inside, he overheard Rozlyn’s pediatrician calling over the speaker. An uneasiness settled over the room as the pediatrician called Lauren’s cell phone and asked if she had spoken with the doctor at Gadsden Regional. As the doctor entered the room, Rozlyn’s pediatrician told her to speak with him before their next conversation.

“Right then, I was like, ‘What is happening?’” said Lauren. “Your pediatrician doesn’t call you and say things like that to you. [Everything was happening] so fast.”

While a normal white blood cell count is between 4,000 to 11,000 cells per microleter of blood, Rozlyn’s had spiked to 40,000. Though the prognosis of an abscess floated around as a possibility for Rozlyn’s condition, a nurse practitioner mentioned to Ben something he never imagined: Rozlyn could have cancer.

“I didn’t think cancer,” said Lauren. “We try our hardest not to go there. Like the Bible says, you don’t think that way. I was thinking maybe arthritis, because my nephew has that, so I thought it was in the family with kids. That was as far as I took it.”

Despite the initial speculations about Rozlyn’s condition, the Greenes knew their next step was to travel to Children’s Hospital of Alabama in Birmingham for further treatment. But just when Ben arrived at home to explain to their children the situation and pack, a call from Lauren confirmed the worst. Rozlyn had leukemia.

In an hour, Rozlyn’s white blood cell count jumped from 40,000 to 55,000, and climbed to 76,000 as they sped to Children’s in an ambulance. Just a few days later, her white blood cell count capped at 169,000.

From the moment the Greenes arrived at Children’s, their feet hit a relentless battlefield. Rozlyn needed blood and platelets immediately, and as a redhead with fair skin, Rozlyn experienced allergic reactions to all initial medical treatments.

“From the word ‘go,’ it was a roller coaster of emotions that I honestly don’t wish on anybody,” said Ben. “That’s really where our faith got tested. Me, personally, I grew up in church, but I never fully surrendered over. At that point, I knew God, I believed in God, but that was when I said, ‘Okay, God. I need some help here.’ Many times, I prayed to God, ‘I can’t do this. I can’t handle this.’”

At just eight years old when diagnosed, the Greenes explained Rozlyn’s situation to her through another Etowah County resident who continues to battle cancer today: Lydia Millican. While attending Vacation Bible School at Fairview Baptist with her best friend Jesse (who is Lauren’s best friend’s daughter), Rozlyn was overcome with excitement. The church was raising funds to purchase Lydia a wig, and each day Rozlyn would spring home and ask if she could donate to help Lydia. For Rozlyn who knew Lydia and was familiar with her story, Lydia represented someone like her – a young girl battling cancer, but overcoming her circumstances with joy.

On December 14, 2018, less than a week from her diagnosis, the Greenes endured yet another frightening moment – Rozlyn’s heart stopped beating for five minutes. When Rozlyn looked at Lauren and told her she was having difficulty breathing, nurses flooded in the room and transported her to the Pediatrics Intensive Care Unit, where she was intubated to increase her oxygen intake.

After waiting with their immediate and extended family who had just arrived at the hospital that day, the Greenes felt that same uneasiness that overcame them at Gadsden Regional. When time continued to pass with no news, Ben discovered doctors and nurses surrounding his daughter, and a chaplain told him that Rozlyn had coded.

After extensive CPR and treatment, Rozlyn was brought back. She recovered for a week and a half in the ICU, then spent another week and a half in the Special Care Unit. While in ICU and Special Care, Rozlyn underwent extensive chemotherapy treatments and endured infections, traveling down an ever-changing roadmap of medical responses to her condition. She lost all her hair during those two weeks.

“We never really talked about losing her hair,” said Lauren. “That was an issue. The day I was going to tell her, she coded. I was so thankful I didn’t tell her though, just because that happened. Since she was in Special Care and ICU for so long and the chemo that she had was so intense, she lost her hair in Special Care. It all came out within two weeks. We didn’t shave it; every bit of it came out. Now looking at other kids that we follow, it doesn’t happen that quickly with most of them. It shows that what she was getting was very extreme chemo – that’s also why we had to live in the hospital. You can’t get sent home with the types of chemo she had.”

For the next nine months, Children’s became the Greene’s home away from home. Despite all the hardships Rozlyn faced and the afflictions she ceaselessly endured, cancer never stole her amiable character, and she accepted each challenge with a smile. While at Children’s the Greene’s made the most of every moment, spreading fun and laughter as far as their happiness could reach.

Ben and Rozlyn would relax on their makeshift front porch (chairs sitting outside Rozlyn’s room), handing candy to children, doctors and nurses who passed by or play I Spy with binoculars peering down the hallway. Rozlyn walked with Lauren through the halls, always holding her mother’s hand, encouraging other children to come play with them and gathering with other families to watch baseball games and play UNO – their favorite game. They bonded with new friends over the course of those months, wishing them the best in bittersweet goodbyes and encouraging them towards recovery.

While Rozlyn shared a special loving relationship with both her parents, her bond with Lauren was undeniable. Throughout Rozlyn’s experience with cancer, she watched her mother’s responses each step of the way. The nurses noticed that however Lauren reacted, Rozlyn reacted, regardless of the situation or news. With such a close mother-daughter dynamic, the pair often shared deep and thoughtful conversations, enjoying each other’s company over bath time and lotion – priceless moments filled with meaningful words between just the two of them.

Lauren recalled how babies were drawn to Rozlyn and her connection with the tiny humans experiencing the same journey as her own. While most babies with cancer do not typically want many people to hold them, they were instantaneously attached to Rozlyn. The mothers would watch with Lauren as Rozlyn pushed them gently in their strollers down the halls.

“You drive by that hospital and I see an Easter egg hunt by the fountains or birthday parties,” said Ben. “I see laughing and giggling, doing everything you want to do with your kid, as much as you can in that situation. God gave us that nine months after Rozlyn coded to be closer to her and really experience as much as we could with her.”

Rozlyn turned nine years old on March 26, 2019 at Children’s. From birthday celebrations to private screenings of The Lion King and Aladdin to the simplicity of enjoying snacks together in bed with giggles and laughter, special moments with Rozlyn stand out in the Greenes’ memories, and her impact on those around her remains undeniably powerful.

Rozlyn bonded with her nurses at Children’s immensely, forming a unique relationship with her caregivers who Ben and Lauren consider family. The Greenes emphasized how wonderful the nurses were throughout Rozlyn’s journey, commending their care for their daughter. Lauren remembered one nurse in particular who left Children’s to work in Nashville, Tennessee, whose experiences with Rozlyn are moments that changed her life forever.

“We still talk of course,” said Lauren. “She still – even being up there – talks about Rozlyn every day. Rozlyn has completely changed her; she’s never seen a child like Rozlyn. We got to go outside and have a picnic with her and all the nurses before she left to go to Nashville [and gave her T-shirts we made]. Now, there are Nashville nurses wearing the shirts because of stories they heard about Rozlyn from Courtney. Rozlyn touched a lot of people.”

Rozlyn experienced Acute Myloid Leukemia, a rare form of cancer typically found in adults. While most children with leukemia experience Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, Ben noted that Rozlyn’s case proved unusual in every way. Though Rozlyn was treated at Children’s and even traveled to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee, the Greenes were informed that there was nothing further medically that could heal Rozlyn.

On September 12, 2019, Rozlyn’s last day on earth, she was heavily medicated. Though she mumbled softly, she only spoke three times coherently. The first two were to tell her parents that she loved them. Rozlyn’s final words served as a revelation of God’s mercy and loving kindness – an unbreakable promise of his peace, and the happiness He manifested for Rozlyn.

“She never woke up, but out of nowhere, she literally stopped and just pure excitement came to her,” said Ben. “She said, ‘Hey, do y’all see this?’”

“Her eyes were still closed [when she spoke her last words],” said Lauren. “She had the biggest smile on her face. It was happening at that moment, so we were pretty sure that was when she was there [in heaven].”

At Rozlyn’s funeral, the Greenes were showered with the same support they received throughout Rozlyn’s journey. While Rozlyn battled cancer, the Greenes were met with an abundance of encouragement from Etowah County and beyond – an entire community rallying together for their daughter.

The night of visitation, the Greenes stood for five hours speaking with people affected by Rozlyn. Though the church could hold around 1,000 people, attendants overflowed and people lined the walls, standing to hear the service. In addition, another 4,600 people watched Rozlyn’s funeral streamed live, then another 2,000 viewed the service afterwards. From different cities and states to even other countries, Rozlyn’s story traveled as far as the Pacific Islands.

“I don’t even know a way to describe the support truthfully,” said Ben. “We never needed anything, and they never asked for anything in return. We were taken care of, our kids were taken care of…there’s so many different small things I could say. It’s hard for us to accept things like that, but our preacher said don’t rob someone of their blessing. We were blessed beyond measure. The impact she had…we will never know until we get to heaven.”

“That meant a lot because it’s like [the people] were with us the whole time,” said Lauren. “These people we don’t even know…it doesn’t matter. They love our baby, it makes us love them.”

Ben and Lauren offered a few closing words of encouragement to other families facing childhood cancer.

“Try to stay positive,” said Lauren. “Keep your faith. Look at the good and think of happy [moments], don’t dwell on the bad.”

“Lean into God and each other,” said Ben.

The true impact of Rozlyn’s story is unknown. There is no exact number that serves as evidence of the lives she touched, nor a percentage that captures the influence one person can possess. As Rozlyn lives in heaven, her legacy lives on earth, fostering the love she held for Christ in others and nurturing hope wherever her name appears. Rozlyn represents a light cancer will never extinguish, the peace that comes with an everlasting salvation and the promise that despite what she experienced, she is whole once more.

“God wins,” said Ben. “God definitely used Rozlyn. Our earthly bodies and minds would trade it all away just to have her back. But then again, when someone stops you and says, ‘Because of Rozlyn, I was able to lead my grandson to know Jesus…’ that is God giving us comfort.”

For more information on Rozlyn’s story as well as The Rozzy Foundation, visit www.therozzy.com.