Auckland teenager Amber-Lee Lawrie loses cancer battle

By Ophelia Buckleton

An Auckland teenager who dedicated her life to helping others has died after a long battle with cancer.

Amber-Lee Lawrie, 17, the deputy head girl of Waiuku College in South Auckland, died at home on Friday.

Amber-Lee helped raise $11,000 for the children's charity CanTeen, and raised awareness for those living with disabilities by organising a six-week wheelchair basketball programme with the Auckland Wheelbreakers and Halberg New Zealand in 2015.

The ambitious teen, who wanted to study medicine, asked that her body be donated to Auckland University's medical school - a wish which has been granted.

The teen's parents, Bronwyn and Euan Lawrie who also have two sons, said she was determined to not let her illness affect the things she wanted to do in life, including the desire to help everyone.

"Before she died she even arranged for items like her wheelchair, which was donated to her, to be given back to the spinal unit for other people to use," said her mother.

Amber-Lee was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma, a bone cancer that mainly affects children and teens, when she was 12. The condition, which was on her lumbar spine, left her paralysed and confined to a wheelchair for her teenage years.

"A good word for Amber was adaptable.

"There were plans for her to go to boarding school and things like that which never eventuated ... but she just took it in her stride," said Bronwyn.

Amber-Lee was involved in several extracurricular activities, including basketball, piano, gardening and learning Spanish.

"She just would not let the sickness interfere with her goals ... or hold her back," said her mother.

This included standing up out of her wheelchair to walk the 400m race at every school athletics day, with her friends at either side.

After four years in remission, between 2012 and 2016, Amber-Lee was diagnosed with metastatic cancer in March, meaning the cancer cells had spread to other parts of her body.

Amber-Lee dedicated her life to helping others.
Amber-Lee dedicated her life to helping others.

After undergoing radiation and 13 rounds of chemotherapy, since she was 12, Amber-Lee made the decision to stop treatment in June so she could enjoy the time she had left.

"So she could do things like movie and pizza nights with her friends," said Bronwyn.

Sarah Morrison, 18, who had been friends with Amber-Leesince primary school, said she was always smiling and the most selfless person she knew.

"Even when she was sick ... and going through a horrible time, she would always ask 'but what's going on with you?'."

Morrison and a number of Amber-Lee'sclassmates said she would always help them with any issues they had, as well as their school work "like a teacher".

Waiuku College paid tribute to Amber-Lee on social media.

"It is with sadness that we acknowledge the passing of Amber Lawrie our deputy head girl after a long illness. Our thoughts are with her family and many friends."

Principal Tom Vanderlaan said the Year 13 student left school in term two of this year to undergo intensive treatment after discovering her cancer had returned for the second time.

Amber-Lee was very open and brave about dying.
Amber-Lee was very open and brave about dying.

"So we had seen it coming for quite some time.

"There is a lot of sadness but also joy celebrating what a neat person she was."

Vanderlaan said Amber-Lee, who had been at the school since Year 9, was involved in leadership and had won many awards for being a highly academic student.

The school marae has been open this week as a "place of memory and support" and
Amber-Lee's parents paid a visit yesterday, Vanderlaan said.

In a post on Kiwiblog, Letters to Corey, head blogger Grace dedicated a heartfelt message to Amber-Lee, whom she met at the Wilson Centre where the pair underwent rehabilitation.

"She fought harder than anyone I have ever known.

"She was incredibly intelligent, charismatic and powerful in her ability to compel others to action through her own."

Grace said Amber-Lee wanted to donate her body "because in her words this way, she could be a part of medical school, minus the student loan."

Vanderlaan said Amber-Lee planned the details of her memorial service this Thursday with family and friends.

"She was very open and brave about dying.

"She wanted everyone to dress in bright colours."

Waiuku College will hold a mufti day on Thursday to honour this wish and will close in the afternoon so staff and students can attend the memorial service.

It will be held at the Aka Aka School hall in Waiuku at 1.30pm on Thursday.

- NZ Herald

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