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Girl who was once unable to walk due to cancer is now a budding gymnast, fashionista

Lauren Lewis, 12, has gone from being unable to walk as a toddler due to a debilitating form of cancer to become a gymnast and fashion lover.
/ Source: TODAY

Doctors once gave Lauren Lewis a 30 percent chance to survive treatment for a cancer so debilitating it rendered her unable to walk.

Ten years later, Lewis, 12, has blossomed into a competitive gymnast and budding fashionista, all thanks to the life-saving work done at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in New York City.

"I want to be a fashion designer, and I also want to be an Olympic gymnast,'' Lewis told Jenna Bush Hager on TODAY in the latest installment of the "Thanks and Giving" series. "That's my dream."

This month marks 10 years that Lauren has been cancer free since being diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma when she was 16 months old.

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"We had no idea that we would be sitting here now talking to you about Lauren,'' her mother, Benita Lewis, told Hager. "And for her to be as active as she is is a blessing."

A tumor the size of a grapefruit was wrapped around her spine, requiring radiation to shrink the tumor and then surgery to remove it.

"It is much more common for children who have these types of tumors along the spine to actually have permanent types of neurologic deficits to where they can't walk," Dr. Melissa Hudson of St. Jude told Hager.

It brought back difficult memories for Benita and Kenneth Lewis, whose infant son, Matthew, had died in surgery a few years earlier after being born with a heart defect. While the operation was successful, Lauren still had a challenging road ahead.

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"The reality of it was that she was given a 30 percent chance of surviving treatment,'' Benita said.

During her time at the hospital, her parents dressed her in regular clothes rather than the usual hospital-issued garb, sparking Lauren's interest in fashion. Once she completed her rehabilitation, she went from learning how to walk to developing a passion for gymnastics.

In the meantime, newer treatments mean that children with neuroblastoma similar to Lauren's now have as much as a 70 percent chance of survival, according to Hudson.

Lauren also spends each year giving back to St. Jude, holding an annual "Sewing Into Dreams" fashion show with her mother and sister to raise money for the hospital. She makes clothes herself and also holds a contest for future fashion designers.

"Whatever Lauren wants to do, we expose her to it,'' Benita said. "I think the fashion will probably always be with her, so I'm excited to see what it is that she's going to do."

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter.