Sitting in her home with the quilt made in her husbands honor draped along the couch, Camille Lajaunie recalls a couple dates.
“He was diagnosed October 3, 2009 and he passed away May 3 of 2011,”Lajaunie said.
The date her husband, Darren, was diagnosed with cancer and the day he died. Before cancer, Darren was an avid tennis player whenever he wasn’t helping create the latest space technology.In fact, the latter is how Camille and Darren met.
“I met him when we both worked at NASA. We worked for Lockheed Martin. He worked on the third floor, I worked on the second floor and our paths crossed quite a bit,” Camille said.
Two floors quickly turned into one when the pair got married. They eventually started a family, had a son named Andrew, who Darren was able to pass down his love of space and tennis to.
“Tennis was a huge passion of his. He was an all around sports person but he really really loved tennis,” Camille says.
He was so passionate that after Darren graduated from Dobie High School, he made sure to play at the college club level at the University of Texas at Austin. All while studying to get his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering.
You may be wondering just how good Darren was at playing tennis…
“We played tennis together and he… he smoked me,” Camille said.
On top of that there were countless tournaments won all throughout his life, but then the victories started to dwindle.
“In 2009, we were on a work trip in Japan and we were walking around and he said he wasn’t feeling well,and we came home from the trip and I said why don’t you go back to the doctor and see maybe it has something to do with the mole,” Camille explained.
She’s talking about a mole that was removed but came back. They weren’t worried until Darren began experiencing pain in his groin. Doctors referred them to a surgeon and that eventually led to a surgery. A surgery that involved 11 lymph nodes being removed from his groin. Then they heard the doctor tell them their worst fear, it was melanoma.
Melanoma is one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer. Once it’s reached the lymph nodes there is only a 64% survival rate.
Darren went through two clinical trials, chemo and radiation. Camille said you would have never known he was a cancer patient.
“He played tennis 6 weeks before he passed away… he worked up until the day before he passed away,” Camille said.
After he died Camille decided to keep his memory alive by planning a tennis tournament. This way she could combine two of his favorite things, education and tennis. Now the Darren Lajaunie tennis tournament is in its eighth year and has given out over $40,000 to students for tennis camps or their college education.
Darren’s life is still having and impact on others, and even with the tournament there are still a few more things Camille wants people to remember about her husband.
“I first really want to encourage everyone to get checked for melanoma. Just to have a passion for life and just to smile.That’s the one thing I missed about him, his smile… and his serve,” Camille said.