Back to School

It has now been 593 days since Megan was diagnosed with stage 4 aveolar rhabdomyosarcoma cancer.  Megan was initially diagnosed on December 30, 2014.  At that time, she had just finished the first semester of her 8th grade year, but very quickly and cruelly, school became the least of her concerns.  Thanks to her 8th grade homebound tutor, Mrs. Larson, Megan was able to complete her 8th grade year.  During what should have been her freshman year at Coal City High School, Megan was still in the midst of her intense chemotherapy treatments, so with the risk of infection, attendance at school was still not possible.  On January 25, 2016, following a long hard battle, Megan’s cancer was officially declared in remission.  After that, she set about earning as many credits as possible with plans of starting her sophomore year as a full-time student.  Starting in mid-February, 2016, Megan went back to school part-time and earned credits in English I and Health.  Thanks to the work she was able to do with her homebound tutor, Miss Erb, Megan was able to earn a full year’s credit in English.  Over the summer, Megan attended summer school to earn credit in Drivers Education.  She also worked with Mr. Micetich over the summer to earn credit in Algebra I.  Megan worked so hard to reach her goal of attending school at the start of her sophomore year, so to see it finally come to fruition was definitely one of those beautiful moments.

School started on Wednesday, so Tuesday night, Megan was full of both anxiety and anticipation.  Although she was starting her sophomore year, she had never been a full-time students at the high school, so it was really like being a freshman.  Therefore, she had a lot of difficulty getting to sleep on Tuesday night.  However, on Wednesday morning, she had no trouble getting out of bed as soon as her alarm went off.  This year was a double whammy for me because not only was Megan finally going back to school, but Kenzi was starting her senior year.  When I came home to check on them, Kenzie quickly exclaimed, “Hey dad…it’s my last first day.”  WOW…I can’t believe how fast the time has flown by!

As we have done every year since we moved into our home on Trotter Drive, we had to get our customary first day of school pictures with the Emerson girls.  Madison was starting her freshman year, and even though Makenna graduated last spring, we still made her come over and pose for pictures🙂

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The first day of school!
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Our senior in high school.

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All four “sisters” on the first day of school.
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Megan’s friend Emma stopped over to go to school with Megan.
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Kenzie and Megan in the car and ready to head to school.

Watching Megan head off to her first day as a full-time student at Coal City High School was a very emotional moment.  As I watched she and Kenzie pull out of the driveway, there were so many memories that came flooding back.  I vividly remembered that Christmas morning in 2014, which was the very first time I saw the tumor on Megan’s left forearm.  I remembered taking her to the pediatrician and being breathless when I heard the word “cancer” for the first time.  I remembered the look on Megan’s face as we were driving to Central DuPage Hospital for the first time, knowing I was powerless to shield her from what the doctor was going to tell her.  I remembered holding her hair back the very first time she threw up from her very first chemo treatment.  I remembered watching her struggle to deal with having her head bolted down to the table during proton radiation treatments.  I remembered when she was rushed to intensive care after suffering a severe sepsis while in the hospital.  All of the memories were so vivid as I watched Megan leave the driveway on her way to school.  However, the one memory that still stands out the most is how Megan reacted as soon as she was told her official diagnosis of stage 4 cancer.  As soon as Dr. Hayani left the room, Megan told her mother and I,

“Please don’t say I’m sorry.  When you say that, it sound like you don’t think I will get better, and I’m going to get better.”

From that moment, Megan changed the game.  She had already determined she was not going to be a victim to cancer, and she wanted to make sure we knew that as well.  Watching her go back to school was validation of her steely determination, focus and courage.  As I told her just before she left, she has proven there is nothing she cannot overcome.

After the first two days of school, Megan was pretty exhausted.  By Friday night, she was in bed by about 9:30 p.m., which is unusual for her on a Friday night.  However, she bounced back on Saturday as she had made plans to have three of her friends sleep over and go shopping with her for Homecoming dresses.  Yes…Megan is going to the Homecoming dance with her friends this year!!!

Saturday night was pretty busy around our house as following the “Meet the Coalers” volleyball night, Kenzie had all of six of her fellow senior volleyball players sleep over.  Megan also had her three friends sleep over, so we had a full house, but it was lots of fun.  At Kenzie’s request, Megan and Deb whipped up a batch of Oreo cupcakes for the “Meet the Coalers” event.

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At about 10:00 a.m., Deb took Megan and her friends, along with Kenzie and Makenna Emerson, to the Orland Park Mall to go Homecoming shopping.  Both Megan and Kenzie picked out gorgeous dresses, but you will have to wait three weeks for Homecoming before you can see pictures :)  Thinking about Megan attending the Homecoming dance with her friends always brings a smile to my face.  Here is a picture of all the girls eating lunch in between shopping.

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From left: Makenna, Megan, Emma, Jada, Jessica and Kenzie

The pace will continue to pick up this week as Megan will have her stamina tested with a full week of school.  Kenzie also opens her volleyball season with two home games during the week and a tournament on Saturday.  Here we go!🙂

Another challenge Megan will have to overcome this year is missing school periodically due to her ongoing medical appointments.  On Monday, she has an appointment at the Marionjoy Rehabilitation Hospital to get fitted for new casts, which will cause her to miss her first three classes.  Thankfully, Miss Erb has agreed to tutor Megan again this year, so she is coming after school on Monday to help Megan get caught up with what she missed.  Also, on August 29, Megan has her next round of three month scans, which includes a brain MRI and a CT scan.  However, we won’t worry about that until the time comes.  Being a cancer survivor is akin to the process of fighting cancer in that you have to learn to take things one day at a time.  You can’t worry about tomorrow until tomorrow gets here.  Instead, you have stay focused on making the most of today.  Over the past 20 months, Megan has become an expert at living in the moment.

Of course, a week as great as this one wouldn’t be complete without a picture of Megan and Ophie :)  Until next week…

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Ready to Clear Another Hurdle

586 days ago, Megan was diagnosed with stage 4 aveolar rhabdomyosarcoma cancer.  After fighting so hard for so long, it is hard to believe that this week she will be going back to school full time.  Given her initial diagnosis and the intensity of her treatment protocol, the fact that she will walk through the doors of Coal City High School on Wednesday as a full time student is nothing short of incredible.  Throughout her journey, Megan has continually defied all of the odds as she has taken every blow cancer threw at her and responded with the heart of a warrior.  Starting back to school will mark another hurdle cleared on Megan’s journey towards living the life of a normal teenage girl.  We are so proud of her!!!

Megan is obviously a little anxious about school starting, which is to be expected considering that the last time she was a full time student was the last day of school prior to Christmas break in 2014.  To help with her transition back to school, she has been to the high school a couple times with her friends so she knows her way to her classes.  She also has a couple friends in most every class, which she is relieved to know.  Although I know she will be nervous on that first day, I don’t think it will take long before she is in the swing of being a high school student.

School doesn’t start until Wednesday, which means this past week was another opportunity to capture more beautiful moments this summer.  Kenzie has been busily filling out college applications, as her goal was to get them all completed before school starts.  Megan’s illness has motivated her to pursue a career in medicine, so not only has she been investigating universities, but she has also been contacting some of Megan’s doctors to pursue shadowing opportunities with them.  About a week ago, she was able to watch a knee surgery performed by Dr. Rezin in Morris.  She thought it was amazing!  Here is a picture she took after she scrubbed in🙂

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When Megan was first diagnosed, she had to have her port surgically implanted as well as have a biopsy taken from the primary tumor on her left forearm.  Dr. Loretto Glynn performed that surgery, and Deb and I were both so touched by her bedside manner.  On Thursday, Kenzie was able to go visit Dr. Glynn to talk with her about pursuing a career in medicine.  When Megan heard that Kenzie was going to Central DuPage Hospital for the meeting, she immediately wanted to go to visit some of the nurses who took such good care of her during her treatment.  Before they went to the hospital, Megan whipped up a batch of cupcakes to take to the nurses.  While Kenzie was visiting with Dr. Glynn, Megan went up to the pediatric floor and was thrilled when she saw many of her favorite nurses.  Nurse Mariel was working and she was the first nurse to take care of Megan during her initial in-patient stay.  She has always been very special to Megan, and they were able to share a big hug when they saw each other.  Also, Nurse Sue was working on the floor as well.  She always had a way of making Megan laugh during the toughest of times.  Here is a picture of Megan with both nurses.

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After visiting everyone on the pediatric floor, she went down to the pediatric intensive care unit where more of her former nurses were working.  She got to see Nurse Stacey and Nurse Karen who were also two of her favorites.  She also saw Kristen, who Megan absolutely adored.  There were so many times during Megan’s treatment when Kristen would come and spend lots of time with her just to help take her mind off of the pain.  She taught Megan to crochet, she would bring her games, talk about her favorite restaurants, and just about anything else to help Megan through they tough times.  Unfortunately, Megan was so excited to see Kristen that we forgot to get a picture.  However, we did get one with Nurse Stacy and Nurse Karen.  It was such an awesome visit with some amazing health care professionals.

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Nurse Stacey is showing off one of Megan’s awesome cupcakes.

On Saturday, Aunt Amy was in Chicago for the weekend, so she came down for a quick visit.  We hung out in the pool most of the afternoon and then had a cookout for supper.  We had a great time and it was so good to see her.  Here is a picture of the girls with their Aunt Amy.

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Saturday night, Deb, Kenzie and Makenna Emerson went to watch Jack Micetich perform in the musical production of “Dogfight”.  Here they are just before they headed out the door.

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Overall, it was another great week for Megan as she thoroughly enjoyed her final full week of summer vacation before school starts this week.  Although Megan and our family created many more beautiful moments this past week, there was a very sad event that really impacted us.  Throughout “Megan’s Journey”, Megan and our family have connected with other families whose children are also fighting the evil beast that is cancer.  All of us are part of an exclusive club that no one really wants to belong to.  However, our shared experience brings us together as we try to support one another through this incredibly difficult battle.  One such family who I connected with was the Pironi family.  On January 22, 2015, 16-year-old Sara Pironi was diagnosed with the same cancer as Megan.  Her mother and I emailed back and forth on various occasions as our daughters were going through similar treatments and the resulting nasty side effects.  After a long and courageous fight, we were devastated to hear that Sara tragically passed away on August 10 at the tender age of 18.  In the wake of Sara’s passing, I am reminded of the words of the late ESPN anchor, Stuart Scott, who said,

“When you die, it does not mean you lose to cancer.  You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live.”

If you believe the words of Stuart Scott like I do, then there is no doubt that Sara won her battle against cancer.  #sarastrong will forever be remembered by everyone on #teammegan.  Sara’s mom said that Sara would often ask how Megan was doing, so I know that Sara’s love and strength will forever shine down on Megan.  Our family sends our heartfelt condolences to the Pironi family.

Until next week…

The Survivor Sisters

It has now been 579 days since Megan was diagnosed with stage 4 aveolar rhabdomyosarcoma cancer.  We are all still recovering from last weekend, which was Megan’s Make-a-Wish trip to the Teen Choice Awards in Los Angeles.  It was a trip none of us will ever forget as we made family memories to last a lifetime.  We didn’t return home from the Make-a-Wish trip until 4:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, and you would think the girls would have wanted a little down time to recover.  However, as you will see, they didn’t have much time to rest before they hit the ground running again.

Before we ever knew about the Make-a-Wish trip, we had bought the girls concert tickets to see Demi Lovato in Chicago for a Christmas present.  That concert just happened to be on Tuesday night, which meant that after getting home at 4:00 a.m. Tuesday morning, the girls left the house at 4:30 p.m. to head to Chicago for the concert.  Kenzie invited her good friend Leah, and Megan went with one of her best friends, Katelyn.  Even though they were both a little worn out, they still had a great time as Demi Lovato is one of their favorite performers.  Since I had a work commitment that night, Deb picked them up from the concert and didn’t get home until about midnight.  Here is a picture of Megan and Kaitlyn at the concert.

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After a late night on Tuesday, Megan had to get up on Wednesday morning to get to the Marionjoy Rehabilitation Hospital for another appointment to check the progress on her foot drop.  Although the progress has been slow, she has been showing steady improvement with the night casts.  Dr. Pavone measured the flexibility of her feet, and she is now at just about 0 degrees in both feet.  Considering that she started at about 30 degrees, she is showing great progress…it’s just not happening as fast as Megan would like.  Following her appointment with Dr. Pavone, Megan walked down to the casting area to get fitted for a new set of night casts.  She will continue to go every two to three weeks until her feet flex normally again.  All of those chemotherapy doses of Vincristine really took a toll on Megan, and it is taking a lot of time for her to fully recover…but she will get there eventually, because Megan seems to always finds a way to win.

Friday was a very big day for Megan for a couple of reasons.  First, she had her monthly physical exam at CDH with Dr. Salvi.  Since Deb is working to get ready for school to start this week, I took Megan to her appointment on Friday.  Dr. Salvi was once again very pleased with the progress Megan is showing.  Since we see her every day, it’s sometimes hard for us to see the progress, but everyone at the hospital was marveling at how healthy Megan looked.  Thankfully, Dr. Salvi gave Megan another clean bill of health, which means she will not have to go back until her next set of scans in early September.  Megan was a little disappointed to learn that she would have to get a brain MRI, because she really hates that test, but it is just another necessary evil that comes with being a cancer survivor.  She will also get a CT scan on the same day.  Megan hates the “scanxiety”, as do the rest of us, but we continue to think positive as she has shown no signs of allowing cancer to dig its claws into her again.

While we were at the CDH clinic, Megan got to catch up with Nurse Jenny and Nurse Kathy.  Both of them have played such an important role in Megan’s recovery, and she loves them both dearly.  We could never thank them enough for all they have done for Megan over the past two years.  They are really incredible medical professionals.

Usually, Megan dreads her monthly check-ups because she is deathly afraid she will receive bad news.  However, this time, her mind was occupied with excitement over the plans we had for Friday night, so the check-up was not her focus.  As readers of this blog know, during Megan’s fight with cancer, she struck up an amazing long-distance friendship with another teenage cancer fighter, Kasey Harvey.  Kasey’s father, Rodney, initially reached out to me because he had discovered this blog and was struck by the eerie similarities between Megan and Kasey’s stories.  They were both fighting ARMS, but while Megan was diagnosed in December, 2014, Kasey was diagnosed in September, 2014.  Once the girls connected, they developed a very special bond as they often supported one another during the rough times of their treatments.  When Megan was having an especially tough time, Kasey was always the first person she would contact because Kasey really understood what she was going through.  Last October, Megan surprised Kasey by flying out to support her at her 5k benefit race.  Watching them meet was one of those beautiful moments we will never forget.  Well…Kasey and her family were in Chicago last week and we were able to meet up with them for supper on Friday night.

We met at The Sugar Factory in Rosemont, and we had an amazing time.  Kasey’s parents are wonderful people and our families share a unique bond because of our daughters.  Seeing the “Survivor Sisters” together again was a very special moment.  I know Megan and Kasey have developed a friendship that will last for many years to come.  Here are some pictures from our special night.

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It’s amazing how healthy both girls look. The last time they were together in October, 2015, Megan was still in the midst of treatment and Kasey had just completed her treatment.
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This is a picture of the two Harvey girls and the two Bugg girls. From left: Kaitlin, Kasey, Megan and Kenzie
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The girls had a lot of fun ordering dessert at “The Sugar Factory”. Those desserts were a lot bigger than they expected.
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Megan and I shared this Cookie Sundae, which was listed in the menu as enough to feed two people!!! It could have fed our entire table!!!

On Saturday night, we met Grandpa and Grandma Coope for our annual celebration of Deb’s birthday, Grandpa Coope’s birthday, and our wedding anniversary.  By the way, on August 3, Deb and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, which doesn’t seem possible.  The time has gone by so fast, but I couldn’t imagine traveling this journey with anyone else :)  We met at Maggiano’s in Naperville and had a great time.  We have no idea who it was, but someone sent dessert to our table with a note congratulating Megan on her clean scans.  The kindness of everyone on “Team Megan” continues to amaze and humble me.  There are so many good people out there.

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This past week was extremely busy, but once again, it was a week filled with those beautiful moments that have filled our home over the past two years.  Granted, since December 26, 2014, we have definitely endured our share of trauma and stress, but the kindness and support shown by everyone on Team Megan has allowed the beautiful moments to far outweigh the trying ones.  Our family is forever grateful.  Have a great week!!!

Don’t Count the Days, Make the Days Count

It has now been 572 days since Megan was diagnosed with stage 4 aveolar rhabdomyosarcoma cancer.  I apologize for not posting on Sunday as usual, but Megan was in the midst of her “Make-A-Wish” trip and I wanted to wait until we returned home before posting.  First of all, the Make-A-Wish Foundation is an incredible organization that does amazing things for kids who have, or are suffering from, severe illness.  They truly do make dreams come true for these kids.  Megan has been thinking about her wish for well over a year, after she was first approached by one of the Child-Life Specialists at CDH.  Megan decided she wanted to focus on beating down cancer first, because she wanted to feel good for her trip.  On January 25, 2016, Megan officially won her battle with the beast, and after that, she got very serious about planning her Wish trip.

Megan loves the world of entertainment.  As readers of this blog may remember, she enjoys everything about the theater, which has lead her to have an intense interest in the world of television, movies, and web entertainment.  Whenever our family talks about going on vacation, Megan always lobbies for Los Angeles, so it was no surprise to any of us when she requested to use her Wish on a trip to LA to see the “Teen Choice Awards”.  Early on Friday, July 29, we headed out to LA and didn’t get back to our home until 4:00 a.m. Tuesday morning.  In between, Megan had the time of her life.  Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, our family made memories to last a lifetime.

Although I could attempt to provide a narrative report of Megan’s trip, it would never do justice to the experience.  You have to see it in pictures to really appreciate everything she got to do.  So, here is a chronological pictorial account of Megan’s Wish trip.  If I included every picture, this post would be far too long, so I will just try to hit the highlights.

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Megan and Kenzie ready to leave our house at 4:45 a.m. on Friday morning.
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Make-A-Wish does everything first class, so a limo picked us up at our house.
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At the airport and ready to go.
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When we arrived at the rent a car facility, the girls thought this would have been a good choice. Needless to say, that didn’t happen🙂
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As soon as we arrived, we had arranged to see Megan’s buddy, Jonathan Sadowski, who stars in “Young and Hungry”. He has been so kind to Megan and it was great to see him again.  He is one of the nicest and most genuine person you will ever meet.
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One of the stops Megan wanted to make in LA was at “Duff’s Cakemix” where she and Kenzie got to decorate their own cake. They had so much fun designing and creating their cake.  Of course, they picked a cat design🙂
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The finished product🙂
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“Make-A-Wish” provided Front of the Line passes to Universal Studios, which was right next to our hotel. We went there when the park opened on Saturday morning.

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The girls got a little wet on the Jurassic Park ride.
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At 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, we all got back in a limo and headed to the rehearsal for the “Teen Choice Awards at the Forum in LA. Getting to attend the rehearsal was definitely a surprise for Megan.
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Megan was so thrilled to meet Victoria Justice, who was one of the co-hosts of the awards. She was so nice.
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The other co-host was WWE superstar John Cena!!!
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We got to see Flo Rida rehearse for his opening act of the awards show.
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The girls got to meet Jason Derulo after his rehearsal.
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Ne-Yo also came to meet the girls just prior to his rehearsal.
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Serayah also posed for a picture after her rehearsal. We had an amazing evening.
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After watching the rehearsal, we didn’t get back to our hotel room until midnight. Then we had to be up at 7:30 a.m. because “Make-A-Wish” generously scheduled hair and make-up stylists to get the girls ready for the actual “Teen Choice Awards” show.
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Megan is just chilling out after getting her hair and make-up done.
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At 1:00 p.m., we were off to the Teen Choice Awards. Megan’s beautiful blue dress was specially designed for her by Sally Miller Designs.

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One of the biggest surprises was that Megan and Kenzie got to be on the teal carpet, which is where the stars of the show entered the arena!!!

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The number of stars they got to meet on the teal carpet was mind boggling.  Of course, I felt pretty old because I didn’t know a lot of them, but here are some of the highlights for the girls.

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Megan is a huge fan of Glee, so meeting Lea Michele left her a little weak in the knees🙂
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Kenzie was thrilled to meet Lea as well.
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The Fosters is Megan’s favorite show. Meeting Sherri Saum was very exciting for her.
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Kenzie got a picture with Maia Mitchell. Megan got her autograph, but Maia had to go before she could get a picture.
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Ross Lynch from the show Austin and Ally stopped for a picture.
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So did Laura Marano who plays Ally on the show.
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Megan was really excited to meet YouTuber, Joey Graceffa.
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Of course Megan had to get a picture with Abby Lee Miller from Dance Moms🙂
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John Stamos was one of the stars that I actually knew🙂

Megan met many more stars, but for the sake of brevity, I will cut to the actual awards show.

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Megan and Kenzie are excited for the show to start.
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Here they are filming Flo Rida in the opening act.
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Jason Derulo closed out an amazing show.

Right at the end of the show, Kenzie spotted Teri Polo from The Fosters, so she grabbed Megan and off they went to get one final picture🙂

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After an amazing show, it was time to head back to the hotel.

The next morning, we headed out to one of LA’s famous trails to do some hiking, which was something Megan specifically wanted to experience.  It’s amazing that she is now able to participate in such strenuous activities.  She struggled getting back up the hill, but she had a blast checking out the beautiful views.

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Getting ready to hike Fryman Canyon Park.

After the hike, we checked out of the hotel and went to the Santa Monica Pier, and then it was off to the airport.

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At Santa Monica Pier

We arrived back in Coal City at 4:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning.  It was a weekend that Megan and our family will never forget.  Thanks to Make-A-Wish and everyone who supports their amazing cause.

During the “Teen Choice Awards” show, Justin Timberlake was honored with the “Decade Award”.  He gave a very moving acceptance speech where he quoted the late great Muhammad Ali, who said,

“Don’t count the days, make the days count.”

That quote really struck me because I think it sums up our family’s attitude ever since Megan was first diagnosed with Stage IV ARMS.  We have focused on making the most of each and every day, because we have learned that you just never know what tomorrow will bring.  We have made so many family memories this summer, and I know those memories will last a lifetime.  No regrets…

Rainbows and Kittens

It has now been 563 days since Megan was diagnosed with stage 4 aveolar rhabdomyosarcoma cancer.  As the summer flies by, the reality that Megan will finally be a full-time student again is starting to hit all of us.  When Megan was first diagnosed on December 30, 2014, none of knew what the future would hold.  At that time, Megan’s education was the furthest thing from our mind, because we were completely focused on our beautiful little girl beating this vicious disease.  Now that Megan has beaten down cancer, the reality of her being a full-time student is starting to hit.  From the outside looking in it may not seem like that big of a deal, but to me it feels like another huge landmark on the way to Megan regaining the life cancer unsuccessfully tried to take from her.  Although Megan is understandably nervous about starting back to school in mid-August, it will be a significant step in the right direction.

As I have written many times, fighting cancer takes a tremendous toll on the body both physically and mentally.  Megan is still fighting back against the physical impact chemotherapy and radiation had on her body.  Although she is getting stronger, she is still nowhere near where she was pre-cancer.  Her foot drop continues to get better, and she is still trying to ride her bike and stretch to combat her physical ailments.  However, the much more intimidating foe continues to be the mental aspect of her recovery.  The anxiety that accompanies every single ache and pain continues to plague her.  It’s easy to understand why she harbors so much anxiety about her body, but it is something she is going to have to continue to work on because she will be dealing with the “what ifs” for the rest of her life.  She is also nervous about fitting back into the academic and social scene at school.  Megan has never been a full-time high school student, and now she will be entering Coal City High School as a sophomore.  Also, she has those nasty three month scans that will always be on her mind.  Cancer is an evil beast, and even after defeat, it continues to keep Megan in its grasp.  She has proven her resolve and toughness time and time again, so I have no doubt she will figure out a way to keep the after-effects of cancer at bay.  However, it has proven to be a very tough challenge for her.

As readers of this blog know, throughout Megan’s Journey, the Emerson family has been so supportive of our entire family.  I really don’t know how we would have survived without them.  It’s hard to believe that Makenna Emerson graduated and will be heading off to college soon.  Since Makenna doesn’t have all of the usual summer athletic commitments that accompany high school, she has been able to hang out with Megan and Kenzi a lot this summer.  There have been so many times she has come over to keep Megan company, drive Megan to therapy, or come with her to watch Kenzie play basketball or volleyball.  She has been so special to Megan, and we will always be thankful for her support and friendship throughout Megan’s Journey.  On Thursday night, Kenzi had volleyball league in Aurora, so Makenna came with us to watch.  In between games, we grabbed some supper, which is where I took this picture of the two girls.

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Kenzi is still searching for the college she wants to attend.  She is very interested in studying science, which could lead to a career in medicine.  She also wants a big school experience, so she has been focusing on finding a school that offers both to her.  On Saturday, Kenzi, her boyfriend Nick, Deb and I drove to the University of Iowa in Iowa City.  It is only about three hours from our house so the drive is not bad at all.  Kenzi really thought the campus was gorgeous, and she liked the high quality medical program they offered.  She is getting to the point where she has to start the application process, so it will be interesting to see which schools she chooses to apply towards.  Right now, the leaders are the University of Wisconsin, the University of Iowa, and the University of Minnesota.  It’s been fun to visit the schools with her, but I am still struggling with the fact that she is going to be a senior in high school.  I can’t believe how fast the time has gone.  Here is a picture of Kenzi with Herky the Hawkeye.

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This next weekend is going to be a very big one for Megan because she will finally be going on her “Make-a-Wish” trip.  I can’t give any details yet, but Megan is so excited.  There will be much more to come in next weekend’s post.

We had yet another thunderstorm in Coal City tonight.  Luckily, we didn’t have to deal with the tornado sirens again like we did last Sunday night.  In fact, after this storm we were treated to the most beautiful rainbow I have seen in quite some time.  I figure this double rainbow has to be a sign of more good things to come🙂

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And of course, I have to end this post with a picture of Megan and that crazy cat Belushi.  It doesn’t get much better than rainbows and kittens :)  Until next week…

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Time Flies When You Are Having Fun

It’s been 556 days since Megan was diagnosed with stage 4 aveolar rhabdomyosarcoma cancer.  I was commenting to Deb today how the element of “time” seems to have changed so much since January 25, 2016, when Megan’s cancer was officially declared in remission.  During her 54 weeks of treatment, there were so many occasions that time seemed to stand still.  That 54 weeks seemed like an eternity!  When she was in the hospital for a five day chemo cycle, the days crawled by at an agonizingly slow pace.  When Megan was sick and throwing up from the chemo, the hours, and sometimes even the minutes, went so slowly.  I remember being in the hospital in the middle of the night, rubbing her feet to try and stave off the nausea and looking up at the clock swearing that it was not moving.  When you are in the midst of that intense 54 week battle, time seems to stand still.  However, since Megan’s cancer has been in remission, I notice the time moving by so much faster.  All of the sudden, I look at the calendar and realize it has almost been six months since Megan won her battle.  In about a month, Megan will be returning for her sophomore year of high school as a full time student for the first time since December, 2014, and Kenzie will be (gulp!) a senior!!!  Over the past six months, our family has made making lasting memories a priority, and it has been a great summer so far.  However, that old saying is so true…time really does fly when you are having fun.

When I posted last Sunday, Kenzie and I were in the midst of a three college visit in North Carolina.  By last Sunday, we had already visited Duke and NC State, but our final visit of the trip was on Monday at the University of North Carolina.  Kenzie and I were both excited for our formal tour of UNC because it seemed like a beautiful campus and it has a very highly regarded science program, which is what Kenzie is interested in studying.  Our tour went fantastic and we ended at the famous well, the water from which the UNC students believe brings good luck.  Of course, we had to have a drink🙂

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Kenzie standing in front of the famous UNC well.

On Tuesday, I wanted to drive back to the campus of Duke to see if we could get into Cameron Indoor Stadium, which is their famous basketball facility.  Luckily, the building was open and we were able to get all the way down to the actual basketball court.  Here is a picture of Kenzie on the floor at Cameron Indoor.  That was quite a thrill for me🙂

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On Tuesday afternoon, we flew back to Midway airport where Deb and Megan picked us up.  It was so good to see Megan’s infectious smile when the van door opened to pick us up from the airport :)  Although I missed having our entire family together, I really did treasure the time Kenzie and I got to spend together.  With her leaving for college next year, I know moments like that could be fleeting from this point forward.  As I have said many times via this blog, Megan’s Journey has taught me to treasure every single moment with my girls.

Wednesday was a very big day for the girls as they had tickets to the Adele concert at the United Center in Chicago.  Megan bought the tickets with her own money as a Christmas present for Kenzie.  In Megan’s words, she said that Kenzie had been through a lot as well and she wanted her to have something special for Christmas.  Kenzie was thrilled because Adele is her favorite singer.  It was also special when Kenzie asked Megan to go with her to the concert.  The wait since Christmas seemed like forever to the girls, but on Wednesday, Deb and I drove them to Chicago and dropped them off at the United Center for the concert.  Here is a picture of the girls just before we left for the concert.

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While the girls were at the concert, Deb and I actually got to go out for dinner together, which doesn’t seem to happen often anymore.  After dinner, we waited outside the United Center until the girls finally arrived at about 10:15 p.m.  When they got to the van, they were both so excited.  They said it was the best concert they had ever seen.  That was truly a special night!  Here is a picture of them waiting for the concert to start.

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Kenzie’s boyfriend, Nick, just got a new black lab puppy.  On Saturday night, Megan was pretty excited because we were heading over to see the puppy for the first time.  As readers of this blog know, Megan is quite the animal lover, so seeing a new puppy made for a pretty exciting night.  The puppy was very cute, and Megan loved playing with him.  Here is a picture of Megan and Jordie.

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Megan continues to stay busy each week with physical therapy, counseling and her various medical appointments.  She is also continuing her homebound tutoring in Algebra I.  She was excited this past week because the Assistant Principal at the high school, Mrs. Kenney, invited her out to lunch.  Megan thought it was so nice of Mrs. Kenney to help make her feel comfortable prior to school starting in August.  Megan came home saying she thought Mrs. Kenney was awesome!

Megan is also still working at getting her drivers education behind the wheel practice hours completed.  Now that her feet are getting better, driving seems to be coming more natural to her.  On Saturday, Megan drove me to Morris and back and did a great job.

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We are trying to pack as many college visits as we can in over the summer, because once school starts, Kenzie is so busy with her extra-curricular activities that it will be virtually impossible for her to get away.  Therefore, on Friday we scheduled a visit to the University of Wisconsin, which is a school she has been very interested in.  Deb and I both went with her while Megan stayed with her good friend, Grace, who lives in Morris.  We took a formal tour and then spent some time walking around the campus ourselves.  Kenzie absolutely loved it, and Deb and I were both very impressed as well.  Next weekend, we are driving to the University of Iowa and then we will have visited all of the schools she was interested in.  It will be fun to see what decision she makes :)  Here are a couple pictures from Friday’s visit.

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Yes…time sure does fly when you are having fun, and the summer isn’t over yet.  There will be more good times to come as our family continues to make memories that will last a lifetime.  When you have been through what Megan and our family have experienced, you don’t take a single day for granted.

Until next week…

The Good News Just Keeps Coming!

549 days ago, Megan was diagnosed with stage 4 aveolar rhabdomyosarcoma cancer.  After her 54 week chemo and radiation treatment schedule ended in triumph on January 25, 2016, Megan has been fighting the next battle to regain her life.  Regaining her life from cancer has been such a tough physical battle for Megan, but she is slowly but surely overcoming what cancer and chemotherapy so cruelly tried to take away.  Her foot drop issue continues to improve, and via physical therapy, her strength is starting to come back.  Although she still has a long ways to go, it’s encouraging for her to see the progress.  However, it’s the mental aspect of her recovery that continues to be the most challenging.  Cancer takes such a mental toll on its victims, and even when in remission, its grasp can still be felt on a daily basis.  Dealing with the fear caused by every ache and pain; the anxiety caused by every doctor appointment and scan; catching up after getting so far behind in school, trying to re-socialize with past friends…it all adds up and takes it toll.  Megan is working very hard to overcome this difficult aspect of her journey, and given her tenacity and positive attitude, I have no doubt she will win in the end.  She always finds a way🙂

On Monday, we enjoyed a fantastic July 4th as Grandpa and Grandma Bugg drove up for the weekend, and Uncle Todd and Cousin Danny also made the trip.  I smoked some ribs in the smoker, and of course, Megan had to make some special 4th of July-themed cupcakes.

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She dyed the batter red and blue, which really turned out festive.
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Of course, she had to put a fancy frosting decoration on top.

Since I have not been posting daily to this blog, I am getting really bad about remembering to take pictures.  After everyone left, I realized I didn’t get any pictures of Grandpa and Grandma or Uncle Todd :(  I have to start being better about that.  Deb got this picture of Cousin Danny with Megan, Kenzi and her boyfriend, Nick.

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Later that night, Makenna Emerson stopped by for a late night Fourth of July swim with the girls.  Makenna has been by Megan’s side since Day #1 of this journey, and we are so appreciative of all she has done for her.  The girls always have so much fun when she is around.

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After our big July 4th celebration, it was quickly back to reality as Megan had her monthly check-up at the CDH Clinic.  These appointments always make us nervous because her oncologists check her over very carefully for any sign of a new tumor.  It’s agonizing waiting for him to finish and give Megan the all clear.  Even though I know the appointments make her anxious, Megan handled the day very well.  Deb took her to CDH and Dr. Salvi was there to examine her.  Once again, Megan got great news as Dr. Salvi said she was doing fantastic!  Every appointment is like clearing one more hurdle on the way to Megan’s recovery.  While at the CDH clinic, Megan got to see Nurse Jenny again, which is always a highlight.  Nurse Jenny is such a special person to Megan and our family, and we will always be grateful for everything she has done for Megan throughout her recovery.

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On Wednesday, Megan had another appointment at Marionjoy to get fitted for a new pair of night casts.  She continues to make steady progress as her heels are getting very close to the ground.  In fact, when Megan really focuses on it, she can now touch her heels to the ground when she walks!  She still can’t land heel first, but it’s getting closer🙂

Since Megan’s feet are getting so much better, she is slowly increasing her activity level.  She is biking 5-10 miles almost every day, and just last week, she talked Makenna into playing ping pong with her.  We have had a ping pong table in our basement for years, but since Megan’s illness, we really haven’t played.  When she played with Makenna, she found that she could actually do it.  Ever since, she has wanted to play every day!  It’s great to see her start to become active again.

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In her effort to get caught up at school, Megan is continuing her homebound tutoring in Algebra I.  Mr Micetich has been coming over for an hour every weekday to teach Megan the Algebra I curriculum.  As you can see, Megan’s cat Ophie tries to lend a hand at times🙂

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And of course, that crazy cat Belushi is never too far away from Megan.

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It’s hard to believe, but Kenzi is going to be starting her senior year of high school.  She has been thinking hard about colleges, and one of the schools she was very interested in visiting was the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.  Since she wanted to see that school, we decided to go ahead and visit North Carolina State and Duke since all three schools are only about 30 minutes apart.  Kenzi and I decided to make the trip, while Deb stayed home with Megan because we knew that the school tours would have been a lot of walking for Megan.  Kenzi and I flew out very late on Saturday night and we will be coming back home on Tuesday afternoon.  Today, we visited Duke and North Carolina State, and tomorrow, we have a formal tour schedule for the University of North Carolina.  We are having a great time doing a little father/daughter bonding🙂

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At Duke University
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At Duke’s famous basketball facility.

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It’s been another great week for Megan and our family.  To add icing on the cake, on Thursday we learned that little Ellie got clean scans!!!  We met Ellie and her family at the CDH clinic, and they are all wonderful people.  Megan was thrilled when she learned that Ellie got such a good report.  Way to go Ellie…#elliestrong.

Until next week…

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