Along Megan’s Journey, we have met so many amazing kids from all over the country and the world who are courageously battling the various forms of childhood cancer. It seems like everyday, Megan is telling me about another child she has met on social media who was just diagnosed with one of the 12 forms of childhood cancer. As readers of this blog know, Megan has become very close to some of these incredible teens only to watch helplessly as cancer’s vicious grasp was just too much for them to overcome. As she has traveled her own personal journey, I have watched her in agonizing pain. I’ve watched her throw up over and over again while all I could do was rub her back and give her a cold cloth to wipe her face. I have watched her in intensive care when we didn’t know if she was going to make it through the night. I’ve also watched her cry from the mental anguish and anxiety that cancer causes even during remission. However, I have never seen her as upset as she gets when she learns the devastating news that one of her friends has died from this awful disease. She connects with these kids on a level that none of us could ever understand, so when one of them passes away, it is almost too much for her to handle, because not only is she losing a friend and an important part of her support system, but it also causes her to once again further question her own mortality. Obviously, Megan tends to bond with other teenage girls because they can speak the same language, but her love and support goes out to so many other kids who are fighting this disease, and unfortunately, sometimes it hits way to close to home.
This weekend, Megan found out the terrible news that another student in the Coal City School District has relapsed and has to go to battle once again. Jacob Zickefoose is one of the most fun-loving and positive teenage boys you will ever meet. He bravely fought Ewings Sarcoma when he was in kindergarten and we were all so excited when he was declared in remission. Everything we read about cancer tells parents that five years in remission is the magic number, but tragically, that didn’t hold true for Jacob. His parents recently found out that he has relapsed with secondary hypoplastic MDS as a result of his previous treatment for Ewing’s. Jacob now has to go to battle all over again and it makes Megan and our family so angry, because it shouldn’t be this way. Jacob’s cancer is a secondary cancer most likely caused by the toxic chemotherapy treatments that he went through when he previously fought Ewings Sarcoma. That is just not right!!! Due to a serious lack of attention and inadequate funding for childhood cancer research, our kids are being treated with chemotherapy drugs that are over 30 years old. These chemotherapy treatments are so toxic that it almost barbaric that we give them to our kids. I bet it would shock you to learn that some of the chemotherapy drugs our kids receive are derivatives of mustard gas that was used as a toxic chemical weapon during World War I!!! With all of these toxic treatments being used on our kids, secondary cancers are a reality for so many childhood cancer survivors, which is why a childhood cancer survivor is NEVER really out of the woods. The risk of secondary cancers, as well as so many other side effects, are omnipresent for these kids for the rest of their lives. Jacob deserves better than this!!! After what he has been through, it breaks my heart to know that he has to go through it all over again. However, if anyone can get through it, it’s Jacob, because he is an amazing young man. Please keep Jacob and his wonderful family in your thoughts and prayers. Better yet, do something even more important for all of these amazing kids by contacting your congressman or congresswoman and telling them to provide more federal funding for childhood cancer research. Jacob, Megan and so many other brave kids would be forever in your debt.
Speaking of kids who have lost their battles, Megan’s very good friend Mia passed away nearly two years ago from a relapse of Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma. Megan was able to get to Topeka, Kansas to spend precious time with Mia who died two short days after their special visit. Throughout Megan’s four year journey, I have never seen her so upset as she was after Mia passed away. Megan still mentions Mia so often, and fortunately, she has been able to stay closely connected to Mia’s mother, Amy. This weekend, Megan was so happy when Amy came to spend some time with her at our house. She brought Megan some very special gifts that had belonged to Mia, which was so touching. Amy is so strong, because I just don’t know how you go on after watching your child suffer the way that Mia did. She is an amazing person, and Megan was thrilled to see her. Coal City High School held a Childhood Cancer Awareness Night at Friday night’s football game where people wore gold to support the cause. Megan was so honored that Amy attended the game with her. It was also very nice of the Coal City Coalers to recognize Megan, Jacob and all of the other brave kids who are fighting this terrible disease. Here are a few pictures of the evening.
During Childhood Cancer Awareness month, there have been so many schools holding special events, and of course, Coal City High School is at the top of that list. Prior to Megan getting sick as an 8th grader, she was a starting setter on her middle school volleyball team. Due to her chemotherapy treatments and the permanent nerve damage it caused in her legs and feet, she can no longer play volleyball. It’s been hard for her not to be with her teammates anymore, but she has always followed the team’s progress closely. Thanks to Coach Pam McMurtrey and the rest of her teammates, they have always held a “Megan Bugg Night” to raise money for childhood cancer research. Since this was Megan’s senior year, they made this year’s event extra special for her. Not only did they decorate the gym in gold, but they also added a picture of Megan up on wall with the rest of the seniors. That was really touching to Megan.
Prior to the varsity match, they held a ceremony where one of her teammates, Lauren Phillips read a letter from the team to Megan…which of course made all of us cry with emotion. Megan also spoke about her journey and why she is fighting on behalf of all kids to end childhood cancer. Here is a video of her speech.
After Megan and Lauren spoke, all of the members of the volleyball team were able to recognize family members or loved ones who have been impacted by cancer. It is so humbling and sad to realize how cancer has impacted nearly every single family in attendance. Finally, Coach McMurtrey made a special recognition to honor the very brave Jacob Zickefoose. After this, everyone went outside where there was a release of balloons to commemorate the event. It was so great that they included Jacob. Here is a video of the balloon release.
Here are a couple more pictures of what was a very special night, not only for Megan and Jacob, but for everyone who has felt the evil grip of cancer.
Not only is Coal City High School dedicated to raising awareness for childhood cancer, but so are many of our neighboring schools. On Thursday night, Herscher High School asked Megan to come over and help them with their Childhood Cancer Awareness Night. Megan used to play club volleyball with a girl on the Herscher varsity team who also happens to be named Megan. Megan also used to play club with another girl from Herscher named Zayla Mitzdarffer. Tragically, cancer took Zayla from this world as a teenage girl, and Herscher wanted to take the opportunity to recognize her. Megan and Zayla knew each other well, so when Zayla passed, that was also very difficult for Megan. Her mom is one of the strongest and bravest individuals I know, so it was very emotional to hear her speak at Thursday night’s event. Megan also spoke to encourage everyone to support childhood cancer awareness. Thank you to the Herscher Volleyball Team for allowing Megan to be a part of their childhood cancer awareness event.
Although this blog has always been dedicated to chronicling Megan’s Journey and raising awareness for childhood cancer, I can’t help but expand the focus a bit this week. As a 30 year educator, I have known literally thousands of kids during my tenure. Every single one of them is special, so when I recently learned that a CCHS graduate from last year, Alex Armstrong, was fighting for his life, I was heartbroken. Please keep Alex and his family in your thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time for them. No parent should ever have to experience this with their child.
The hardest part of experiencing childhood cancer is without a doubt watching helplessly as your own child fights this nightmare of a battle. However, a close second in terms of difficulty, is constantly being so close to so much heartache and pain from the brave kids and their families who are also fighting childhood cancer. I am so tired of watching cancer take our kids from us far too soon, and also the heartache of watching their parents grieve. I was in the car with Megan last night, because since she has scans on Monday, she was having a bit of a rough evening, so we headed up to the Joliet Mall so she could play with some puppies. On our drive up, she was on her phone looking at social media and she told me about another child she connected with who was just diagnosed with cancer. I told her that I worried about her continually hearing about more and more kids who have this awful disease, and I asked her why she continues to search these kids out and hear their stories. She quickly answered that these kids keep her motivated to not only fight her own battle, but to fight for an end to childhood cancer. She said these kids are her motivation to make a difference. It’s kids like Jacob, Mia, Sophia, Isaiah, Ellie, Tyler, Evie, Olivia and so many others that keep her fighting. I only hope there can finally come a day when Megan, Jacob and the rest of these kids can be at peace and no more children will have to hear the news that they have childhood cancer. That will definitely be a day to celebrate.
Megan has scans on Monday at 12:30 p.m., so she could use positive thoughts from everyone on Team Megan. Let’s hope that Megan continues to defy all of the odds so she can continue her mission to end childhood cancer.