It’s now been about three months since Megan’s last chemotherapy treatment. Even though her oncologists wanted her to receive 36 weeks of her most recent experimental chemotherapy treatment, her body could only handle 24 weeks. The TAG chemo protocol she was on was starting to do too much damage to her lungs, and after a lung capacity test, her doctors immediately stopped her treatments. Megan’s experience with chemotherapy is not atypical as unfortunately, due to these archaic treatments we use on our kids, many childhood cancer victims fall prey to the side effects of the chemotherapy as opposed to the cancer itself. Even more disturbing is the sobering data showing that those kids fortunate enough to win their battles with childhood cancer often fall victim to various late effect health issues as a result of these outdated chemotherapy treatments. According to the National Cancer Institute, 60% to more than 90% of childhood cancer survivors develop one or more chronic health conditions, while 20% to 80% experience severe or life-threatening complications during adulthood. Although Megan’s related lung issues caused her latest chemotherapy treatment to be cut short, she has still endured 114 weeks of intense chemotherapy. Needless to say, nearly two years of chemotherapy have wreaked havoc on her body, and trying to come back from that has been extremely challenging. Add in her most recent week long hospital stay in Los Angeles where she had two emergency surgeries to remove a blockage in her bile duct and to remove her gallbladder, and it’s obvious that her recovery is going to be accomplished by taking one step at a time. However, anyone who knows Megan understands that when it comes to taking her life back from cancer, patience is not her strong suit 🙂 Although it’s not happening as fast as she would like, we are seeing her make amazing progress…and not just physical progress, but mental progress as well. As I have said previously, often times the physical battle pales in comparison to the mental challenges this cancer journey poses.
Although most outsiders looking in wouldn’t realize it, Megan took some huge steps forward this week. Let’s start with the physical triumphs. On Friday night, Megan wanted to go to the Joliet mall to get Kenzi a present for her 21st birthday. Kenzi hits this milestone on January 28 and we are so excited that she a two of her friends are coming home next weekend so we can celebrate together. We are thrilled to see her!!! That is also Super Bowl weekend and our family always has a traditional party with Uncle Todd and his family as well as any other friends who want to stop over. Megan is still struggling with her breathing as a result of the lung damage she incurred at the hands of her most recent chemotherapy treatment. For the past few months, anytime we go somewhere that she has to walk any distance, we take a wheelchair because otherwise it’s just too much for her. When we parked at the mall, we started to head back to get her wheelchair and Megan declined saying she wanted to try and do it herself. Since we were only going to one store, she wanted to try to do it. By the time we got back to the car she was exhausted, but also proud that she made it. Not only did she show her physical toughness in making this long walk, but she also sent a message that it was time to start making incremental progress towards the goal of getting rid of that wheelchair once and for all. It will take time, but she is determined to get there.
Another indicator that she is making progress on the physical front was her ability to start driving again. After her lung problems started, Megan still drove, but not often. Then after her recent surgeries, she hadn’t driven in a month. This week, she got behind the wheel and today she is driving to meet a friend of hers in Morris for lunch. We also had a discussion about her joining the gym again as she realizes she has to start actively working to get her strength back. There are also the other little indicators that she is gaining physical strength every day. For example, she is getting up a little earlier in the morning; playing with her pets a little more; and asking to go to events that previously she would have been far too tired to attend. Just yesterday, Megan asked if I wanted to take her to the Illinois State University basketball game, because the On Broadway Dancers were going to be there and her cousin Danny works at the games. So with about 15 minutes notice, we hopped in the car and make the hour trip south to watch the game. Megan didn’t want her wheelchair and even climbed up 14 rows to get to her seat. She was gasping for air when she sat down, and it took her a couple minutes to recover, but she did it! Of course, the dancers were awesome and Megan got to catch up with her cousin Danny. She and I had a great time as well 🙂
Although Megan is making slow but steady progress on the physical front, it is her attacking the mental aspect of this journey that makes us the most proud. To make a five year story as succinct as possible, Megan lost her high school years. Due to her treatments, she was never able to enjoy a full year of high school, and although that may not seem that difficult, for a teenage girl, it can be devastating. During those lost four years, Megan lost connections with her friends; lost the ability to participate in volleyball; and lost the opportunity to be in musical productions. Most importantly, she was so caught up in winning the day in front of her that she lost the ability to look towards the future and plan out her life. While all of her friends were talking about their college and career plans, Megan was traveling weekly to the hospital to get even more chemotherapy poison pumped through her body. To her, the future seemed not only outside of her grasp, but also quite insignificant when compared to the daily battle she was waging. Megan’s plight is not unique for teenage childhood cancer warriors…in fact it is far too common.
This week, Megan took a significant step towards fighting back when she talked to her mom and I about her future. It’s really the first time she has ever done so, because for the past five years, whether it was due to fear, anxiety, or simply being preoccupied with her daily battles, her future has really never been a topic of conversation. However, this week, out of nowhere Megan shared with us that now that she is getting better she has been thinking about what she wants to do with her life. She told us that she has decided she wants to give back to the medical community by becoming a nurse. Only to each other, Deb and I have both shared how Megan’s experiences would make her such an amazing nurse, so to hear her verbalize it on her own was really special. But what made her announcement even more special was that it seemed to be her moment to announce that cancer no longer had her in its grasp. Instead, she was finally breaking free and ready to get on with her life. They say that your life’s experiences shape who you become as an adult. If that’s the case, the medical field is going to get the toughest, most compassionate, most determined nurse they could ever imagine.
Megan asked me to thank everyone who donated to her efforts to make gift bags for the teenage cancer kids and the mom’s who have been hospitalized following child birth. This week she put all of the gift bags together and is ready to deliver them to Central DuPage Hospital. In the face of her own adversity, Megan continues to understand the value of giving to others. We are so proud of her!
Over the past five years, Megan has been knocked down over and over again only to come back stronger each time. To an outsider looking in, her steps towards overcoming the mental and physical obstacles placed by childhood cancer may seem small, but in actuality, they are giant leaps forward. Megan is coming on strong and soon cancer is going to be a fading memory. Until next week…