Our daughter, Megan, had suffered from headaches for years which doctors said were migraines. However, on December 1, 2004, an MRI revealed our worst nightmare. We got the news no parent wants to hear – “your daughter has a brain tumor.” Our lives would be changed forever that day.
A biopsy revealed a grade two Oligoastrocytoma. After three surgeries and years of chemo, fast-forward to August 2009, her tumor had now progressed to a grade four Glioblastoma. This time treatment would be radiation and more chemo. Fast-forward to February 2012, more words no parent wants to hear – “Megan’s tumor is growing, and we have run out of options. “ Basically, nothing more we can do for your daughter, and then I asked the dreaded question – how much time does she have, and the dreaded answer – six months. So we took that special trip, had fun with family and friends, ate good food and we didn’t focus on what was going to happen tomorrow.
On August 10, 2012, Megan passed away from this terrible disease. It was a long journey of so many ups and downs that Megan handled with such grace and dignity – never complaining. She had a beautiful spirit that shined through in how to live day-by-day with the challenges of a terminal illness.
Six months after Megan’s death, I found the following paper she wrote for an English class at Old Dominion University. The paper was a hidden gift to us, as Megan was very private about her illness. It gives such an insight as to what life is like with a brain tumor. Megan just wanted to live a normal life like any young adult.
March 6, 2008
I believe that life is something that should never be taken for granted. In my first year at college I have met many people who do this every single day, not thinking anything will happen to them; that they are untouchable. I, like any young healthy person, thought that I would be fine forever, but realized that disease does not discriminate. It can affect anyone at any time, no matter how perfect they think their life is.
When I was sixteen years old I found out I had a brain tumor. I had three major surgeries, each setting me back physically and mentally. I had to deal with pain, speech therapy, seizures, chemotherapy and radiation. It has been hard, but it has helped me understand how precious every little thing in one’s life is. Since the surgeries it has been hard for me to remember my friend’s name, drink a cup of coffee, drive a car, swim, or play my piano. It is even more difficult to take a piece of paper and write my thoughts into words. Another thing that is different is all of the medication I am on. Before this I never took any medicine, and now I can’t go a day without it. It is a lot to remember and also come many side effects. The worst is when I become toxic, which has happened many times. This hurts me the most by having to miss important things, like school. I had to be home-schooled part of my senior year. I have lost almost all of my short-term memory and have trouble finding words. This can be very frustrating.
With things being the way they are, it is distressing for me to see people act in ways that are so perilous and think nothing of it. They won’t wear their seatbelt in their car; they don’t need it. They start smoking cigarettes; it makes them look cool. Lying out in the sun all day is smart and makes them look better. And after all of these things, they believe they are so healthy that they have no need for medical insurance. Then they start with their complaints – I’m not getting paid enough, I don’t like my car, I’m not tall enough, my clothes aren’t pretty enough. I want to tell them to stop wasting their time complaining about these petty things that don’t mean anything. Start appreciating things that do matter. Volunteering in a hospital I have met many elderly people with terminal diseases. When talking to them, almost all say that their sickness is due to decisions they made when they were young.
I met a person at school and when I told him about my situation, he was surprised at the way I was living my life. He said with something like this I needed to carpe diem, or “seize the day”. That was the motto by which he lived. And I did agree with him. Eat, drink, and be merry is something everyone should do; live a happy life. But don’t lose concern for the future. I told him my saying is memento mori, “remember that you are mortal”. Life is something that’s value should not be underestimated.
I know what I have experienced is more than significant. It has completely changed my life. Everything now is opposite of what I had planned it to be. It did have some good with it though. I was able to meet so many great people, people who have gone through much more than me. It showed me that I have more friends than I ever thought I did. It showed me how kind people are, but unfortunately how unkind others can be.
I am strong inside, not fearful of my future. I don’t look ahead, just the present. I don’t even know what I am doing tomorrow. I was never scared of what was going to happen to me, and I was the one holding up my family through the ordeal. I don’t know what I want for the immediate future. I think my goal is to just get through another day and see what happens from there.
My life is nowhere close to where it was before any of this happened, but I wouldn’t change anything.”
Megan had wisdom beyond her years like so many children and young adults who have to deal with cancer. Their lives remind us that it’s not the number of years we are given, but how we use them.
The question of what I wish I knew before Megan was diagnosed. I wish this were all a bad dream! I wish I wasn’t in the grieving parent club that I didn’t ask to join. Someone I knew who had also passed away from a brain tumor last words still stay etched in my mind. Confront reality, confront the end.
I thought I knew what life would be like after Megan was gone. I thought I would be prepared. But no one can be prepared for death, let alone the death of their own child. I knew how this story would end. After all, you don’t read of too many people living a long, full-life with a GBM. Sometimes statistics don’t lie. But that’s not to say we ever gave up hope. I grieved for many years being her mother and primary caregiver and watching her go through so much pain and suffering. That grief journey is over and now I’m on a new journey. Learning to live with the loneliness and emptiness. Learning to live with the reality that my hopes, dreams and future for Megan – gone. All the thoughts of what could have been, should have been, would have been – gone. From the time Megan was little, she always wanted to be a doctor – ironically, a Neurosurgeon.
So for my future – I will strive to live my life with Megan’s positive attitude, courage, perseverance, compassion, faith and living for today like there may be no tomorrow on this earth. I do believe there is hope that each day can get better – it’s a minute-by-minute process that may take me a lifetime to achieve.
Megan, may the wind be always at your back, and may the sun shine warm upon your face. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.