- 26th Aug. 2020
I met alot of people who knew what I was going through
Meagan was diagnosed with cancer when she was 11 years old, but she can still remember the day she found out and how scared she felt.
“I’d not gone to school, due to the severe back pain I was experiencing, the day we got the phone call. Dad told me we needed to go to the hospital, and I remember I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want life to change and I just wanted to go to school like my friends. When we arrived at Waikato Hospital, where my Mum worked, we didn’t get out of the car and I became suspicious. I kept asking why we weren’t getting out and Dad eventually told me that we were just picking up Mum and going to Starship Hospital in Auckland. I was scared. I didn’t know a lot about Starship, but I remember saying, and in my heart believing, that Starship was where children went to die.”
"I walked through the corridors with a feeling that my entire life was changing around me, but I did not know, how."
“When we got to Starship we had to ask where to go and were told by reception to head up to the seventh floor. We took the elevator up and arrived to see a sign that said ‘Haematology/Oncology’. There was something ominous, not in the words themselves, but in the way I felt upon seeing them. My parents seemed uncertain; which wasn’t reassuring for the eleven-year-old who didn’t understand the words haematology or oncology. I walked through the corridors with the feeling that my entire life was changing around me, but I didn’t know how.
“My MRI showed 42 visible tumours throughout my torso. The largest one near my ribs had corroded two of them, as well as causing my left lung to collapse and pushing my heart into the centre. I don’t actually remember being told I had cancer. What I do remember is how stressful it was waiting for the results of a biopsy the doctors took of one of the tumours and the urgency to start treatment once they realised that the cells responded to chemo. They had told my Dad while waiting for the biopsy results that if chemo wasn’t an option, I’d probably not live to see the coming Christmas as it was too late for surgery and radiation wasn’t an option. I started treatment the same day we found out the results of the biopsy.”
"My MRI showed 42 visible tumours throughout my torso. The largest one near my ribs had corroded two of them, as well as causing my left lung to collapse and pushing my heart into the centre."
“I struggled at first during chemotherapy, but I didn’t have any choice. I was always attached to an IV drip and the only space I had to walk around was in the ward corridor, where I’d pace back and forth between the doors. I used to do it over and over until I got tired; up and back, up and back. Another thing I remember acutely was when some friends sent me flowers. I wasn’t allowed them in my room because I was in isolation so they had to be kept at the nurses’ station.”
“Once the first three weeks of treatment were finished my tumours were gone and I was able to leave the hospital. Until then there had been a risk of organ failure from my body having to process the broken-down tumours.
“I continued to have intensive treatment over the next year. I wasn’t able to go to school and was told to avoid going anywhere there might be large groups of people because my immune system was compromised.
“During this time, I underwent numerous, often painful, medical procedures but also suffered from constantly changing taste buds, nausea, fatigue and all the other side effects that come with treatment.
“I was finally able to return to school when I transitioned onto the maintenance part of treatment. Once a month though, I still had to take time off school to go to either Waikato Hospital or Starship and have chemo. I was also taking pills daily which my parents weren’t allowed to touch because they were, ironically, a carcinogen.
“Once I went back to school I was still on treatment for another year and a half. The reintegration came relatively easily to me but was not without challenges. One of the things that I struggled with for a long time was working out how to eat right. On treatment I had lost a lot of weight and been put on a high-carb, basically, get-whatever-calories-in-that-you-can, diet and there was no one at the end to tell me when or how to stop eating that way. I had formed a habit and didn’t even realise it was an issue for a long time afterwards.
“Hair was also something which affected me throughout my journey. I couldn’t find a wig that looked anything like my natural hair, and it was itchy too, so I didn’t like to wear it. But I didn’t want to leave my head bare either. As a result, I wore a bandana for a long time to hide my head, even though it couldn’t hide the fact that I was bald.”
Often life after treatment, instead of everything going back to normal, can actually be more challenging – and this is when support is needed most. Thankfully, for rangatahi – through meeting, talking, and sharing their experiences they are better able to cope with these struggles and CanTeen provides them with the opportunity to meet other people like themselves who understand what they’re going through.
”I loved CanTeen from the moment I started attending catchups and meetings. I’ve met a lot of amazing people who understand what I’ve gone through on a level that many people just aren’t able to.”
Meagan is now a leader at CanTeen, developing her own skills and thinking and supporting her peers.