High schooler Megan faces biggest test yet
Megan Reid was about to begin her last two years of high school when she was diagnosed with a blood cancer. After relapsing a year later, she has started her senior year about to face her biggest test yet, a stem cell transplant.
A keen cheerleader since she was seven years old, Megan was preparing to attend a competition in the U.S. when a lump appeared on her neck in late 2019.
“I looked up my symptoms and knew exactly what it could and probably would be, but I had been clinging to the hope that it was nothing,” said the now 17-year-old who lives in Brisbane, Queensland.
After a visit to the doctor her fears were confirmed, and she was diagnosed with Stage 2A classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma on 16 November 2019.
“I wasn’t super shocked, because I had already guessed my diagnosis…but I was petrified.”
Just two weeks later, Megan started chemotherapy. After her first two cycles she underwent a PET scan that should’ve shown no evidence of disease in her body.
“Unfortunately, the scan came back with a tiny bit still lighting up,” explained Megan.
“The usual protocol would have me undergo radiation after I finished the chemo, but my oncologist and I decided against it because of the small area affected.
“The area that would’ve been hit by the radiation was very large and included my breasts, thyroid and lungs. My family also has a history of breast cancer and lung cancer – so it really wasn’t worth the risk.”
Megan ended up going through five cycles of chemotherapy and was told she was in remission at the end of April 2020.
“I was allowed to attend school during my treatment as long as I was careful and feeling good,” explained Megan. “When COVID-19 hit I went into quarantine two weeks before everyone else and started doing school online.
“During quarantine I felt very alone as during my treatment I had isolated myself from my friends quite a bit.
“Although it did make me happy to see photos of all my friends doing normal things like going shopping, going to the beach and getting boyfriends – it was hard to watch at the same time.
“I found that writing in a journal helped me get all of those bad feelings out and always made me feel a lot better.”
Devastatingly, her remission was short-lived, and Megan relapsed six months later.
“This time, the plan was to do two cycles of chemo and then an autologous stem cell transplant,” said Megan.
“I also did an egg retrieval, which was kind of a crazy thing to do and be thinking about at 17, but it went great and we got a lot more eggs than we were expecting.”
Megan began her chemo in November 2020 which made her “super sick” and the first attempt to collect her stem cells for the transplant failed due to her counts being so low.
“I had another PET scan after the two cycles of chemo which showed the treatment had barely done anything,” she said.
“We then attempted another stem cell collection while my oncologist was deciding what my next chemo would be, but this collection also failed.”
Megan was started on an alternative chemo protocol that meant she had to be admitted to hospital for five days – a very different experience to her previous chemo which she had as an outpatient.
“This made me pretty sick,” remembered Megan. “When I was able to go home, I went through a few spells of feeling super dizzy, lightheaded, short of breath and I had a headache for over a week after.
“We then attempted another stem cell collection which finally worked!”
Megan has now completed her second cycle of chemo and will know at the end of February 2021 if she is all clear to have her transplant in March.
She reflects on the past year as one of the biggest challenges of her life but has still taken positives from the experience.
“Before blood cancer I was very different. Since my diagnosis I have grown a lot as a person and definitely value my life a lot more,” she said.
“Looking back at how I went through treatment, I regret not doing things and how I was so sad all the time.
“I used to lack confidence and would hold back from doing things because of fear of judgement.
“I now have a lot more confidence and do everything I want because if not now, when.”
For other teenagers going through a diagnosis, Megan suggests finding stories of others going through the same thing and to access the Leukaemia Foundation’s online resources.
“The Leukaemia Foundation’s website had the best explanation and facts about my diagnosis – I would definitely start there,” said Megan.
“I also looked to social media for other people my age going through the same thing.”
“I could only find one person, Sophia Gall, who had sadly already passed away. Her YouTube channel helped me a lot to start with until I found more people.
“This inspired me to want to share my story so I could be the person that I couldn’t find for someone else.”
Megan is now passionate about sharing her experience to help others, raising awareness and funds for childhood blood cancer and research.
“Last year I participated in the Leukaemia Foundation’s Light the Night event and it was such an amazing and fun experience,” she said.
“I love that the money I raised has gone towards supporting other people facing blood cancer and a future free of blood cancer.”
Megan is now focused on preparing for her transplant and finishing her final year of high school.
“I am doing a Diploma of Business, Certificate III in fitness and food and nutrition, so hopefully I can work in the health field someday.”