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Meaghan Pearson

By November 22, 2011February 11th, 2017No Comments

So far I think I’ve had a pretty lucky life. Things just didn’t seem to go that wrong for me. The summer of 2010 was no exception. I had my great friends, I had an awesome family at home, I had done well in school and was almost done my nursing program at Ottawa U, and I was even hanging out with a really awesome guy. I had my little day to day issues or problems, but generally was a very optimistic, positive, and happy person.

Everything changed for me in August of last summer. I was working as a Personal Support Worker for elderly patients and was very happy with my job. I started getting back pains at work so I had to stop for a week and go to the doctor. He told me he thought I pulled a muscle lifting a patient, so to take some pain killers and muscle relaxants and some time off of work. I did, and the pain subsided. The next week I returned to work and the pain came back with a vengeance. I thought I could push through it and keep working on the pain killers. I was wrong. The ache turned into agony, and once again I returned to the doctor. He persisted in telling me it was muscle soreness, but this time offered an X-ray. I got this done, but failed to receive any explanation for my pain. The doctor then suggested physio. I had one session at a downtown office, but while walking home afterwards the pain started to radiate down my legs. I was afraid, but trusted that everything would soon go back to normal. I continued on with my regular life.

My friends and I had rented a cottage for the end of the summer. We wanted one last time to be together before everyone went back to school, and that’s what I got. One last time to enjoy walking, drinking, swimming, canoeing etc. By the end of our little vacation I ended up having to get my parents to come get me. I couldn’t stand the pain. I wasn’t sleeping or eating. My parents took me to the Kemptville hospital at around 3am. The doctor there was very thorough. She asked about my symptoms, and did a complete examination of my back and body. She didn’t give up until she had the answer, and I’m very thankful for that. She ran me through some scans and tests but eventually said she needed better imaging so she sent me to the Civic hospital in hopes of getting an emergency CT.

I didn’t have to wait long before they took me in (they could see I was in pain). They gave me a cocktail of Gravol and Dilaudid right away. Gravol to stop the nausea brought on by the Dilaudid, which is a drug that is more potent than Morphine. I waited patiently with my mom for the CT. After being sent through the claustrophobic machine the doctor took my mom and I into a small room for the results. I will always remember what happened next. He barely shut the door before blurting “Well, I don’t have good news for you…It looks like you have a series of tumours in your spine from T8 to T10. We think it’s Lymphoma.” My mom and I didn’t speak for a minute, then exchanged glances and began sobbing. I remember thinking that he had to be wrong. I was fine. I had never had anything worse than a cold or flu. I couldn’t have cancer.

That night I slept in the triage, separated from the other patients by only a curtain. I had sent my parents home, telling them to return in the morning. I was to have surgery the next day on my spine. I didn’t even really have time to ask questions, it was all happening so fast. The nurse told me to stay in my bed. I requested that someone help me walk to the washroom a few hours later. The nurses were too busy to take me, so I decided to just go myself. It wasn’t that far from my bed, and I used my bedside table as a walker. Walking was getting harder by the second. My legs were sort of dragging and I was losing feeling fast. Once in the washroom I fell to the floor, knocking out my IV and bleeding everywhere. I was so scared. Not of the blood, but of the loss of control. I’ve never been more afraid. I called for help, and two nurses half carried me back to my bed. I explained what happened and they promptly catheterized me to avoid any other washroom trips. I lay awake most of that night petrified. I was losing more and more feeling as the hours went on. I would pinch down the length of my legs with my hands, noticing less and less sensation as I went. By morning I couldn’t move my legs at all. I had the surgery, while my family waited. I woke up early the next morning with rods in my spine and the following several days were filled with moderate pain and the resulting painkiller haze.

The doctors were both right and wrong. I did have cancer, but it wasn’t lymphoma. The biopsy showed that I had a Rhabdomyo sarcoma. This was very unusual. Usually this is a children’s cancer that occurs in their abdomen. It is very aggressive, and the doctors looked grim when they delivered the news. Throughout everything I kept positive. I just kept thinking I would recover from the cancer and be back to walking in no time. I recovered from the surgery well and I was gaining back some feeling and movement in my legs! I was overjoyed. I rushed into taking an hour long wheelchair ride with my friends who came to visit. I knew I shouldn’t push it, but I did, and I payed for it. The next morning I was in critical pain and couldn’t even move my toes. It took many doctors and a series of major meds to get me back to a point where I wasn’t screaming in agony and begging to be put out. Days went by, and my movement and sensation didn’t improve.

Over the next few weeks I had many friends and family visit. I really enjoyed having them with me and I was still in the same mindset; Things were going to get better. I felt so loved with all of the awesome cards, notes, flowers, and teddies. Thank you to everyone for their kind actions and words of encouragement. I had a couple of hard goodbyes before school started up again, one being with the guy I had been hanging out with, but I thought I would be back in the swing of things soon. Soon I would see them all again, and be back to partying and school and everything else, right?

I did continue what I could of my schooling throughout my whole ordeal. I couldn’t participate in my clinical classes however, because I couldn’t walk, but I had made a deal with the university to do them when I was able. I was still going to be a nurse.

I was moved to the General at the beginning of September and was to begin radiation the moment I got in the door. On the way to the hospital I met some EMTs that were my age and made a great friend that I kept for the months to follow. I was still having major back pain, so the radiation session when I arrived was a bit of a nightmare. I got my first tattoo that day, to my dad’s horror! But they were only a few black dots. They had to make ink markers on my chest to radiate in the correct location for the next few weeks. I continued getting radiation for the rest of September while my doctors planned for some of my procedures. Radiation didn’t bug me one bit. I still had my hair, I had no side effects and I even began to get movement back in my legs. Things were looking up.

During my radiation period I was also getting hormone treatments at the Ottawa Fertility Center so that I could have eggs frozen.  I was getting this done because the chemo I was going to receive would wipe out my chances of having kids, and that was something I knew I wanted in the future. It was a very hard process to endure. I was SO hormonal! I had to give myself 4 needles a day, and I became very moody and extremely emotional. The doctors had not even given me very much to hope for. They told me that with the procedure I would have about a 1% chance of pregnancy for every follicle they could recover. You have a greater chance of becoming pregnant in the future if you combine your eggs with sperm before they are frozen, but when the doctor asked “Are you seeing anyone who would be willing to have children with you?” I scoffed. Sure, I had been hanging out with a guy, but I didn’t think that would fly with him. I didn’t bother asking. I ended up freezing the eggs alone. By the end of the treatments the doctors there told me that I was very lucky. I had managed to grow 11 follicles in my ovaries that could be preserved as potential pregnancies in the future. I am currently the record holder!

I was very excited and overjoyed to be moving to the Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Center in October. I had told my doctor that I wanted time to work on my legs and gain back as much as I could movement and strength wise before starting chemo. I told him that walking was more important to me than getting better, and I meant it. That’s where I went wrong. I was so set on getting my old life and my old relationships back that I didn’t care about the cost. No doctor had said I would never walk again, so I just convinced myself I would. For the entire month there I had daily physio and occupational therapy and I was getting stronger. I could move my legs now and transfer to my wheelchair on my own. Regardless of my gains, I became depressed. I cried daily, refused visitors, made my family cry with me… I was looking at things all wrong. All I wanted was to walk again, and seeing everyone around me at the center not able to do so, or maybe able to do even less, just made me upset. I looked at them as something I didn’t want to become.

Eventually I became too ill to stay at the Center. My cancer had spread to my left breast, and many other smaller tumours were scattered throughout my body. I had to start chemo. I was taken back to the General to begin treatment in November.  I was warned by my doctor about the side effects of chemo, but nothing can really prepare you for the toll it takes on your body and mind. I decided to donate my 20 inches of long brown hair to the Pantene program that provides wigs to other cancer patients. I knew I was going to lose it anyway, so I wanted it to mean something. I could live with the short hairstyle I was left with. I didn’t like it, but hey, I still had hair. What was harder to deal with was when I started to find my pillow covered in clumps of my short hairs. I decided to shave my head. It was a tough decision, but what made it a whole lot easier was a friend of mine’s mom. She was raising money and shaving her head for me as well. Thank you Jackie Carnegie. Regardless of having support through all of this, I became even more depressed. I didn’t feel like my old self anymore. I didn’t feel attractive, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t be a nurse (if I couldn’t walk), and who knows if the chemo would even be a success.

I’ve been getting chemo now for 9 months, and it’s definitely been the hardest time of my life. I’ve been nauseous non stop, and there are some days that I can’t even get out of bed. I lost touch over the months with a few friends, and decided not to keep up communication with the guy I had been seeing. I thought “Who would want to be with someone like me now?” He was a great person and I thought he should be with someone more like my old self, not a paraplegic who had cancer. I would cry daily with my parents, mourning my old life. I could see everything I had and everything I wanted slipping away from me. Some friends and extended family continued to visit, but even their visits just made me more upset. They asked general questions that I came to resent, such as “Are you walking yet?” and said things like “Things will get better!” which I felt to be untrue. They would talk about outings, parties and things that I desperately wanted to be a part of, but no longer could.

The chemo, however, was helping the cancer situation. I had no mets remaining, and things were looking better after the first few months of chemo. Crisis occurred again right after my birthday. I not only had a massive cancerous tumour in my foot, but a homecare nurse hadn’t watched where she was sitting on my bed, and crushed 4 bones, leaving it broken as well. When I was told I had cancer again, I was so disheartened. What made things worse was the manner in which I was told. The doctor didn’t wait until I had someone with me; he told me while I was alone in an examination room and then proceeded to look shocked when I started to sob. One doctor even mentioned that I might have to get half of my foot amputated, but that we would see what radiation could do for me first. All I could think was “Great…another reason to be miserable.”

I started getting radiation again a few weeks ago on my foot.  I’m happy to report that it is now healed, back to normal size, and I am able to wear shoes again! I’m even happier to inform you all that I have had a major transformation in attitude. For so long I had laid in bed feeling sorry for myself because of all of the things I had lost, and for how sick I felt, but I came across a website the other night while researching paraplegia that changed my view. The quote at the top of the website said “It’s not what’s taken away from you that counts; It’s what you do with what you have left.” Once again I cried. Not because I felt bad for myself anymore, but because I felt so badly for the way I had behaved, and for the thoughts that I had. I posted this quote on my facebook, and a few hours later a friend commented. He said “And you will always have more left to work with than most will have ever had.” That really hit home. I was so lucky to have, and have had, the things that I currently do, or did in the past. I had had 21 perfect years. I had walked for that long and lived for that long. Some people don’t get to walk a day in their lives, and will never get that chance. So what if I couldn’t date the same kind of people that I used to, or do the things I used to. Some people never get to feel attractive, never have such a caring family, never get to go to university. I continued to read stories about other paraplegics and quadriplegics with the tears streaming down my face. I read about their accidents, their hobbies, their experiences and all I could think was “How could I have been so stupid?”

I wanted to write this note not only to help people understand my situation, but to help people learn the lesson that it’s taken me 12 months to learn. Be thankful for what you have, and don’t stress the things you don’t. So what if I don’t walk again? So what if I don’t have hair? I can still move my arms and legs, I still have my mind, I still have the same loving family, and my true friends have stuck by me though everything. Learn to value the truly important things in life.

While I’m still bald I’ve been thinking of getting my second tattoo. I’m going to tattoo that quote I found that resonated so deeply with me and it’s going to go right on my head. That way while I’m going through the rest of all this, or even if I have to go through it all again in the future, that quote will be with me. It will be in my head.

P.S: I want to say a special thanks to my family and to my old and new friends for everything they have done for me and everything they have helped me through. I wouldn’t have made it this far without all of you. I love you all!

Meaghan Pearson
Thursday, July 28, 2011 at 6:35p

Since sharing my story I have been amazed by the overwhelming influx of supportive and understanding messages.

A lot has changed for me since I got my tattoo; That day, I began to lose feeling on the left side of my face, and decided that it would be a good idea to return to the hospital. Results from recent scans showed that cancer had spread to almost my entire body. We were worried that a tumour could be compressing my facial nerves.

The doctor agreed that because of the risk of seizures I should be admitted overnight. I sent my parents home to return in the morning. Upon awakening, I was told the tumours in my brain were bleeding, and could likely hemorrhage or cause me to be brain dead. It was suggested that I sign DNR (do not resuscitate) orders. None of my regular doctors were around at the time to deliver the news, or discuss implications with me.

I thought that I was dying that day, and I was alone and afraid. I frantically tried to reach my family and closest friends. I started contemplating what I would say, who I wanted to send messages to, and how to tell these people I wasn’t going to be around anymore. The day continued to be horrible, as I suffered with 9/10 pain, and little relief.  The next day I was reassured to find out not only that my own team of doctors were with me, but also that my death was not as imminent as it had seemed. My doctors vowed to do everything possible to control my symptoms.

Although it was horrible to be told I could die at any time, it turns out it was a blessing in disguise. My Oncologists felt at first that I might have between 2-4 months left, which made me feel so lucky, compared to the mere hours that I thought I’d had left the previous day.

Things have been progressing faster than anticipated, and my remaining time has again been revised. I have approximately one month. Originally, with the 2-4 month estimate, I had begun making a bucket list of a few special things I wanted to do. Now that I have less time, my thoughts have turned to the people that I am leaving behind, and the words and thoughts that I want to get across to them. I am not afraid of dying. I am more disappointed that I can’t be there for all the special moments in the lives of those closest to me. Although I may have less time left than I thought, I still think that living by the message that I tattooed on my head is important. The fact that time is now so limited, has made it even more difficult, but at the same time even more important to live by those words. I still feel luckier than most because I have the chance to say my thankyous and prepare my goodbyes…

It’s not what’s been taken from you, It’s what you do with what you have left,

Meaghan Pearson

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