At this point, in 2018, we’ve all known someone who’s been diagnosed with cancer or even experienced it ourselves. Cancer is, unfortunately, a common word in today’s society. But what gives us hope about the future is knowing that there are people in our world who are working tirelessly to find a cure for this disease.
Meet Jo Meagan.
Jo (as I like to call her) and I grew up together in our small hometown of Huntingdon, Tennessee, but didn’t become fast friends until high school when, she claims, I complimented her on her makeup in Yearbook class. The compliment must have worked, because we quickly developed a tight-knit friendship that withstood me moving to college while she finished out her senior year. Even though there was now a new distance between our friendship, we’d hang out on weekends and over holiday breaks.
But then my sophomore year rolled around with some unusual news.
Jo called one night and shared with me that she had been diagnosed with cancer.
How, at age 18, could someone be diagnosed with cancer? It was such an uncommon phrase to hear an 18-year old utter. College years were about staying up until 3am, meeting new friends, and dealing with homesickness... not trying to figure out how to fight cancer.
But, thanks to St. Jude, Jo fought hard and won.
Because of the St. Jude Marathon quickly approaching, I reached out to Jo Meagan to see if she would mind sharing a little bit of insider’s scoop about St. Jude and her experience there, and she graciously said yes.
Read more about Jo Meagan and St. Jude below:
Tell me a little bit about what brought you to St.Jude. At 18 in my first semester of college, I dealt with Mono-like symptoms and treatment for months before getting a lymph-node biopsy done. I was then diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and my family chose to pursue treatment at St. Jude.
What was the environment like? With a lot of heavy hearts from families, I just remember there still being so much activity. Kids riding down colorful hallways on tricycles and parents pulling more along in wagons. There was just a general sense of comradery that everyone was there to fight.
How did you feel when you entered St. Jude? I was initially overwhelmed, but it quickly felt like family. I had a nurse, medical oncologist and radiation oncologist that I saw every visit and thoroughly explained my plan and everything along the way. They gave me hope from the very beginning and have continued to encourage me throughout school and my career to this day.
Can you tell us about the process + experience of being a patient at St. Jude? Did you stay there 24/7, go a few times a week, etc, and what did receiving chemo look like there? My treatment regimen was over 6 months, with 5 months of weekly chemo and 1 month of daily radiation. During my months of chemo, I was able to maintain a pretty normal life going to college part-time and staying at what was the St. Jude Grizzlies House once a week. During the month long radiation, I stayed at the St. Jude Target House and went home on weekends. Any costs for treatment not covered by insurance, travel, and housing was fully provided for by St. Jude. I maintained annual check-ups for 10 years, and I am now a volunteer for the St. Jude Life program where they research childhood cancer survivors with follow-ups every 5 years.
How has surviving cancer + being a part of St. Jude changed your life? My diagnosis and time at St. Jude completely redirected my life at that time and still motivates me today. When I completed therapy and returned to college, I changed my major from Finance to Biochemistry to pursue a career in cancer research. I was able to go onto get a PhD in Cancer Biology from the University of Tennessee while doing research at the very place that saved my life. To see first hand the every day passion and advances made toward increasing survival rates for childhood cancer is really indescribable. Thankfully I have been able to maintain my ties, and I now work for an Oncology pharmaceutical company collaborating closely with doctors at St. Jude on clinical trials for pediatric solid tumors. To this day every time I walk through those doors there's an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and a humbling reminder of why I do what I do.
What are the biggest things you wish you could tell people about St. Jude? Being a part of St. Jude as a patient as well as a scientist has truly been a blessing. They are at the front line of the newest and best therapies for their patients, and the research being done is unmatched. In such a trying time for families, they really do go above and beyond to remove as much stress as possible whether that be financial or other support.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Jo and her courageous fight and how she continues to change lives because of her experience.
If you feel inclined to support to St.Jude to help fight off childhood cancer, I’ve listed several ways below!
Donate directly to St.Jude through a hero who’s running the race! I’ve listed my Mom’s account where ALL donations go directly to St.Jude:
Purchase a St.Jude shirt I hand-lettered to help raise money for the St.Jude Marathon! (limited sizes available!)
Don’t have money to donate right now? Sign up for our “Love Runs the World” St.Jude event on Facebook to help cheer on those running on race day!
A big THANK YOU to Jo Meagan for this interview, and a big THANK YOU to those who are supporting St.Jude in whatever way you can.