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Living life to the fullest after cancer treatment
“I was shocked,” says Megan Brooks of the day she received her cancer diagnosis. “I was in disbelief. I couldn’t talk.” The 32-year-old business owner and mother of two from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, was having lunch with her husband after a doctor’s appointment when she got the news from Suzette Peltier, M.D., her gynecologist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire. A biopsy had revealed cancer of the cervix.
“She told me to come back,” Megan says. “She said: ‘We need to deal with this right now. We need a game plan.’”
Megan was just 29 at the time. The cancer was moving to her lymph nodes, and time was of the essence. Less than three weeks later, Megan underwent a robotic hysterectomy and lymphadenectomy (removal of the lymph nodes) at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Megan’s follow-up scans looked good, and she felt she was in the clear.
“It was over and done very quickly,” Megan says. “I found out I had cancer, and then it was gone.”
A few months later, Megan was having pelvic pain and went to the Emergency Department. An MRI showed a mass, and a biopsy revealed that Megan’s cancer had returned. She says getting the news again was overwhelming, but she was optimistic.
“Everyone had done a good job the first time identifying and taking care of it,” Megan says. “But, I’ll admit I was scared when I learned I needed to have chemotherapy and radiation therapy.”
The fact that Megan had recurring cancer called for aggressive treatment, says Larry Past, M.D., Megan’s radiation oncologist at the Albert J. and Judith A. Dunlap Cancer Center at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire. Megan had 25 radiation treatments, five days a week for five weeks, followed with brachytherapy at Mayo Clinic. Brachytherapy involves temporary placement of hollow needles into the tumor to deliver a high dose of radiation.
That seamless coordination of care is an advantage, says Dr. Past.
“Patients like Megan can receive radiation and chemotherapy in Eau Claire and then receive more specialized treatment in Rochester, if needed,” Dr. Past says. “It’s a very integrated treatment.”
Each Monday after radiation, Megan received chemotherapy with Eyad Al-Hattab, M.D., her oncologist. Dr. Al-Hattab says the treatment was just one aspect of Megan’s care.
“We do a lot of supportive care to get the patient through these difficult times,” says Dr. Al-Hattab. “Everyone has different needs, so every plan is different. Our Palliative Care team helps patients deal with the side effects. Other team members address the patient’s emotional and social needs.”
CARE AND SUPPORT
Side effects of the treatments include nausea and vomiting, dehydration, weight loss, poor appetite and extreme fatigue. While medication and diet helped, Megan says the treatments made her quite sick.
“It took everything out of me every day,” Megan says. “I was very weak and vulnerable, and needed everybody.” Unable to drive, Megan says she relied on her mother to bring her to her appointments every day. Her husband picked up the slack at home, taking care of Megan at night and caring for the couple’s two boys.
Megan says the support of her family, friends and care team helped get her through.
"Take all of the help and support you can. Never give up." —Megan Brooks
“They were always there for me,” Megan says. “I was surrounded by the love of my family. The Cancer Center nurses are some of my friends now.” In addition to Drs. Past, Al-Hattab and Peltier in Eau Claire, Megan is thankful for the care she received in Rochester from Ivy Petersen, M.D., a Mayo Clinic radiation oncologist, and Jamie Bakkum-Gamez, M.D., a Mayo Clinic gynecological oncologist, who performed her surgery and diagnosed the return of Megan’s cancer.
“I couldn’t ask for better doctors,” Megan says.
After a scan showed she was cancer-free, Megan says her family and friends helped push her to rejoin life, which she says she did with gusto. Just three months after getting the all-clear, she bought a business. Megan says she now tries to live every day to the fullest and make time for her family.
Dr. Al-Hattab says hearing back from patients like Megan is one of the best parts of his job.
“There’s a sense of joy seeing someone doing well after a life-altering diagnosis,” says Dr. Al-Hattab. “We feel a sense of pride and accomplishment that our team was able to help her through a very difficult time.”
Looking back, Megan says that her experience seems unreal — like a dream that happened to someone else, and she is glad it is over. Megan says she is proud of herself and her family for making it through. She has some advice for anyone else going through such an ordeal.
“Lean on your family,” Megan says. “Take all of the help and support you can. Keep a positive attitude. Fight and push to get better. Never give up.”