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An ambitious college student with a packed schedule, Maggie had only a couple of weeks off between the end of her spring semester and the beginning of her summer study program at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in 2010. Getting picked for the program at St. Jude had been an honor. Only a select few students from her college were awarded slots; as a chemistry major planning to pursue a medical degree, Maggie was thrilled to have been chosen.
Maggie had a few things to cross off her to-do list while she was home. For one thing, she needed an MRI to determine the cause of her nagging leg pain – it seemed like no big deal. She underwent the MRI, and later drove with a friend to find out the results. What she learned in the doctor’s office that day was devastating: Maggie had cancer. The next time she entered St. Jude, it would be as a patient and not as a student. She was terrified.
“I started weeping,” said Maggie. “I was very dramatic and out of control. I kind of had a panic attack in there.”
Maggie was found to be suffering from Ewing sarcoma. Ewing sarcoma family tumors are small, round cell tumors that arise either in bone or soft tissues. Maggie’s tumor was located in her right tibia bone and the surrounding soft tissue. At St. Jude, Maggie began receiving chemotherapy. She then had surgery to remove the tumor-ravaged bone. Her tibia was replaced with a metal rod, and once she recovered, she began physical therapy to help her gain strength and mobility. Her chemotherapy continued for several months after that.
To keep herself busy while she went through treatment, Maggie wrote and took guitar lessons. She also focused on learning how to cook and learning Japanese from a St. Jude fellow. Still, she says, there were times when she had to work hard to overcome the physical effects of chemotherapy. When she felt especially bad, she practiced breathing exercises and imagined herself being larger than the molecules that make up the drugs.
Maggie is grateful for her care team at St. Jude. And as strange as it may sound, she has happy memories of the hospital
“St. Jude is not a place of mourning,” Maggie says. “It’s a happy, positive place full of people all going through the same thing. And every doctor, every nurse, every person behind a desk is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.”
Maggie has finished treatment and is continuing her college studies.