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From 'Cancer Life' to Relay for Life

After her battle with leukemia, sophomore is relishing her return to the BC campus

02/03/11
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Meghan Woody ’13, the day after her last dose of chemotherapy during her induction round in the hospital for treatment of leukemia: “I had been attached to that IV pole — not-so-affectionately nicknamed ‘the mutt’ — uninterrupted for eight days. I even had to stay attached for walks, showers, etc. This picture was from my first day of not being hooked up 24/7.”

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Feb. 3, 2011

When she came to Boston College as a freshman in 2009, Meghan Woody couldn’t have imagined how meaningful the University’s annual Relay for Life benefit for the American Cancer Society would turn out to be for her.

Last summer, the Overland Park, Kan., native was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive form of the cancer that requires immediate treatment. Woody underwent chemotherapy and missed the fall term, but was found to be in remission and is back at BC this semester.

On Feb. 18, she will take part in the BC Relay for Life event, which will be held from 6 p.m.-6 a.m. in the Flynn Recreation Complex. Relay for Life is the American Cancer Society's signature fundraising activity. Donors sponsor participants who commit to having a member of their team walk the athletic track continuously throughout the event. Eighty-six teams participated in the 2010 Relay at BC, raising $125,000. 

“The Relay for Life seems so important on so many levels,” said Woody in an interview last week. “Considering that an astounding number of people will get cancer at some point in their lives, it is so great that the Relay brings awareness to such a large group of people. 

“On a more sentimental level, though, it is a really meaningful way to celebrate those who won their fights against cancer while remembering all those who did not, all the while raising money for the cause.”

Not long after receiving her leukemia diagnosis, Woody started a blog, "Days That Feel" http://daysthatfeel.blogspot.com, to record her experiences and emotions during her struggle against the disease. Woody’s entries are candid, thoughtful and expressive, as she deals with fear, hope, frustration and myriad other feelings brought about by this sudden, dramatic change in her life.

“Chemo starts tomorrow,” she writes in the first entry. “I make jokes, I worry about getting my contacts, but should I be concerned with death? It's not mentioned, but part of me wonders if it's just one of those things that isn't mentioned until it's likely. When I start having visitors, should I be saying hello or saying good-bye? I don't want someone to try to scare me, I just want to know what chance there is that this thing could actually kill me.

“I'm young, we caught it early, but still. Cancer kills —more than cigarettes or freak accidents involving parasailing and dolphins. And, if it can kill and does kill, all I want to know is — will it kill me?”

Woody described the blog as “a funny thing. It started as something to give a bit of routine to my days and to keep me from going insane during my long hospital stay. It really picked up followers, though, and people I hadn't heard from in ages were texting me or Facebooking me just to say, ‘I love your blog! I read it every day!’ 

“That always surprised me, because in my head, it seemed like maybe five of my close friends were reading it, when in reality about 120 people were reading it each day. A lot of friends and family of friends, but also a lot of strangers, some of whom were from Australia, England, just the most random places.”

In late September, on the day she took part in a Leukemia and Lymphoma Society “Light the Night Walk” in Kansas City, Woody received word that her bone marrow biopsy confirmed her as being in remission. Her blog entry for the day begins with “REMISSION” repeated over and over again.

As she settles back into the college routine, Woody faces a different kind of challenge in transitioning from “cancer life” to “real life,” as she puts it in a recent entry: “The world has changed without you, and you have to fit yourself back in. As I wrote a long time ago, my puzzle piece has changed, and, if I'm in an environment that doesn't reflect that, I can't fit back into the puzzle. I got luckier than that though, and I think that at least certain parts of this change are for the better.”

One aspect of that transition is how others interact with her once they know about her battle with leukemia. “I wouldn't say it's been difficult to confide in others about what happened, but it definitely can make for an awkward situation,” said Woody, who co-organized a bone marrow drive that took place on Monday and Tuesday in the Vanderslice Cabaret Room, in cooperation with Be the Match, the national bone marrow registry.

“People never know what's acceptable to say and what's not, but, for me, cancer's become so ingrained in my life that there's not much that can't be said.

“People seem to be nervous about making me uncomfortable about it, but, in reality, nothing anyone at BC has said so far has made me uncomfortable at all. It usually works out where they feel so awkward, and I feel so bad about it!”

To find out more about BC Relay for Life, see bcrelay.org. Members of the University community, especially cancer survivors and caregivers, are invited to attend the Feb. 18 event.