Meghan Tierney Hultman 2012
Great Comebacks® Award Recipient - United States
At 23, Meghan started to notice unusual pain and bleeding when she went to the bathroom, but tried to ignore her embarrassing symptoms.
Soon her pain escalated rapidly and left Meghan paralyzed one night. She was rushed to the emergency room and a test revealed she might have a polyp in her colon.
But during outpatient surgery to remove the polyp, the colorectal specialist discovered that what Meghan really had was a significant tumor. The tumor had extended through her intestinal wall and had invaded the adjacent muscle tissue, causing the excessive pain. Meghan woke from surgery to find out she had stage 3 rectal cancer.
“I had worried that something was very wrong, but my worrying did not prepare me to hear the actual news. I had…cancer? Everything I thought I knew about life was torn to pieces in the matter of an instant,” she said.
“This was even harder to hear than the cancer diagnosis itself. Would I still be able to do the things I like to do? Wear the same clothes? What about food? Exercise? Intimacy?"
Meghan’s PET scan showed that her cancer had already spread to a few lymph nodes nearby. She feared for her future. The next day the surgeon told her that her cancer was too low in her digestive tract – the only method of treatment he could try was a permanent colostomy.
“This was even harder to hear than the cancer diagnosis itself. Would I still be able to do the things I like to do? Wear the same clothes? What about food? Exercise? Intimacy? I had so many questions, and I couldn’t find much comfort in any of the answers,” she said.
Meghan soon started a six-week chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatment program to shrink the tumor before her rectal resection and colostomy surgery. Then, she went back to chemotherapy treatment for six months, which left her incredibly sick. On top of her sickness, Meghan struggled to accept her colostomy and find ostomy information for young adults. But a strong support system of friends and family and a great healthcare team helped her to get through the many appointments and her new way of living. In November 2008, she finished treatment, cancer free.
“I experienced an overwhelming number of losses due to my cancer, but I have also experienced some gains, including learning what I truly want from life. I also developed a new dream: to embrace love and pursue healing in all areas of my life and to use my experience for the benefit of others,” said Meghan.
“I had worried that something was very wrong, but my worrying did not prepare me to hear the actual news. I had…cancer? Everything I thought I knew about life was torn to pieces in the matter of an instant”
Instead of celebrating, Meghan soon returned to the hospital as a volunteer to help other people living with cancer. She was also inspired to pursue a master’s degree in nursing and since August 2011 has been working as an oncology nurse. Meghan works closely with the colon cancer awareness group The Colon Club. She modeled for their “Colondar” – a calendar that features people who have overcome colon or rectal cancer and show their abdominal scars as a way to represent their strength and shocking journey. She also shares her story though First Descents, which coordinates outdoor adventure experiences to empower young adults who are fighting cancer. In 2012, Meghan spent a week surfing with First Descents.
“The most difficult part for me was feeling like no one could really understand what I was going through. I have received so much energy from connecting with other cancer survivors and I hope that by putting my story out there, I can bring a sense of fellowship to others and show them that there ARE healthy, active, happy young adults living with an ostomy,” she said.
Meghan, now 28, lives with her new husband Matt in Eagan, Minnesota. She enjoys running as a source of relaxation and recently completed a half marathon. Meghan says she has grown to appreciate her colostomy as a small scar from all that she went through to be here today.