For those of you who don’t know, my God-daughter Megan Konrath is battling leukemia. Though I may say she has pulled through this whole process quite well. She’s definitely my hero. I have never seen someone so strong and with so much faith as she does. She has this light that when you look at her and she smiles back at you it makes your whole day feel better. I have learned that you can never take anything for granted in life. You have to appreciate those in your life and those you will meet along the way, and last but not least you have to definitely live your life like it’s the last day you will ever see. She has taught me that life is too precious to let it go to waste.
Below is her feature in Healthy You Magazine.
How Megan Copes With Leukemia
Allentown girl and her family bravely face childhood cancer
Following in Dad’s bowling shoes—Megan Konrath (shown with her father, Joe) is in the junior bowling league at Rose Bowl in Allentown, where she bowled her highest score (133 without bumpers) after months of battling leukemia. Her “extended family” at Rose Bowl raised $3,000 for the 10-year-old and her family by selling paper hearts with personal messages for Megan.
A 10-year-old’s vocabulary doesn’t usually include induction and delayed intensification. But Megan Konrath of Allentown knows these terms intimately.
Megan was diagnosed with leukemia just before Christmas last year, joining the 2,200 American children affected annually by this most common childhood cancer. The previous fall, she’d suffered from achy muscles and joints, fevers and numerous infections. These complaints are all common in children, but when severe, they are signs of leukemia.
Blood tests revealed that Megan had a large number of abnormal white blood cells in her bone marrow. “Like weeds in a garden, they crowd out the good cells that help the body fight diseases,” says Philip Monteleone, M.D., a pediatric oncologist (child cancer specialist) at Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Network.
“Hearing that news changed our world,” says Megan’s father, Joe Konrath. Fortunately she has a type of leukemia with an 80 percent cure rate—but that didn’t provide Joe much comfort.
Megan immediately began chemotherapy, which took place in three phases: induction (the intense first phase, designed to eradicate as many leukemia cells as possible), consolidation and delayed intensification (to rid the body of any remaining cancer cells). “My joints still ache,” she says. “Sometimes it’s too hard to get up the stairs.” She didn’t need radiation, necessary in only about 5 percent of cases.
Megan’s toughest challenge was losing her hair. But she faced it bravely, shaving her head before the hair was all gone. She rarely wears wigs. In spite of that, she’s still a girly girl—her fingernails are as pink as her cheeks, and her earrings almost outshine her smile.
“Children like Megan have to grow up so quickly,” says Monteleone’s colleague, pediatric social worker Nancy Winters. “These kids see life differently, and as a result they often struggle in their relationships with friends.” To help Megan’s classmates at Our Lady Help of Christians School in Bethlehem, Winters and pediatric oncology nurse Karen Agrippine, R.N., visited the school to explain what leukemia is and why Megan shouldn’t be treated differently just because she’s sick.
“We want kids to live as normally as possible,” Winters says. That’s just what Megan’s parents are helping her do. As a family, they enjoy bowling, carnivals and the IronPigs. Despite missing 86 days of school, Megan was at the top of her fourth-grade class and finished second in the school’s geography bee. “I almost beat an eighth-grader!” she says.
Megan will continue treatment for another year-and-a-half. “After five years of therapy, the chances of leukemia returning are very slim. That’s when we start to use the word ‘cure,’ ” says Lehigh Valley Hospital pediatric oncologist Lesley Simpson, M.D. “We continue to follow patients through their college years to monitor long-term side effects associated with chemotherapy, such as cardiac issues, infertility issues, learning difficulties and osteoporosis.”
The past year has been humbling for Joe and Millie Konrath. “Things we considered life-and-death just aren’t anymore,” Joe says. As for Megan, she’s counting the number of days she’s been alive (well over 3,700). She’s also working on that medical vocabulary. She wants to be a pediatric oncologist when she grows up.