HartStrong: A Raider battles Leukemia

Megan Hart

Shippensburg University’s Megan Hart, (No. 31), is undergoing inpatient chemotherapy treatments in her battle with leukemia. Hart has kept her spirits up with the support of her coaches and teammates, and has been inspired by how the team has supported her. 

It is hard to imagine a time where hearing that your daughter was diagnosed with leukemia would be a relief. For Megan Hart, the diagnosis was the last thing her mother, Michelle Hart wanted to hear, but it did provide one thing — an answer.

“I know I was relieved to finally hear a diagnosis,” Michelle said. “I’m sure that may sound strange, but after weeks of knowing there was something wrong, but no one could tell us what, it was a relief.

“No parent ever wants to hear their child has cancer. As a parent, you want to make it all better and this is one of those things you cannot. We were flooded with emotions that something is happening that is so out of control and we could do nothing to stop it or slow it down.”

Megan, a 2015 graduate of East Juniata High School and a standout field hockey player, struggled to shake a cold in August and started to become sick. At first it seemed like it was just a common cold and she returned to Shippensburg University, where she plays field hockey.

Upon returning to SU, she joined the team in hopes of traveling for its NCAA foreign tour to Bermuda. Hart underwent testing for several infections including Lyme disease and mononucleosis, and after two colds lasting about six weeks the doctors felt like it was just running its course, Michelle said. At the time, her blood counts were a little off, but it was not alarming.

Megan went on the trip and was fine, but shortly after returning her health quickly declined. Two weeks later, Michelle noticed that Megan was walking with a limp, had lost weight and was struggling to use her left arm.

“We decided at that moment she needed to come home with us and return to the doctor on Monday,” Michelle said. “She was tested for all the viral and bacterial infections, mono, Lyme disease, and this time an arthritis panel and several autoimmune diseases. 

“The doctor started her on antibiotics for Lyme disease and a steroid shot to help with her painful joints and muscles. All the blood work came back negative for all the diseases and her blood counts were not too out of range again except for her inflammatory factors.”

Hart returned to school for a week after Labor Day, until Sept. 14, when she was kept awake all night with severe knee pain. Her father, Bryan Hart, picked her up from school and took her to see a rheumatologist. Shortly after, she suffered from a sore throat and ear pain. Her heart rate also increased. It was then the family finally found a diagnosis.

“The doctor knew she was having issues for the last several weeks and with her fever and extremely high heart rate sent her to the emergency room. We were taken right in once we arrived in the emergency room and they drew blood right away and within an hour the doctor came in and told us she had no white count and placed her in isolation,” Michelle said. “They also saw some abnormal looking cells. They said that could be caused by a severe viral or bacterial infection or leukemia.”

Megan was transferred to Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital for further tests, and within 12 hours, she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Hart continues to battle to build up her immune system — she currently does not have one — and is undergoing inpatient chemotherapy treatments.

She refused to let her diagnosis break her spirits, however.

“OK, I have cancer, now what?” Hart said, echoing her initial thoughts. “How do I get back to how I was?”

While continuing to fight, Hart is determined to make a full recovery.

“I’m determined to get back to my full health, but I must put my trust in God and doctors to get me through this,” Hart said. “I hope to come back stronger, faster and more aggressive than ever to prove to myself that anything is possible. With this I hope to show others who are struggling with leukemia or any kind of illness, that there can be a good outcome in anything.”

The family has received a lot of support from the Four Diamonds Fund — something that the family now has high regard for, as well as Penn State University’s Thon, which raises money for the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. Because of the Four Diamonds Fund, the family will not have to pay what their insurance will not cover in Megan’s recovery.

“We didn’t even know what this charity was prior to Megan being diagnosed with leukemia. This charity means so much to us,” Hart said. “The support they provide for every family with a child diagnosed with cancer is just unbelievable. It’s hard to put into words what this means to a family going through this.”

The Shippensburg field hockey team also has taken it upon itself to support Hart, wearing orange T-shirts with the saying “HartStrong” on them, while also collecting donations for the Four Diamonds Fund for Megan’s recovery.

Megan’s church has sent her numerous cards and get well wishes, while her high school is selling T-shirts for $5, with the proceeds going to the Four Diamonds Fund.

The support from the team, as well as the local community has meant a lot to the family.

“Letters from family, friends, my teammates, and my church help so much,” Megan said. “I love opening a new letter every day. My family has been here non-stop and never left my side. I love watching the [Shippensburg field hockey] games and talking to my visitors when they come. It just takes my mind off things. My room is decorated with balloons, cards and pictures, and it helps to see the love that I have from everyone.”

While Megan continues to fight, her battle has brought the family together.

“We were a close family prior to Megan’s diagnosis, but this has drawn us even closer. We’ve also learned that we have a huge extended family with our home community and with our Shippensburg family,” Michelle said. “In a world that often seems to be driven by unhappiness and hate, it’s heart-warming when you find the love of a community offered to you in time of need.”

To donate to Megan’s recovery, donations can be made to the Four Diamonds Fund at www.fourdiamonds.org.

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