Being in the hospital for an extended stay is enough to drive anyone crazy, but being stuck in a hospital for four months leads to many other discoveries, as Megan Hart, a field hockey player at Shippensburg University, has come to find out in her fight against acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“Being in the hospital for as long as I have, you learn what the different types of beeps mean from your IV,” Hart said. “You also learn which nurses are the good ones and which could use a little help.”
A normal day for Hart includes sleeping in late until around 11 a.m., walking around the halls, watching movies or TV, keeping a journal or playing games with visitors. Like with most sicknesses, some days are better than others for her. She has also battled homesickness.
The past few months have been difficult. Hart has been at the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital since mid-September, undergoing inpatient chemotherapy treatments and a few surgeries and medicines to help treat an extremely rare fungal infection.
“With my white cell count being so low it was like I had no immune system,” Hart said. “This fungus is a common household fungus and it is everywhere, but normal people have the immune system to fight it off. There are only five cases, including me, of this fungus that has grown inside the body. To fight the infection, they have me on two anti-fungal medicines that I get every day.”
Those medicines led to nausea for Hart, as well as some temporary back pain from the fungus in her lungs. She underwent three different surgeries to take out and biopsy the fungus.
Despite the hardships from the infection, the chemotherapy has gone well for Hart.
“The chemo has been pretty good,” she said. “This round was supposed to be more intense, but with the anti-fungal meds, they had to hold back on the chemo and it was not as intense as it would’ve been. I feel that with the combination of chemo and anti-fungal medicines that I had a lot of nausea.”
Hart’s spirits have been tested the last few months, but she refuses to let her diagnosis discourage her.
“Mentally it’s a little frustrating because I want to go home, but I can’t because the doctors have to balance the chemo and the anti-fungal meds and monitor me,” Hart said.
During Hart’s fight, her teammates rallied around her and won the 2017 NCAA Division II field hockey national championship, with playing for her as their primary motivation.
The Raiders have supported Hart since her diagnosis in September, and helped raise money for Four Diamonds for her recovery. They also wore orange T-shirts with the phrase “HARTSTRONG” for Megan.
We talked about what we needed to do to support her and we talked about how from then on out, every single game was for Meg,” Shippensburg coach Tara Zollinger said after winning the title. “We wanted to be able to write every single date of every single win that we have on a ball and give it to her. She’s been such a motivation for us.”
For Hart, watching the team from afar was extremely uplifting in her recovery. It also reminded her of how the team rallied around the death of former SU field hockey player and assistant coach Amanda Strous last season, when Strous was murdered in Charlotte, North Carolina, before the 2016 season.
“I know it motivated them to play their hearts out with me in mind. It was like last year when we played for Strous. We will always play for her, and this year they played for both of us,” Hart said. “Watching them play in the championship game was nerve racking until they got the lead, then it was so exciting to watch.”
Shortly after winning the championship, Zollinger and the rest of the SU coaching staff came to Hershey, bringing the national championship trophy along with them for Megan.
“It was good to see them and to get out of bed,” Hart said. “To see that trophy made me incredibly proud of my teammates for what they had accomplished.”
When her teammates would play, Hart would watch from her hospital room through live feeds, and Zollinger recalled Hart mentioning to her after a visit that they needed to play better in the second half after a poor half against Mansfield. She also mentioned that Hart has given her some advice from afar.
“I visited her last week and she was on us saying we needed to play better, so we’re listening to her and working hard to make sure we play for her and we make her proud,” Zollinger said in September.
This led Hart to the idea of maybe coaching someday, something that she has given some thought to.
“I do think about coaching someday, I think it would be a lot of fun,” Hart said. “I am not sure that I would coach at the collegiate level, but you never know.”
While Hart’s teammates have kept her spirits up in her fight, the support she has received from SU and her community back home has kept her going.
“I love getting letters and visitors. I also journal to get my thoughts out about how things are going,” Hart said. I also have my field hockey stick here and do pulls, which helps too.”
One thing she does miss is the sport she loves. Hart said that she wishes she had a net or a padded wall that she could hit balls into while in the hospital.
Hart has received some good news in her recovery, as her doctors believe that she may be able to return to Shippensburg in the fall of 2018 — but she is not expected to be able to play field hockey right away upon returning. Hart will most likely have to wait until at least the spring of 2019 to begin training.
Hart does have big goals for when she finally returns to the field, as she hopes to play in a national championship game.
The thing that Hart has learned the most in her fight against leukemia however, is the importance of each moment.
“I have learned that you need to take some time and smell the roses,” Hart said. “Life is too short to go flying by. With my fight and being in the hospital since September, it gave me a lot of time to think and to cherish the time with my family and friends.”
While Hart is a two-time national champion, her biggest victory is how she has not let leukemia define her. Despite having a long road ahead of her, with Hart’s determination to win her fight, nothing seems impossible for the SU junior.