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Giving Thanks

By Brittni Henderson

The words “thank you” are just simply not big enough for Colleen Kiernan to express her gratitude towards the outpouring of love her daughter Meghan received from friends and family in the town of Smithfield.

Life threw the Kiernan family a curveball in May of 2016 when Meghan was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkins Lymphoma. She was an otherwise healthy and active 15 year old young woman, playing softball and participating in dance. School was going exceptionally well for Meghan, and she was enjoying a loving and fun life with her friends and family. Things drastically changed when she approached her mother and grandmother, Dorothy Connell, to inquire about a ping pong ball-sized bump on her neck. Both women were unsure, so they took Meghan to see her pediatrician.

Meghan received bloodwork and multiple ultrasounds until it was determined that she needed to see a surgeon at Hasbro Children’s Hospital for a biopsy. She went through this procedure on May 2, 2016 and it was on this day that Meghan was diagnosed with the cancer that would change her young life very abruptly.

None of this changed Meghan’s positive outlook towards life, though.

This strong young woman endured months of chemotherapy and radiation. She lost her hair within two weeks of starting the chemo and would frequently get mouth sores from it. Her energy levels would sometimes be low and would be kept away from almost everyone due to risk of infection. Nothing about her life was one of a typical teenager. While many young people her age are worrying about what outfit to wear to school or who they would take to the prom, she was dealing with constant pain and weight gain from the multiple oral medications she had been prescribed as well as the overwhelming anxiety and sadness that comes with a diagnosis like this.

“But she rarely ever complained,” Colleen says. “The day she was diagnosed she told my mother, my son, and myself that it was okay for us to cry just as long as we knew that she would be okay. She is truly one of the strongest, most positive people I know. Quite frankly, she is my hero and I am so very proud of her.”

By the end of September 2016, after numerous CT and PET scans, Meghan was declared cancer-free. She celebrated one year of remission this past September, but the support she has been receiving over the past year has not dwindled.

Last year the Smithfield High School Girls’ Soccer Team named Meghan their honorary captain for their Pink Out Game, which raises funds for Breast Cancer Research and Awareness. The Smithfield Youth Soccer Association presented her with a jersey signed by the New England Revolution at their End–of-Year festivities last season. The Smithfield Girls Softball Association invited Meghan to throw out the first ceremonial pitch at their opening day ceremony in April. Meghan was the recipient of a trip to Disney World in Florida in March from Children’s Wishes which is an organization that fulfills wishes of children with life threatening illness in Rhode Island. Meghan was also nominated as an Ambassador of Childhood Cancer by The Tomorrow Fund and received a medal and a citation from the Governor at the State House in September 2016. Lastly, she was nominated as a candidate for Student of the Year by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in Rhode Island in January. She completed a 7-week fundraising campaign and raised $7,000 for awareness, research and support of blood diseases.

One of the biggest events to support Meghan’s healthcare bills was a Lenten Supper held by the St. Philip’s Church and their Men’s Club earlier this year. Upwards of 75 raffle prizes were donated, as well as all of the food, flowers, and tickets to the event. People donated their time before, during, and after the event to support its success. A trust fund was created with the proceeds from this amazing event to support Meghan’s ongoing medical needs.

“It was a truly beautiful night and we remain overwhelmed and so incredibly appreciative for what our parish and the community has done for my daughter and our family,” Colleen shares. “There has been no shortage of love, prayers, and support.”

Meghan has been in remission for just over a year at this point and is enjoying her junior year of high school at SHS. She had a very specific set of goals she wanted to achieve and has been making her way down that list as if there was nothing in her way. She is playing on the Varsity Girls’ Tennis team, got her driver’s license in May, and started working at Dave’s Marketplace in July. She also takes kickboxing classes which are not only a fantastic release for her, but a place for her to receive even more positive support.

Meghan’s story, which definitely has some hard times, is one that her family is very proud of regardless of the setbacks.

“I never thought her story would be ours to tell,” Colleen says. “Our family is a strong unit of four and have gotten each other through some very dark days. We are so incredibly thankful to be where we are today.”