Lilac Spotlight: Dr. Meagan Powers,

Lilac Spotlight: Dr. Meagan Powers, "I Will Not Be Shaken"


18 minute read

There's few words more terrifying than this: cancer.

 But there's always hope.

 

Nearly everyone these days has a connection or experience with cancer. It can be scary to face the unknown, especially when you don't know much about the enemy you're facing. But there's an organization who helps take the mask off the monster, and when our dear friend Dr. Meagan Powers told us her story of how she's found a community to help her with her own current battle with colorectal cancer, we knew we had to share her incredible story as well as let others know: you're never alone in the fight.

 

 

To start, tell us a little about you. What’s your name, where are you from and what do you do?:

My name is Meagan Powers, I’m 34 years old, I’m a doctor, and 9 months ago I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. I’m originally from Aurora, Missouri, although a lot of people in the area may know me as Meagan Arnold. I’ve been married to my husband Justin for 13 years, and we have an amazing 18 month old son Griffin.

 

I had been working in emergency medicine. But because of everything that’s happened, I’ve had to make some changes with my practice. Right now I’m focusing on being a stay-at-home mom and fighting this disease.

 

You decided later in life to start a medical career. What made you decide to take that leap?:

I took time off from college after 2 years, as I felt like I didn’t know myself yet. I was coasting because that’s what I was told to do. So I took a break, during which I got my cosmetology license. I was a hairdresser for 4 years, and in that time my husband and I started dating, and we got married.

 

I loved doing hair, but felt in my soul that I needed to do something more to help others. Initially I tried to play it safe with the thought, “I can be a physician assistant, that’ll only take two years of school!” But Justin was quick to encourage me, saying “That’s not what your dream is. Go for your dream!” After many discussions, we decided to shoot for more and go back to school together, supporting each other’s goals along the way.

 

Once we started school, we still had bills to pay. So we worked and went to school full-time. We both ended up being medical scribes, which is where we met Kelsey! It was a very long process - after my previous 2 years of college, it took me about 4 more years to obtain my Bachelor’s degree, then another 4 years for my medical degree. I finally graduated with my medical degree in November of 2019.

 

We actually went to medical school in the Caribbean and lived on an island for 18 months. While sitting on a wait-list for a few other schools, the opportunity popped up and we thought “why not?”. Training there was a bit like being in a third world country. For example, the maternity ward there was all open-air. At one point, I was on a surgical rotation, where the operating room was a sterile shipping container. But even with all that, the people were still happy, singing and dancing on the side of the roads when good things happened. They took nothing for granted, and were grateful for any medicine they could get. It was a unique experience.

 

You also had a beautiful son while going to school, who had a health scare when he was born. What was that like?:

Our plan had been to wait to have children until after I graduated, so I could take a break before going to residency and stay home with our child. But he had other plans! I started residency at 20 weeks pregnant. The pregnancy was amazing, and had no problems. He was born at the same hospital where I worked, and that’s where things kind of went crazy.

 

I had high blood pressure, so I was induced a little early. After 48 hours of labor, he finally made his way into the world. Possibly one of the only benefits of COVID at the time, regulations wouldn’t allow for the pediatric team to come in and see the new babies. Only the NICU doctor was allowed. So when the doctor visited him, he noticed a heart murmur, which isn’t out of the norm, but he felt it sounded a bit different and wanted to do further testing. They caught that he had Tetralogy of Fallot, a combination of four heart defects. He would require open heart surgery at just a few months of age.

 

Shocked, we took him home and tried to feed and grow him as much as possible before the procedure. Turns out, that was a struggle. He would only eat very small amounts before wanting to fall asleep, as he was tired all the time due to the lack of oxygen. He had open heart surgery in December of 2020. Everything went perfectly, and now you would never know that he had anything done!

 

As a physician, my mind went to “what did I do wrong?” because we didn’t have a medical history of heart defects. It was difficult to grasp. Justin was super supportive, saying “we’ll get through this”. We were in the hospital for 5 days while Griffin recovered post-op, and by the third day he was acting just like normal. He was so resilient, it was surprising.

 

I honestly feel like that prepped me a little bit for what I’m going through now.

 

You received news that over 50,000 other Americans get every year - you were diagnosed with colorectal cancer. When and how did you find out?:

For me, it was by fate. I had an afternoon shift in the ER, and earlier that morning I had Griffin sitting on my stomach, playing and bouncing. Then when I went to work, I noticed pain in my right upper abdomen. As the pain traveled up to the right shoulder, my medical instincts thought “gallbladder”. I’m female, young, fertile; I fit the bill. It wasn’t terrible pain, just an ache. I asked my attending if he wouldn’t mind doing an ultrasound on my gallbladder, just to confirm. He took me back, we did the ultrasound, and he immediately noted that something didn’t look right on my liver. He said “You do have gallstones, but something about your liver isn’t right, and I don’t know what it is.”

 

He told me to go home for the day, and if I was still worried, I could come back the next day for a CT scan. By that point my pain had gone away. But Justin told me to go anyway, just to be sure. We went in on a Sunday night, and found  a mass in my colon that had spread to my lymph nodes and liver, which makes it stage IV colorectal cancer.

 

The weird part is I was in my ER where I worked, with my coworkers there. So when my imaging was ready, they immediately brought it in to look at with me. I could tell right away it was cancer. My husband lost it, and he never loses it. I remember he kept repeating over and over "why, why you of all people". I was in shock, I couldn't think. But in the back of my mind, I don’t understand how, but I had a feeling that it would be serious. I knew.

 

Prior to the pain, the only symptom I had was occasional blood after a bowel movement. But that’s common for hemorrhoids, especially after childbirth. So it’s expected, nothing alarming. They ended up admitting me the next day, and I was scheduled to have more scans. The following day I had a colonoscopy and a port put in to prep for chemotherapy.

 

I’ve never felt so disappointed than when the oncologist came to see me in the hospital (which doesn’t happen but for serious situations) and said “I can give you years, but not decades”. I had a very hard time processing that. I remember after that conversation getting up off the bed having to run to the bathroom to be sick, I literally couldn’t stomach it. It felt like I was somehow outside of my body, not really experiencing it. I had to see my son grow up, and I couldn’t leave my husband behind.

 

Justin, who is an introvert by nature, stepped up to the plate after the news in so many ways. We used to always say “when I’m a doctor, we’ll do this” when we discussed dreams and plans. But now, he makes sure we don’t stop talking about those things.

 

That's when the depression hit. After the port was put in, I don’t remember the following two weeks. Family flew in, I had lots of support, but I felt like a zombie. I lost 15 pounds during that time from the grief of it. There’s a quote I love, “A girl walking into a storm won’t be the same girl walking out of it.” That truly felt like me. After those two weeks, I knew I had to pull myself together. I couldn’t let my son remember a mom who stayed down while bad things happened.

 

Mentally and emotionally, what’s been your journey up to now?:

For me, I think the biggest factor is I’ve felt normal. I have no pain, no symptoms. It's surreal. Then I wonder, why am I sitting here feeling sorry for myself when I feel okay, and it could be far worse? Justin always reminds me that we take it one moment, one day at a time. We can’t borrow tomorrow’s problems. That hasn’t just helped me with my perspective, but it was a huge turn emotionally for him, too.

 

Most days I feel great, almost normal. It's the interruptions of things like 4 hour infusions, wearing fanny packs for 2 days after, needing assistance in the shower, that are honestly frustrating reminders. Before, I kept asking "why me". I knew I had to flip my mental switch or I was not going to do well.

 

Talking it out helps a lot, otherwise I'll just bottle it. It's also made my faith stronger. As an ER doctor, faith can waver with seeing bad things happen to good people. When I have nothing else to give, I hand it over to a God who can. And despite everything, we’re grateful that we’ve been able to see how precious this time is now. I could have been in an accident and suddenly taken away with no warning, or not known until it was a surprise emergency situation, as most CRC diagnoses are. What if I hadn’t set my son on my stomach that day? Now, I really do live each day like it’s my last.

 

How did you find support during this time, and how did it help you?:

After the shock wore off initially, I knew I needed support. I also knew I couldn’t just research all the time and bring myself down with harsh numbers. There’s good stuff out there too, and I just needed to find it. I had joined a group called Physician Mom’s with Cancer (yes, there’s a group for everything!). And it was an amazing community. They encouraged me to join the online community COLONTOWN.

 

COLONTOWN, which is managed and supported by the non-profit organization PALTOWN, has over 120 private Facebook groups called “neighborhoods”, with a large blend of colorectal cancer survivors and those going through treatment. It’s a vast well of knowledge. Some of them are medical doctors, some of them are caregivers. Each neighborhood represents different stages; they have “Youngstown” for people diagnosed under 40, or “1st Avenue” for stage 1 patients for example. It’s so specific and detailed, and no question is taken for granted. I’ve seen many patients get amazing referrals to other parts of the country because of connections they’ve made there.

 

How has COLONTOWN helped you personally during this time?:

When I first joined COLONTOWN, I gave my story. Suddenly I was getting messages of encouragement from moderators, recommendations, and saying they were here if I needed them. They led me through the whole process. It can be mega-overwhelming, there’s so much to absorb. They mediate it very well. If someone’s putting out information that may be slightly incorrect, they correct it. If someone passes away in the group, they do a tribute for them. The moderators are CRC survivors too, so they know exactly what I’m going through. You have a whole group of strangers who immediately become your friends, and they understand without asking.

 

I kind of understood self-advocacy before, but didn’t fully understand the need for it until I had to do it myself.

 

Recently I had a scan showing things were looking good, except for a spot on my lumbar spine. They asked if I had pain, but nothing was abnormal. The doctor just told me to watch and wait. But instead of waiting while something’s growing on my spine, I went to another doctor who gave me an MRI. I got on COLONTOWN to see if there was anything about bone metastases; sure enough, a lot of people had them, and had used single beam radiation treatment with success. So I immediately took that to my first doctor, but he still said “since I didn’t have symptoms” he wanted to wait. After standing my ground, we’re now setting up radiation for me to have it taken care of. Without the tools COLONTOWN taught me, I probably would’ve just gone along with it. 

 

This experience taught me you must advocate for yourself. One thing I realized for people my age is if I went in for any complaint and wanted a colonoscopy for example, I would have to fight for it because I wouldn't meet the normal age requirement. Because of my experience, I was able to ask for things I knew I wanted done. Get a second, third, really all the opinions, because someone may have a better idea or treatment for your unique needs.

 

Colorectal cancer patients now have a neighborhood thanks to Colontown. -  OstomyConnection

What’s your favorite thing about PALTOWN?:

The comradery. I’ve seen single people with young children who are basically alone meet others in the groups who rally to help find a solution. People connect to others across the country, specifically for what they need that otherwise may not have happened without this organization. If you join this network, you’ll never feel alone in this fight. I have a huge support system, but I know there’s people out there who don’t!

 

If you were speaking to someone who was recently diagnosed with cancer, or knows someone who is, what’s the best way to support themselves or someone else?:

For those who know someone, everyone’s instinct is to be sorry and ask what they can do for you. But if you offer, you need to really be there. Sometimes it’s a knee-jerk reaction to say those things, but even a simple reminder that you’re keeping them in your prayers, that they’ve got this, and encouragement of their strength can work wonders for those in treatment.

 

Checking in with how they’re feeling is also good. I got a chemo care pack with helpful goodies to have during treatment like mouth spray, lotion, and a coloring book. Little stuff that gets you through the journey, because sitting in a chemo chair for 4 hours sucks. Being present and spending quality time is important. It doesn’t have to be money, it’s more knowing that someone is actually there supporting you.

 

For anyone with a diagnosis, even though I’ve been lucky to have no symptoms, I’m very tired. Do your research, but don’t be afraid of Google numbers and get hung up on that. The game with cancer is 80% mental and 20% physical. I’ve seen people’s success change in a short time because of a positive perspective. The biggest hurdle is the mental one, so every morning, get ready to jump the hurdle.

 

It’s also important to feel what you feel. Then step up, move out and move on. I don't want anyone to see that I'm scared, but my husband reminds me that I don’t have to be brave all the time. I never really cared about inspirational quotes, but now I’m saving them because there’s so many good ones out there. Save them, they do help!

 

What’s something you wish others knew about colorectal cancer?:

There’s a huge uprising in younger patients with this cancer. When I got my diagnosis, I kept asking “what did I do wrong”, all the same questions I asked when my son was born. They did genetic testing, and I actually have the mutations necessary to get CRC. But there’s more patients now that don’t have any hereditary signatures. More research needs to be put into how this cancer develops. It’s not just “old folks” anymore.

 

There’s a stigma to this type of cancer, too. If you’re having diarrhea, blood, losing weight or there’s a change in your bowels, just get checked. Prepare to fight for it. Insurance companies don’t want those kinds of tests on younger people, but they’re also not the ones living in your body. Recognize signs early, push for yourself and don’t take “no” for an answer. There's someone out there that will say yes.

 

What’s the best way to offer support?:

March 4th is National Colon Cancer Awareness Day, so if you want to show support, wear dark blue! Colorectal cancer hasn’t been heavily researched, and doesn’t have a treatment plan the way breast cancer does, for example. Do I need more chemo? Am I going to see a liver surgeon? More standardized planning, and more awareness, supports those questions.

 

A big thing I’ve seen is that women mainly worry about breast cancer. Since it took a lot of young women’s lives early on, it got a lot of attention. Through that, we’ve made great strides in cures and recovery. Now we’re seeing numbers rise with CRC, so it’s important for women to continue to talk about it and remind each other to take care of ourselves.

About Fight Colorectal Cancer

One high-impact organization locally is Fight Colorectal Cancer, also called Fight CRC. After speaking with scientists, policymakers and cancer survivors, Founder and Chairman of the Board Nancy Roach started a specific non-for-profit that would aid patients with much-needed advocacy, policy change and research. They've been tireless on creating greater awareness and education, outreach and support, and results that make real change through funding of research right in Springfield, MO (although their reach is nation-wide!). Fight CRC is not afraid to make moves happen for patients!

 

Anything else you wanted to share?:

I would love to end with a quote that’s inspired me, and I hope it does for others.

“Even now, as broken as you may feel, you are still so strong.

There’s something to be said for how you hold yourself together and keep moving,

Even though you feel like shattering.

Don’t stop.

This is your healing.

It doesn’t have to be pretty or graceful.

You just have to keep going.”

Maxwell Diawuoh

 

Strong Like Griffin

Strong Like Griffin

$12.99

There's power in community. This special collection was designed with the help of Dr. Meagan Powers, who is currently fighting stage IV colorectal cancer, to benefit the Fight Colorectal Cancer Organization, where no one ever has to fight alone. Discounts… Read More

Want to show your support? Our latest collection released with the help of Meagan, The "I Will Not Be Shaken" Collection, is now available for purchase, where 50% of proceeds will go to the Fight Colorectal Cancer Organization, Meagan's preferred local non-profit organization that supports the Springfield, MO community!

Want to learn more about Fight CRC? Visit their website here for more information!

 

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