Watch Megan Wegge skate. Watch her stride down the ice -- forceful and smooth -- as a member of the Moose Lake girls hockey team. Afterwards, when her helmet and facemask have been removed, watch her smile. Oh, that smile.
As a new year begins, Megan’s smile is something to feel good about. Really good.
Megan is a miracle. When she was born 16 years ago she was placed on life support and doctors doubted that she would survive. But here she is, along with her brother Nick and sister Brooke (yes, Megan is a triplet).
Cancer came later, when Megan was 11. The technical term was stage 3 undifferentiated embryonal sarcoma of the liver. It’s rare, it’s vicious and it wins a lot of the fights it starts.
Megan was battling cancer long before she had cancer. Ten years ago, a friend named Johnny Murphy died because of cancer. After that, Megan began raising money to fight the disease. She made chocolate treats and sold them herself. She donated her own hair to Locks of Love.
“My friend Johnny died when I was pretty young and that really impacted me,” Megan said. “I wanted to help, and I never knew that I was going to get cancer.”
She had a tumor the size of a softball in her liver. The tumor ruptured before surgery, which added another layer of complications and concern. Doctors removed the tumor and most of Megan’s liver. That was followed by chemotherapy and radiation. She underwent chemo and proton beam therapy treatments, 29 in all, over the course of two and a half months in Bloomington, Indiana.
I asked Megan about her memories from that time. And she smiled.
“I have a lot of memories, most of them are actually good,” she said. “I know that I felt really sick at some points, but I’ve kind of pushed those memories out of my mind. We’ve met a lot of really good people. A lot of hockey people have come together. The Edina team did a lot; they sold lemonade and raised money for me. The Gophers women’s team has done a lot for me. One player in particular, Megan Bozek, has been a huge inspiration to me. She would come visit me in the hospital, she let me come and skate with her team and visit them.
“We’ve made a lot of connections with a lot of people and we’ve made some really good friends from everything.”
Megan won’t be declared cancer-free until the disease has been absent for 10 years. She’s halfway to that mark. Her current medical status is N.E.D., which stands for No Evidence of Disease. Because of the treatments she went through, there are times when she feels tired, when it’s a little hard to get a good breath, when there is pain.
“Other than that, I’m doing super well,” she said, busting out that smile again.
Moose Lake coach Joe Mohelsky said, “One of our team values is being grateful. And Megan really brings that gratitude to the team. She battled that cancer. It was really touch and go there for a while, and a lot of these girls spent a lot of time with her and came up through youth hockey with her.
“She’s a fighter and you can see it on the ice. Her motor never quits running. Megan’s a great kid. She’s smart, she’s a great teammate, she’s a real pleasure to coach.”
Playing hockey and being part of the team is important to Megan. Her mother, in fact, said returning to the ice was a goal that helped Megan get through cancer treatments.
“Her doctors advised her not to skate,” Jodi Wegge said. “She had almost her whole liver removed and a lot of things shifted, so if she got run into the boards it could be not good. But that’s what got her through, that’s what she looked forward to. I can’t take away the thing that saved her. We never know what’s going to happen to any of us at any time, so we just enjoy life and let her do what she wants to do.”
The Wegge family is grateful. Jodi and her husband Dan, the triplets and their older sister Lindsey … grateful doesn’t even begin to explain how they feel about all the support they have received.
“We couldn’t have done this journey without our community,” Jodi said. “It was unbelievable. Especially the hockey community and our Moose Lake family. It’s just been unreal. Even to this day they still rally around us and want to know how she’s doing. It’s amazing to me that there are so many people who care. There were a lot of people we didn’t even know.”
While her treatments were taking place, Megan told her family and her doctors that she could not imagine ever being a doctor and dealing with such things on a daily basis. But guess what she wants to do with her life?
“I actually want to be a doctor,” she said. “After becoming N.E.D. and getting better, I realized these doctors had a huge impact on me and I want to be like them.”
Don’t doubt her. The baby who wasn’t expected to survive, the cancer patient who beat cancer. She’s all of 5-feet-4 and not even 120 pounds. And she’s a fighter.
“I always give my all, no matter what I’m doing,” Megan said.
And she smiled that beautiful smile.
Happy New Year.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 353
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 6,430
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn