“Meghan was 16 when we lost her,” says her mom Ileen. “It happened so fast we didn’t know what hit us. Everyone worked so hard and Meghan gave everything she had. She didn’t have a chance, but none of us knew that at the time.”
Meghan was an honors student at Somerville High School in New Jersey. “She was always a very caring and loving person and she was very spirited,” says Ileen. “She loved living life.” Meghan’s life was cut short by a brain tumor in 2004, just 38 days following her diagnosis.
After her death, her family started the Meghan Rose Bradley Foundation dedicated to raising funds for pediatric brain cancer research. “People really do not realize how prevalent brain cancer is in children,” says Ileen. “These children need help. They are the future and if we lose them we lose the future.”
In their corner is Dr. Richard Anderson, Meghan’s neurosurgeon and a researcher from the Pediatric Neurosurgery Center at Columbia University Medical Center. He says, “Unfortunately, brain tumors are one of the most common causes of cancer death among children. Over 3000 new children will be diagnosed with a brain tumor this year in the United States. About half of these will be malignant.”
“She was never sick or anything,” says her mom. Meghan was on the field hockey and track teams, and she was a competitive dancer. In August of 2004, she started field hockey practice. “The kids called it the practice from hell because their coach was rough,” says Ileen. “That is just the way they did it. The first week, her stomach was bothering her, which I didn’t think anything of it because the other moms were talking about how the other kids were experiencing terrible headaches. I just thought for Meghan it was her stomach.”
Another week of symptoms went by, Meghan’s local doctor ran some tests and they all came back negative. “She had the symptoms of someone with morning sickness,” says her mom. “By afternoon she could eat you and I under the table. It was very bizarre.” On Sept. 29, Meghan began to miss school; she had started vomiting and had a terrible headache.
In the early morning of Oct. 1, Meghan woke up with agonizing head pain and was taken to Somerset Medical Center. They put her on morphine and began running more tests including an MRI of her brain.
“At 8:00 that night, the doctor came in to see us,” Ileen remembers. “He said,‘Mr. and Mrs. Bradley, I hate to have to give you such horrible news, but your daughter has a massive brain tumor.’” Ileen says her first reaction was disbelief. “I chuckled and I said you have the wrong MRI. This is not for my daughter.” He brought out her scans and Ileen says, “He put the light on. There was a chair behind me and I fell right into it.”
Meghan was rushed to Columbia University Medical Center/New York Presbyterian Hospital. “They were waiting for us,” says Ileen. “They did their own testing and transferred Meghan to where Dr. Richard Anderson from the Pediatric Neurosurgery Center took her case immediately.”
“She bonded with him right away,” Ileen says of their first meeting. “He made her so comfortable and she respected him. He’s just the most incredible human being. Nobody thought we were going to lose her at that time.”
Dr. Anderson performed an eight-hour operation to remove the large tumor in her head. “After the surgery, Meghan was Meghan again,” says her mom. A spinal tap two weeks later was clear of cancer cells and she was able to go home. On Oct. 21, (also the Bradley’s 20th wedding anniversary) Meghan returned to see Dr. Anderson to have her stitches out. Everyone was celebrating and her mom says, “She really came out of this. Everyone was shocked at how strong she was.”
Then, just two days later, Meghan began to vomit again. An MRI showed a massive resurgence of the cancer. No one could believe it, it had only been thirteen days since the spinal tap was perfectly clear.
“The radiation oncologist said he’d never seen anything like this, despite what we are doing with the radiation,” says Ileen. “It should have at least stopped it from going further but it was multiplying faster than they knew what to do. It was like a runaway train. We were on a race against time.”
On Nov. 1, Meghan slipped into a coma. An MRI showed that a membrane of cancer cells had completely enveloped her brain. Meghan passed away six days later. “There was nothing anyone could do. It was unbelievable,” says Ileen.
Soon after, Ileen and her husband started Meghan’s Foundation. For the last nine years, she says people have asked her how she does this work, constantly re-visiting the loss of her only child. She says, “It’s extremely painful, but it’s extremely painful if I don’t do anything. I cry and I break down but these children need help. We’re trying to raise awareness. We’re trying to let people know we need to have the research.”
She and her husband say they feel strongly about the research being done at Columbia. Last September at the Annual Meghan Rose Bradley Foundation Dinner, they presented Dr. Anderson with a $35,000 check for research on pediatric brain tumors. This was the fifth year in a row that they have done this, for a total of over $200,000.
“There is hope,” says Dr. Anderson. “We know more about pediatric brain tumors today than we ever have before. Thanks, in large part, to the determination and generosity of the Meghan Rose Bradley Foundation, we have been able to continue our efforts in investigating new ways to treat children with brain tumors. The type of therapy we are most interested in is called immunotherapy, because it focuses on harnessing the power of the body’s own immune system to fight tumors.
“We have conducted very sophisticated experiments called a microarray analysis, where we examined over 30,000 genes to try to determine which genes are most involved in shutting down the immune system. We have been able to narrow it down to the ten most important of these genes, and are now beginning a series of experiments in an attempt to block these genes to try to reverse this immunosuppressive state induced by these tumors. We hope that with this discovery, we will be better prepared to focus and intensify the immune system, and then direct it to destroy pediatric brain tumors.”
To find out how you can contribute to the Meghan Rose Bradley Foundation in their fight against childhood brain cancer go to www.meghanrosebradleyfoundation.org. Also, the next Gala is coming up on September 28, 2013.
If you’d like to donate directly to Dr. Anderson’s research, you may send a check payable to Columbia University with “Dr. Richard Anderson’s research” in the memo field to:
Department of Neurological Surgery
710 West 168 Street
New York, New York 10032
Or you may call her if you have any questions: Phone 212-305-5543
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