With courage and humor

July 28, 2008

Megan Custer, a 2007 Delano graduate, battles Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

By Jen Bakken
Staff Writer

Just as Megan Custer, a 2007 graduate of Delano High School, was beginning to spread her wings and fly, this self-proclaimed number one fan of the Minnesota Wild, had to make a quick return to the family nest in Loretto.

A friendly young woman with a contagious laugh, Megan was adjusting to dorm life and beginning classes at the University of Minnesota Duluth when her life suddenly changed forever.

For about a year, she had suffered with vague flu-like symptoms, aches, pains in her chest, unbearably itchy skin, and weight loss. In November, she found a lump in her neck, but it was initially thought to be only a thyroid problem.

After a visit to another doctor, she told of her symptoms, and tests were scheduled.

“I will never forget that day,” said her mother, Laura Custer. “On the way home from the scans, the doctor was already calling us and telling us to come right back in.”

Megan, who is naturally an upbeat and positive person, tried not to think about what this could mean. But, the news was enough to scare even the most optimistic.

A tumor was found in her chest, on her lungs and heart, the size of a football. It was wrapped around her throat and was constricting her trachea, as well as limiting her oxygen supply.

Laura felt as though she were in a daze, but Megan’s sense of humor didn’t skip a beat.

“That means I don’t have to give my speech next week,” was her immediate response.

Megan also asked with a laugh if she could go get a haircut, but straight to Children’s Hospital was where they headed. Megan was immediately admitted, saw multiple doctors, specialists, nurses, and also underwent many tests.

Medical tests that normally take up to two or three weeks to get results from were back two or three days later in her case.

For Megan, Laura and their circle of family and friends, March 19, 2008 is a date they will always remember. This is the date she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

At 19 years old, Megan went from a happy-go-lucky jokester who loved to watch hockey to a courageous young woman fighting for her life.

“I love hockey more than anything in the world,” said Megan Custer, whose favorite player is Brent Burns. “They (the Wild) found out I was a fan dealing with cancer and sent me a basket with all these great Wild things; even a hand written card and a signed picture from Derrek Boogaard.”

Fortunately, the cancer hadn’t spread beyond her diaphragm. Surely, she would have rather been preparing a speech for her college public speaking class, even though it’s not her favorite thing to do, rather than beginning chemotherapy.

“About two weeks after starting chemo,” remembered Megan. “I started losing my hair, so I just went and got it all buzzed.”

Not one to be considered high maintenance, or care much about how her hair looked, she forged ahead with the love and support of her family, friends and her unstoppable positive attitude.

Megan has four siblings who have been there through this trying time: Teresa Hall, Kyle Knisley who is married to Jami (Atkinson), Corie Custer, who will be a senior at the University of Minnesota, and Caitlan Custer, who will be a sophomore this year at Delano High School. Megan also has four cute nieces.

Her grandparents, Carolyn and Dean Custer, live in Annandale and her grandma, Patricia Forcier, or Bubba as Megan affectionately calls her, lives in Rockford.

Friends have been a huge help throughout this whole ordeal.

“You really find out who your true friends are during something like this, and it’s nice to know I have so many,” said Megan. “At first, I think they were a little uncomfortable, but when I joked about wanting to go for a bike ride so my hair could blow in the wind – when I didn’t have any hair, they laughed. They are one of a kind.”

Andy Olson, also a 2007 Delano High School graduate, has been a friend of Megan’s all through school, and admits they became really close this past year. He also attends college in Duluth, and when Megan had to leave one month after moving there, it was difficult for him.

“It was really tough,” he admitted. “I was in Duluth, and my heart sank because I couldn’t always be there for her. She never lost her sense of humor, though.”

Since the diagnosis, Megan has received multiple rounds of heavy chemotherapy, which kept her in the hospital for three days each time, and she just completed three weeks of radiation. She doesn’t have a single complaint about Children’s Hospital.

“They explained everything, and when things got tough, they told me I had to do this or I could die – they encouraged me, but didn’t ever scare me,” Megan said.

Laura and her husband, Rick Custer, have lived in Loretto for 21 years. When cancer entered their world, Laura was an unemployed executive administrative assistant, and Rick was laid off from his long time maintenance position with Macy’s.

This meant both parents were able to be there with their daughter during her time of need, yet it also meant having to pay for expensive medical insurance through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).

In May, Rick began working for the City of Minneapolis, and the family is trying to keep up with the mounting medical bills.

To help offset some of Megan’s medical expenses a benefit has been set for Saturday, August 2 at the Delano American Legion from 4 to 10 p.m.

“If there is anything over and above the medical expenses, we hope to help Megan with things while in college because she has been unable to work,” said Laura. “And, anything we can, we will give back to cancer research.”

Though Laura has been planning the benefit, she admits it wouldn’t have been possible without all of the help she has recieved.

“The outpouring of support is unreal,” she said with a smile. “All of the businesses; the list of people helping, they have all done so much for us.”

The Minnesota Wild Child Benefit will include a raffle drawing for $2 per ticket, silent auction from 4 to 9 p.m., and sloppy joes dinner for $5 per plate. The raffle grand prize, along with first and second prizes, will be drawn at 9:30 p.m.

For more information, or to make a donation, contact Laura Custer at (763) 418-9400.

“Megan will be at the benefit too,” said Laura with a smile. “She will be the comedian on call that night.”

Now that Megan is done with chemo and radiation, she is thought to be in remission.

She will always have a mass in her chest, but thankfully there are no cancer cells present. Every three months, Megan will have to undergo scans for the first year, and repeated scans will be necessary for the next five years, and then each year for the rest of her life.

While her hair is just beginning to grow back, the radiation has left her without a sense of taste, and she is still fighting fatigue. She will be attending a camp in Montana this summer for cancer survivors. College life is just around the corner for her now, and she is looking forward to it.

“It’s like, enough is enough, she loves Duluth, and she’s ready to go,” said Laura. “She’s been stuck home since March, and is ready to be on her own.”

Though Laura says her daughter has always been a laid-back person, Megan feels she is even more laid back after this experience.

“I don’t stress out as easy,” Megan said. “It’s just not worth it.”

“She was our inspiration. She wanted support but no sympathy,” Laura said. “She knew we couldn’t change this, and just said ‘let’s keep going.’”

And Megan will keep going. She will be leaving the family nest in Loretto for college life in Duluth this fall.

Of course, she will cheer on her favorite Minnesota Wild for many seasons to come, and with such strong and courageous wings, she will no longer just fly – she will soar.

Benefit for Megan Custer Saturday at Delano Legion

A benefit to help with Megan Custer’s medical expenses is planned for Saturday, Aug. 2 from 4 to 10 p.m. at the Delano American Legion.

For more information, or to make a donation, contact Laura Custer at (763) 418-9400.

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