A few weeks before graduating from high school in 2016, Megan Wolfe was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
While going through chemo to fight the cancer, a device used to deliver the medication caused her heart to rocket to about 280 beats per minute. Normal rhythm is 60 to 100. Doctors had to stop her heart—twice—to keep her from dying.
In December 2016, to stop the breakneck heartbeats, doctors ran a catheter through an artery in her leg and into her heart to burn off cells causing its breakneck, deadly pace.
“And then in January, I started at UTC,” she said with a laugh.
On May 7, five years after her first college class, Wolfe will walk across the McKenzie Arena stage to receive a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
“I feel like I will be overwhelmed with emotions,” she said. “Definitely pride for overcoming the obstacles in nursing school and the pandemic as well as with my health adversities. I will also feel grateful for having this opportunity.
“Most of all, I will feel excited and ready for the future and am ready to use my knowledge and skills to help others.”
Dealing with cancer
When undergoing chemo and radiation to fight cancer, she suffered many of the common effects of the treatments.
“Yeah, it was definitely awful,” she said. “I did lose all my hair, but I didn’t have as much nausea as I was anticipating, like you always hear about.”
Mostly it was never-ending fatigue, a lot of pain and the tingling and weakness in her fingers and toes from neuropathy.
Four years after defeating cancer, one effect lingers—memory loss. Some moments during her cancer treatments just aren’t there at all. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
“A lot of the things that happened during all of that are kind of foggy,” she said. “People tell me what happened here or there. There are pictures and stuff like that I’ve seen. But then and now I do have brain fog.”
That mental cloudiness affected her studies at UTC, she said, but not enough to prevent her from finishing. She just had to find ways to work around the hazy moments.
“I have to work a little harder,” she said. “Study a little harder to remember things. Write things down a lot more.”
Wolfe said Angel Collier, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing, was her mentor and helped her navigate the difficult road to graduation. Collier had a different take.
“I may have been her mentor, but I learned so much from her and her experience that I felt like I was being mentored by her,” Collier said. “She never asked for any extra pity or sympathy. She just did what she needed to do to be successful.”
With a full-time job at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger lined up to start in June, her ultimate goal is to work with children who have cancer. Her personal experiences led her in that direction.
“I had known that I wanted to be a nurse before that but, while I was going through treatment, I saw how the nurses and the doctors took care of me and my family and what an inspiration it was to see,” she said.
“I always tried to look at cancer as kind of a blessing and a curse. It was awful and terrible at the time, but it inspired me. It showed me what I wanted to do. I probably would’ve gotten to this avenue, but maybe not as fast or been as passionate.”
Watching children who have cancer is a tough gig, but Collier said Wolfe’s personal experience with cancer will help her, calling it “a double-edged sword.”
“She’ll be using her experience to actually be able to empathize and draw connections with her patients,” Collier said. “They’ll be able to see that she’s come through it and she’s survived and now she’s thriving. I see her as an inspiration to her future patients.
“But she’ll also have more feelings because of what she went through herself.”
Dealing with personal emotions is something nurses in any medical concentration must handle, Wolfe said. During her nursing school clinicals working in various medical departments at Erlanger Hospital, she learned to separate her emotions from the job.
“I have had to do work in end-of-life care with adults in the ICU,” she explained. “It seems like one of those things where I’m able to, you know, have a good cry about it, then move on.
“I’ll know that I did the best that I could. At the end of the day, that’s all you can do. Always treat them like you’re the last person that’s ever going to see them.”