We Can Do Hard Things - Part Two
January 7, 2021
Meagan and Gabe Farrell wanted to raise their children in the country on a farm and in 2019, Meagan retired from her job with Healthy Edgerton to make their vision come true. The couple and their two daughters, Olivia and Masey, moved to the home dairy farm where Meagan grew up on Highway W outside of Belleville.
Life was good. They settled into a routine of milking the cows, Gabe going to his job off the farm with Dave Jones, Inc., celebrating the birth of their son, Colton, and enjoying family visits near and far.
This summer, with the unrelenting twists and turns of COVID-19, Meagan noticed that their three-year-old Masey wasn't her usual self. In the fall, Masey was diagnosed with Pleuropulmonary Blastoma, or PPB, which has less than 500 cases worldwide, ever.
"We came home and have been showered with love from everyone!" said Meagan. "From a troop of people helping clean, to the fire department escort home. Grandma and Grandpa are helping at the house with virtual school and caring for Colton while I handle adjusting to medicine schedules, tube feeding, teaching the other kiddos about Masey's tubes, phone calls from home health nurses and insurance, and sleeping arrangements."
Gabe and friends and family were working to fix the 100-year-old farmhouse while the rest of the family stayed with Meagan's parents.
"We're so thankful for him and everyone who helped to make the house safe for us," added Meagan.
On November 3rd, Masey was back at the hospital for an outpatient treatment and then back for a three- to four-day inpatient treatment in the middle of November.
"Soon after we left the hospital Masey's hair started to fall out, but her appetite started coming back a little!" wrote Meagan. "Being with her sister helps so much. She is smiling, laughing, and playing, which is so good to see."
The family spent lots of time together before heading back to the hospital for cycle two of Masey's chemotherapy.
"I've spent these past 12 days soaking up the squabbles, laughter, and joy between my kiddos," said Meagan. "I've also been sitting in a constant state of gratitude to those who helped us get HOME safely."
Meagan added that, "When the doctors gave us the cancer diagnosis, I knew things would need some updating in the farmhouse to make it safe, but didn't know the magnitude until I started talking to the nursing staff, for example, a little bit of gunk on the windows, a dust filled rubble basement, a basement that has standing water when it rains, two dehumidifiers that usually work, a bathroom vanity that is water logged, and 20-year-old carpets to list a few."
"A 100-year old home is filled with character," laughed Meagan. "The diagnosis meant that those things needed to be updated, now. So many people dropped what they were doing and helped us fix our home in less than a month."
Meagan added that they will never be able to fully express their thanks but "your time meant that our kiddo gets to live life a little bit safer, it means she gets to sleep in her home and it meant that I wasn't staying up until 3:00 a.m. every night cleaning and scrubbing."
Thank you: Belleville Fire Department volunteers who helped place drainage tiles in the basement and for the welcome home parade; Jason Outhouse and Joe Lange for installing the furnace filter; Shawn Anderson for installing an ionizer and for finding and fixing a leak; Uncle Ken for building a bedroom for Colton and for de-dusting the basement; Rick Anderson for helping to de-dust the basement; Moose mob cleaners for getting Bert and Trish's house ready; Other moose mob cleaners for getting Bert and Trish's basement ready; Sandy and Tim Wolf for staining the new bathroom vanity; Tim Blair and Julie Sutter Blair for the dehumidifier; For the people who brought food to feed the workers and feed our hungry crew; Jon Sunderlage, owner of JonnyO's Pizzeria, and staff, who donated 10 percent of the food purchases to the Farrell family; To our parents and in-laws who give generously and help in more ways than we could list.
Many of the family's friends and neighbors offered to help with farm work whenever it was needed.
"Our neighbors, the Gilbertsons, helped relieve so much stress on the farm," said Meagan. "I enjoyed coming back to milk when I could in the mornings while at the hospital, but some nights were filled with transfers and scans and treatment that had me up all night. The Gilbertsons were on call to help whenever we needed them even though they had jobs of their own to maintain."
Members of the Belleville FFA chapter helped us set up our winter-feeding system in the pasture.
When Masey was in an in-home day care, the daycare provider lovingly called her Moose.
"The name stuck like glue and Masey Moose is heard every day in our household," said Meagan, smiling. "Masey's Moose Mob was thrown out on a whim to Meagan's family chat text group. We let family know about the diagnosis first and our siblings, parents and in-laws dropped everything to help with things we hadn't even thought about."
Meagan added that the Moose Mob name was created via a text but the branches that it has extended to is due to her siblings.
"My brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles organized the Caring Bridge site, food train, GoFundMe, cleaning, sewing, farm help, babysitters, communication - everything," said Meagan. "The Moose Mob would not have its strength without their incredible energy."
Gabe added that his employer and co-workers at Dave Jones have been so understanding and supportive in this journey.
"Anyone who is married to a farmer understands the importance of an off-farm job and having an employer who values family above all else, relieves so much stress from our burden," added Meagan.
This is the quote they now live by.
"This quote can be seen on every 1990s school motivational poster," said Meagan. "But the true credit must be given to Glennon Doyle, who's book "Untamed" brought the quote to life for our family."
In mid-November, Masey returned to the hospital for an inpatient stay to start cycle 2.
"Masey had so much more energy this time around," wrote Meagan. "The poor nursing staff who has to put up with her poop jokes now. It feels good to see her smile, laugh, and interact with some of the staff that she remembers."
The chemo medications were administered and then another round of medications was started.
"One of the medications requires 12 hours of urine monitoring," explained Meagan in her journal. "Once we passed that threshold we would be cleared to go home."
Meagan added that a new chest x-ray showed that, "The chemo is working to decrease the tumor. Masey's heart has shifted back into almost a normal position. LOTS more work to do, but the fact that chemo is making an impact is fantastic!"
Masey's team of doctors also consulted with Gabe and Meagan about harvesting stem cells.
"Although Masey's PPB protocol doesn't call for a harvest, many other childhood cancers do," explained Meagan. "The rareness of her cancer may mean that they don't know of a protocol yet that would make it beneficial. It was recommended to us by our team to do that harvest and we agreed."
A stem cell harvest was planned before the start of cycle three.
"It required us to administer a shot of medication daily at home for 10-ish days and close blood monitoring," said Meagan. "Once her blood counts hit the perfect number, we immediately go to the hospital. The harvest process is like donating platelets with the American Red Cross. The stem cells are frozen and kept in a bank for future use."
During cycle two, there were more aches, pains, exhaustion, and vomiting.
"There were some restless nights and Masey's low appetite remained consistent, but her bouts of energy with her sister and brother are so refreshing," added Meagan.
For 10 days, Megan and Gabe administered a medication to boost Masey's white blood cell count, specifically stem cells.
"Giving your kid a shot at home for 10 days, that's hard to do," added Meagan. "We're glad that process is over. A few days later, Masey's white blood cell counts were right on track so the medical team started collecting her stem cells."
It was a lengthy process that was extended a few extra hours while the nurses tried to get the intravenous line in, but Masey made it through and her stem cells were harvested.
Just before Thanksgiving, Masey was back at the hospital for cycle two, week three of chemotherapy, dressing change, labs, and another computer tomography scan. A few days later, she was scheduled to have the hickman replaced with another device so that there is a smaller chance of needing to have an intravenous line placed and a magnetic resonance imaging scan to make sure the cancer hadn't spread to her brain.
"We push through and continue to handle the hard things through your support," Meagan wrote in her journal.
Masey's magnetic resonance imaging scan came back clear.
"No signs of cancer in Masey's brain," announced Meagan. "The medical team weren't concerned that there was, but what a relief to have scans confirm it. Also, the stem cell collection went amazing. They collected enough to freeze two samples to keep on ice until we need it."
On December 3rd, Masey was back in the hospital to start cycle three of the chemotherapy treatments.
"Hopefully only for 48 hours again, but we'll let the medical team work their magic and give us the sendoff when she's ready," wrote Meagan. "Masey has swings of acting like a kid, to laying on the couch all day. It's hard to know hour by hour how she will feel."
Things went as well as can be expected and Masey was cleared to go home.
Gabe and Meagan learned that cycle three does not have chemotherapy medications administered during weeks two and three.
"YAY!" cheered Meagan. "We're home (hopefully) until December 28 when cycle four will begin."
When cycle four starts, the medical team will discuss when is the most appropriate time to remove the tumor in Masey's chest.
"There's no doubt that it will be an intense surgery involving multiple organs and we're hoping the chemo will keep shrinking the tumor as much as it can," said Meagan. "We know that the tumor will stop shrinking sometime soon and surgery can be expected to occur anytime in the next few months."
While at home before the holidays, Masey was on GCSF, aka superhero medicine.
"This time I don't have to give her a shot every day," said Meagan. "Thank goodness. I can give the medication through her central line, a relief for sure."
"We're keeping positive vibes that we don't spike a fever and being home for three weeks feels too good to be true, especially around the holidays. Our friends and families are keeping the positive, hopeful thoughts at the front of our minds and we are hoping they hold true. As always, the vibes and energy are felt by all of us. Thank you, MaseyMooseMob. We.can.do.hard.things."
Part One of this article was published in the December 31, 2020, issue of the Post Messenger Recorder and may be read by clicking on this link: https://www.postmessengerrecorder.com/story/2020/12/31/community/we-can-do-hard-things/10399.html.