Megan's Oncology StoryJun 6, 2019
Childhood Cancer Survivor Dedicates her Career to Helping Others Fighting Similar Battles
Megan Hamerdinger, licensed clinical social worker at Long-Term Oncology Follow Up Clinic, former pediatric oncology patient
Most 5–year-olds don’t have much to worry about besides how much longer they can play before bedtime and whether they’ll make new friends on their first day of kindergarten. For Megan Hamerdinger, however, a diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia meant she had more important matters to overcome. At such a young age, the now 26-year-old had to worry about treatment plans, making up schoolwork, and fighting for the bright future most children dream of.
Megan was treated at the Palm Beach Children’s Hospital by Dr. Narayana Gowda, a pediatric hematologist and oncologist. Spread out over the course of five years, her treatment regimen included chemotherapy in the form of pills and injections delivered through an implantable port under the skin near her right collar bone.
“Undergoing medical exams and doctors’ appointments has always been my ‘normal’ life,” shares Megan. “I’m thankful that my mom was so strong during that time, especially as a single mother, because the whole ordeal could have been much scarier if I didn’t have her.”
After treatment, Megan went into remission and completed middle school and high school while performing competitively as a ballerina. When the time came to choose a college major, she recalled her years of cancer treatment and felt inspired to pursue a career in the healthcare field.
“Nursing school was my original plan, but I always say the universe has a way of placing you where you belong,” recalls Megan. “I ended up missing the deadline application for nursing school due to unexpected circumstances, which led me to social work.”
While enrolled at Florida Atlantic University, she decided to do an internship with the Pediatric Oncology Support Team (P.O.S.T.) at the Palm Beach Children’s Hospital. During this time, Megan learned that the hospital planned to open a long-term oncology follow-up clinic, a survivor resource program for children who completed cancer therapy 2+ years ago.
Once she graduated, Megan joined the clinic full-time as a licensed clinical social worker. In her role, she works to provide emotional support for childhood cancer survivors, assessing them for anxiety, depression and similar conditions.
“The most rewarding part of my career is that I get to help patients who went through or are currently experiencing the same struggles I did for years,” says Megan. “They don’t always know what questions to ask or if something is ‘normal’ or treatment related. I’ve dedicated myself to not only helping to ease those concerns, but to also encouraging them to advocate for themselves.”
Although Megan experiences some late treatment effects herself, she doesn’t let it interfere with her everyday life. In addition to still doing ballet, she completed a half-marathon earlier this year and is currently training for another. It’s Megan’s mission, as well as the entire team at the long-term oncology follow-up clinic, to help survivors cross their own finish line and pursue their dreams.