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Filkins battles cancer with family, God

At 21, Megan Filkins has been through more than most people.

Three years ago after graduating from Ironton High School with a promising future, she was making plans to go to The Ohio State University in Columbus to study medicine.

Filkins discovered a place on her leg and went to the doctor, who later removed it. Her father was with her. Everything went well.

Two weeks later, she went back for a follow-up visit. This time she was alone when the doctor told her the news.

She had a melanoma on her lower left leg in a lymph node.

“At first, I was just in complete and total shock because you don’t expect to hear that when you’re an 18-year-old girl who doesn’t feel sick and doesn’t look sick,” Filkins said. “The first thought that crossed my mind was that I’m going to die.”

Her first round of surgery came soon after her diagnosis.

After the surgery, she had her first round of chemotherapy.

For the next four weeks, her parents — Michael and Debbie — would drive her to Columbus every day for treatments.

“I was tired all the time, probably not pleasant to be around, ” Filkins said. “I slept all the time. Once that was over and I was in school, I was basically back to my normal life.”

Since then all of her tests have come back with good results until last May. She began having headaches and felt sick. She had another series of tests.

“The blood tests and chest x-rays then came back OK,” Filkins said.

Her sickness continued for a few more days and her parents took her to the emergency room in Columbus.

This time, she underwent a CAT scan and a tumor showed up in her brain. Next, an MRI revealed 13 to 20 tumors. Doctors were surprised.

Normally, the cancer goes through the lungs first, she said.

“That’s why I think they were really shocked because all my chest x-rays and CT scans came back clear and they aren’t really sure how it bypassed by lungs and went to my brain,” Filkins said.

After a 10 1/2-hour surgery, doctors removed two large tumors and left the small tumors.

More than 50 people were in the waiting room with her family when she had the surgery on her brain — her family, friends and church family.

She has had full-brain radiation and has chemotherapy treatments scheduled for the next year.

During the radiation treatments, she had 21 doses of chemotherapy. Now, she has the therapy five days each month for one year.

Another MRI showed that all the tumors are still there, but they haven’t grown and they are the size of a ballpoint pin tip.

Filkins volunteers at James Cancer Hospital in Columbus where she took her first chemotherapy treatments three years ago.

She talks a lot to the patients because she’s “been where they are.”

“I have a lot of friends there,” Filkins said. “I know what it’s like to be scared and be there for the first time, so I do a lot of talking.”

A lot of the nurses she has had also are cancer survivors.

When not studying or volunteering, she likes hanging out with friends, shopping, watching movies and Ohio State football.

She said her illness has changed her a lot in relationships with friends, family and God.

“All my family were really close before this, but this has brought us even closer,” Filkins said. “A lot of things have changed.”

Her brother, Michael, was a freshman when she was first diagnosed.

“We grew up a lot,” she said. “We know we can’t take each other for granted.”

She is working with others to start a Relay for Life in Ironton, a fundraiser for cancer.

“They’ve been so good to me and we know there’s a lot of interest in the town because we’ve talked to so many people and businesses,” Filkins said. “So many people have been affected, we think we can have a lot of support with it.”

Filkins is a member of Sharon Baptist Church in Ironton. The family is very strong in their faith, she said.

“I don’t know how people can do this without God in their life,” she said tearfully. “I’m not giving up.”

She will complete her nursing degree next year at Bohecker College in Westerville with a new field of interest — oncology.