Jackie Nagel’s eyes teared up ever so slightly when recalling the events of that late summer day in 1995.
She has learned to bury those memories deep in the recesses of her mind, but occasionally they return when she sees her daughter Megan on the volleyball court at Seymour High School.
“I guess you think the worst,” Jackie said. “You ask ‘Why is this happening to me?’ and ‘What’s going on?’ “
On that day, 17 years ago, nearly 1-year-old Megan was taken to Appleton Medical Center with pain in her pelvic region. From there, she was flown by helicopter to Children’s Hospital of Milwaukee, where doctors found the cause of the pain: a ruptured tumor and internal bleeding.
“We found out right away after she came out of surgery that it was a malignant tumor and that she had cancer,” Jackie said. “They started treatments right away the next morning and we had wonderful oncologists and doctors and nurses at Children’s in Milwaukee. They kept reassuring us that everything was going to be OK and we kept hoping and praying.
“My husband, Bruce, and I stayed strong and we had support from everybody, but it was very touch-and-go for the first six months she was there.”
Megan, a bright student and team captain for the Thunder, doesn’t remember much about that day but does recall the aftermath.
“I remember I had to go into the MRI and I was crying and telling my mom that I didn’t want to go,” Megan said. “I also remember going to the appointments and a lot of blood was drawn. I kind of got used to that.
“It didn’t really bother me that much. I thought I was just normal. Maybe I was too young to really understand what was happening.”
Megan’s cancer treatments involved chemotherapy, and the her best chance of survival was high doses of the treatment.
“We knew there would be side affects,” Jackie said. “But we also know that her chances of surviving were a lot better than if she would have been on low dose. And she survived. She’s a tough, strong girl.
“We probably lived for the next five years after that always wondering that every time she was sick or not feeling good or have an ache or pain, if the cancer had returned.”
The Nagel family was told of possible side affects of the high doses of chemotherapy and subsequent drugs — leukemia, lung disorders and hearing loss.
“(Megan) did suffer the hearing loss,” Jackie said. “So she is clinically hearing-impaired, but she refuses to wear her hearing aid.”
Said Megan: “I felt out of place and kind of different and didn’t like the feeling. People would always ask ‘What’s in your ear?’ because I wore my hair up all the time. Some people still don’t know that I have hearing loss, but once I got into middle school, they let me take them out and I think that helped me more.”
Megan Nagel shows no ill affects of her chemotherapy treatments in the classroom or on the court. She plays with a bit of swagger and supreme confidence and is one of the Thunder’s top players as a left-side hitter despite being just 5-foot-5.
She’s also a top student with a 3.9 GPA.
While not overly demonstrative on the court, she does lead by example to a youthful Seymour roster that contains few seniors.
“She is a good leader. Kind of a quiet leader, but she’s always been there for the girls and is one of the girls that keeps the team together. She is my captain,” Seymour coach Lyle Trautmann said. “And as far as the player on the court, if you watch her, she’s very consistent. She’s consistent with her passing and consistent with her hitting and serving. She’s aggressive. She’s a fighter.
“I didn’t even know about the (hearing loss) until one day we were at a tournament and Jackie came up said, ‘I just want you to know that if Megan acts like she’s not listening to you, it’s probably because she can’t hear you,’ and that’s when she told me about her hearing loss. But the way Megan plays, I don’t think anybody notices.”
Jackie said that Megan’s early struggles with cancer helped bring the family closer together. The couple has another daughter, Shelby, who attends the University of Minnesota.
“I know it brought Bruce and I a lot closer,” she said. “If I was feeling down, he would be strong and vice versa. When I had to give him some time to be down, I was strong. It definitely made you realize that you can’t take everything for granted and that you have to appreciate your kids for what they are and just enjoy them.”
Megan’s next step is to attend UW-La Crosse and study radiation therapy as her encounters as a child with medical staff left a lasting impression on her.
“I want to give back,” she said. “I remember the nurses and doctors and how they treated me and I want to do the same.”
Jackie was a three-sport athlete for Seymour and helped take her team to the state tournament in volleyball in 1980. Megan’s father was also a top athlete and qualified for the state wrestling tournament during his high school career.
While both Jackie and Bruce wanted Megan to play more than one sport, they respected her decision to concentrate on volleyball while also placing a high focus on academics.
“We accepted that and we are happy with her,” Jackie said. “We keep encouraging her do the right thing and make the right decisions. That’s something that we’ve learned, my husband and I. You don’t take life for granted, and allow your children to do what they want to do as long as they’re happy.”
— Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-1000, ext. 558, or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter@PCRicardo