Community Support Sustains Smithfield Sophomore’s Cancer Recovery

By Kendra Gravelle

For its annual Lenten Supper held last month, the members of St. Philip Church chose to rally around “Meghan’s Mission” a fundraising campaign to support one young Smithfield resident, as she recovers following a courageous battle with cancer.

Meghan Kiernan was 15-years-old last May, when she noticed a ping-pong-ball-size mass on her neck.

“The surgeon did the biopsy on May 2,” said Colleen Kiernan, Meghan’s mother, “and within a matter of hours, life just sort of flipped upside down.”

Meghan was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Over the next several months, Meghan would undergo four cycles of chemotherapy, 11 radiation treatments and four surgeries, before being declared cancer-free last fall.

“It’s been difficult,” Colleen said, adding the loss of Meghan’s hair was especially tough.

Still, despite the hand she was dealt, Meghan never lost hope.

“She’s just such a positive young woman,” Colleen said, “and has managed to maintain this attitude of, ‘I’m going to be fine.’”

“She’s really lifted us up,” she continued, “when we’ve been at our lowest.”

And while her determination to maintain a positive attitude kept her family’s spirits high, Meghan added it was essential to getting her through the trying year.

“I know if I didn’t,” she said, “it would have made it 100 times worse.”

On the first day of the school year, as she was finishing up chemotherapy and about to begin radiation treatment, Meghan returned to Smithfield High School with the rest of the Class of 2019.

“She’s an exceptional teenage girl,” her mother said. “She’s just remarkable.”

Until her diagnosis, Meghan was on the junior varsity high school tennis team, enjoyed softball, soccer and took dance lessons.

“Our goal now is to get her back into that, little-by-little,” Colleen said.

Meghan began taking tennis lessons at Rally Point Racquet Club in February, in hopes of regaining enough strength to rejoin the tennis team next year.

And while others have offered to lend her a hand, Meghan has been doing her part to help others who may find themselves in her position. In fact, she recently finished a seven-week fundraising campaign to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS)—Meghan had been chosen as one of eight candidates for LLS Student of the Year.

“I don’t think people understand it until they actually go through it,” Meghan said. “I want to help the children who are younger than me, or the same age as me, or older than me to know that they’re going to get through it—it’s going to be a long ride, but it’s going to be worth it in the end, because they’re going to be fine.”

Between the eight students, nearly $100,000 was raised during the fundraising campaign.

As for Meghan’s efforts, she held a vendor fair at the Village at Waterman Lake, at which she sold donated gifts from 16 vendors. Both Rally Point Racquet Club and I Love Kickboxing in Smithfield raised funds to support her cause, as well.

And as she nears the end of her sophomore year, Meghan’s future plans are undetermined—she would either like to study to become a veterinarian or to be a child psychologist.

“I just hope she has a long, happy, healthy life,” Colleen said of her daughter’s future. “She’s my hero. She’s an inspiration to me every single day, and if I had half of the strength she has, I would consider myself blessed.”

After learning of Meghan’s diagnosis last year, members of St. Philip Church decided this year’s Lenten Supper would benefit Meghan and would be dubbed Meghan’s Mission Lenten Supper.

“They basically just said, ‘the decision’s been made, this is what we want to do for you,’” said Colleen, whose family has been attending St. Philip for around 40 years.

Vinny Mattera, a member of the St. Philip Men’s Club, said the church and its men’s club strive to provide help to those in the community who need it.

“And we don’t care whether the person is Catholic or belongs to the parish,” he added.

The money raised through the fundraiser and in the coming weeks will go into a trust fund for Meghan to cover future medical bills, first and education expenses, second.

Through it all, Meghan has always had the support of her family, including her older brother Shawn, and the members of St. Philip.

“[The support] has been overwhelming, in a good way,” Meghan said, “because I wasn’t expecting everything to happen—I wasn’t expecting to be diagnosed and I wasn’t expecting the church and the whole community to support me through this whole thing.”

Meghan’s mother echoed those sentiments.

“It’s so humbling and it’s so overwhelming that the people around us are doing so much for my daughter and my family,” Colleen said. “The outpouring since May 2, when we finally started to let people know what’s going on with her—you just don’t know how good people are and how much they care. It’s just incredible.”

“I’ve said it before,” she continued, “the words ‘thank you’ are just not big enough.”

To support Meghan’s continuing recovery, you can make a tax-deductible donation by check to Meghan’s Mission c/o St. Philip Church, 622 Putnam Pike, Greenville, RI 02828 with “Meghan’s Mission” in the memo line.