Beaumont Health pediatric cancer patient Megan Ritz, 20, of Clinton Township, poses during filming of director Keith Famie’s upcoming PBS documentary, “Those on the Front Lines of Cancer.”

Beaumont Health pediatric cancer patient Megan Ritz, 20, of Clinton Township, poses during filming of director Keith Famie’s upcoming PBS documentary, “Those on the Front Lines of Cancer.”

Photo by Liz Debeliso, Beaumont Health


Oakland University student beats brain cancer

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published August 27, 2019

 As part of the Coaches Fighting Cancer fundraiser Aug. 5 at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, Ritz meets retired NBA player Dan Majerle, who played for 14 years professionally.

As part of the Coaches Fighting Cancer fundraiser Aug. 5 at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, Ritz meets retired NBA player Dan Majerle, who played for 14 years professionally.

Photo by Liz Debeliso, Beaumont Health

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Megan Ritz remembers when her hair fell out. She told herself it wasn’t permanent.

Ritz, 20, of Clinton Township, is currently a pre-med student at Oakland University. But she wasn’t always the quintessential college student on campus, going to class and going home to her studies or hobbies.

After graduating from Lake Shore High School in 2017, she decided to pursue her dream of studying medicine. Her interest was piqued by a high school course, and she aimed for cardiothoracic procedures or neurosurgery.

But her plans to help others through the Doctors Without Borders program were delayed. She didn’t realize it until Mother’s Day 2017.

“I was dancing around the house to a song, and I started to show the symptoms of vertigo,” Ritz said.

 

A long two years
Vertigo was just a temporary part of her life, Ritz thought.

Months passed and issues continued. By December 2017, when she tried to refill her prescription to combat the vertigo, she was told that a person in her age bracket shouldn’t be experiencing the ailment for such a lengthy period.

She was believed to have a heart echo, and was sent to an ear, nose and throat specialist and a neurologist. The ENT said she tested positive for vestibular migraines that cause dizziness or vertigo, but it wasn’t a strong signal.

The neurologist, however, found a brain tumor. Ritz was told the day after it was discovered. As her freshman year of college was almost complete, she pushed off surgery. Two months later, the tumor was diagnosed as cancerous.

“Everything kind of went really quickly,” she recalled. “I had not even thought about cancer being a possibility before.”

Chemotherapy treatments and radiation therapy occurred at rapid rates, lasting for weeks on end.

“I didn’t really have time to think about it,” she said of enduring  around five months of treatment.

After initially being told her treatments would likely be done by December 2018, she was later told she required further sessions.

Ritz became worried, not just about her brain cancer but also about her status as a college student. She felt she was missing the opportunity to “be a normal 20-year-old girl” with the same life opportunities as others. To her, receiving a good education was everything.

“This was not the way it was supposed to end for me,” said Ritz, a member of OU’s Honors College. “I tell everyone I got the short end of the stick. Out of all people, I was the one this was happening to. Out of everyone, why me?”

 

Numerous surgeries and a guiding hand
Ritz had six surgeries in the span of about one year. Brain surgeries were conducted first, and a medical port was inserted into her chest cavity.

In an uncommon turn of events, the port — which is accessed for chemo treatments and blood draws — somehow did a 180 inside her chest. Manually flipping it around did not work.

She suffered the traditional effects of chemo, which began in June 2018. Side effects remained limited at first, although a new regimen in September of that same year took more of a physical toll on her. She became nauseated and exhausted.

That port was removed in early August of this year. Doctors told her there was “NED,” or no evidence of disease. She remembers opening the Beaumont Health app on her phone, where test results were readily available.

Ritz was cancer free.

As she put it, she “tamed the beast.”

“I cried. After going through chemo and pretty much everything for the past 16 months, it just kind of makes you — it’s a very rewarding moment for you,” she said.

Her mother and aunt shed tears of joy. Her father and brother were excited for the next stage in life. Family and friends came from as far as South Carolina to celebrate a “No More Chemo” party in metro Detroit.

But there’s one person Ritz said “changed my life completely.” That woman was Janis Traynor, a full-time educational liaison at Beaumont Children’s Hospital.

At first, Ritz had no idea who Traynor was or what she did. Traynor said she could aid Ritz by configuring her school-based activities and requirements. When Ritz explained her worries about college, their relationship blossomed.

Traynor would reach out to Ritz’s on-campus housing administrator about financial deposits; she would cancel classes that Ritz had already taken online at Macomb Community College; she talked to the president of the Honors College to keep Ritz’s standing as a high-achieving student; and rather than lose her scholarships and grants, Traynor helped Ritz maintain them.

Ritz, who admitted she does not possess a great mathematical mind, had to take a statistics final in an accelerated course. It was a rough semester, she said.

She took the test right after one of her surgeries, when she was uncomfortable and sore. After Ritz failed to achieve a grade to which she had aspired, Traynor talked to her professor in an effort to let Ritz retake the final. The wish was granted, and a happier Ritz later took the exam and got a better grade.

“(Traynor) had done things for me most people wouldn’t even think of,” Ritz said, referring to her as “a positive light in a time of negativity.”

 

Finding the light
Now Ritz is between her sophomore and junior years at OU, at least creditwise. She lives in a first-floor unit in a complex on campus in Rochester.

Her newest semester was slated to begin Aug. 27. She hopes to graduate during the 2021-22 school year and then study at OU’s medical school.

During a two-year period of dark times, she learned to find the goodness in life. She maintained her youthful vigor through comedy. Laughing and joking helped save her.

“I found myself feeling down and not exactly in a positive state,” she recalled. “But I had to keep telling myself there are people who have it worse.”

She came out the other side with an appreciation for life she maybe had not had previously.

And amid the emotional struggles and treatments and the fears of missing out on her education, Ritz was confident that things would get better. She knew her hair would grow back. She knew others had bigger struggles in life.

She seemed to always return to this sentiment: “Even on the darkest of days, the cloudiest of days, the sun will always shine and always rise.”

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