Megan Gibson lobbied in Washington for childhood cancer funding, raised over $1,000 making and selling goodies for a young cancer victim, and rallied people to donate blood. She also quietly took out the garbage for a busy neighbor. Those things are commendable on their own, but she did them while her own son, JP, battled cancer, entered remission, and recently relapsed.
If you follow the Utah Jazz, you may remember JP. He has loved shooting hoops since he was a toddler and during this first bout with cancer, he signed a one-day contract with his favorite NBA Team. Before his diagnosis, he was part of lesser-known family: Josh, Megan, his sister Elsie and little brother Theo. JP has his own Instagram account about his journey. Megan blogs, writes articles, does interviews with their family, and works tirelessly to improve the outcome for children fighting this thief of carefree childhood.
This story, however, examines how and why a young mother of three, consumed with worry and grief for her own child, could find the time, compassion and energy to reach out to serve in these difficult circumstances. We met for lunch at Kneader’s, attempting to answer that question.
Megan explained she and Josh are fiercely independent and it was difficult for them to be on the receiving end of service. She also realized she could have done more for others previously and vowed that would change. If she saw a need she could fulfill, she would. That’s when she became enamored with taking out garbage cans. It’s her favorite tip for those asking how they can help. Someone took care of their garbage as they spent their days at the hospital, oblivious to garbage days. She pays it forward and calls on neighbors to help those near them. She insists the secret to service is figuring out what you can do and simply doing it. She also believes if you deny others the chance to serve, you deny them blessings.
Megan explains her passion for children’s cancer research in a recent social media post. (She has been posting daily entries about their cancer journey in honor of childhood cancer month.)
“When JP was first diagnosed with cancer, we assumed we’d have access to the best of the best, most advanced treatment options out there. I mean, these are KIDS with CANCER, aren’t they put first in our society?? That’s what everyone assumes but you might be surprised to learn it’s not the case. Every single drug JP had in his first battle was developed before 1970 for adults. In the last 30 years, only 3 drugs have been developed specifically for pediatric cancer.”
Once she knew this, she said she couldn’t NOT do something. Megan works for an airline, so she and Josh went to Washington to lobby for more research funding. Even though their efforts won’t help JP directly in his battle, they could make a difference for other children and their families. She realizes the efforts of those before her have helped JP.
As we order lunch, we see a display of blue elephant cookies and other merchandise to help fund children’s cancer research. As Megan purchased cookies for her children, she noted that Joshua Schiffman, a doctor/researcher at Huntsman Cancer Institute, is studying elephants’ DNA. He believes unlocking the animal’s DNA secret could give new hope to cancer victims. See video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThRRIVSH7wk Kneader’s donates 100% of the funds from sales of these items to the project. This is a simple way to help children with cancer.
How is Megan? As a coworker of hers would answer, “Better than most, but not as good as some.” Megan believes that’s true, but laughingly admits many may take comfort that they are not in her shoes. Here are a few recent irons in her fire: She hosted a wedding for friends, looking for drink dispensers while she waited for JP’s numbers at the hospital. She spent $100 in groceries and five days cooking, raising $1,000 for someone else’s daughter with cancer. When that girl died, Megan encouraged people who could to help them with funeral costs and even volunteered to collect money. Elsie started kindergarten. Theo fell off a bench requiring a trip to the doctor because of his bleeding disorder. A remodeling project with a deadline was put on hold when JP relapsed, so she was looking to hire some help. She encouraged people to donate blood and then post on social media. She collected donations for the silent auction and put a team together for the annual CureSearch Walk, which falls on JP’s 8th birthday. Their team will end their walk by waving to him from the parking garage outside his hospital room. http://www.curesearchevents.org/site/TR/CureSearchSuperheroesUnite/CureSearchSuperheroesUnite?team_id=2355&pg=team&fr_id=1481
In all of this, Megan is amazingly upbeat and cheerful. She focuses on her marriage and family and serving others. Warned by a social worker early on that they had a 20% chance of staying married through JP’s cancer, she remembered and made course corrections when necessary to beat the odds. She posted how this gets them through:
“People ask me all the time how we do it. How do we stay positive while we are facing JP’s cancer, then Theo’s severe bleeding disorder, then JP’s relapse? The thing is, we don’t have a choice in our circumstance. It is what it is, and we have to deal with it – so we do – but we deal with it holding hands, together. We are positive people in general, and I think that has more to do with our response to our uncontrollable situation than anything. If you’re always looking for the negative, you will find it. But if you’re looking for sunshine, you can also find that, even in the darkest of days.”
She scrolls to a picture on her phone of Brian Kershisnik’s painting, She Will Find that Which is Lost. She doesn’t have a copy of it yet, but it speaks to her. She says there are angels in heaven and angels who are the people all around you. She points to the picture and says, “This guy is looking over like ‘maybe she needs her garbage taken out this week.’”
She will never forget the night after a long, hard day of chemo, staring in the fridge at 7 p.m. and wondering what in the world to do for dinner. At that moment, a friend came to the door with a pan of enchiladas. She thought about Megan’s family and figured they could freeze them if they didn’t need them right then. Megan insists her friend was an earthly angel that night who met her specific need.
Megan reminds us that families in crisis need the same things as any other family. Ideas for “angels” include texts, bubbles and attention for the other children, gift cards for groceries or take-out or gas, mowing lawns, or a dinner bag with recipes and all the ingredients for a meal. Even toilet paper or paper towels will always be used.
Someone took a page out of the Gibson’s book and showed up to do the flooring on their stalled project. She posted, “Tonight, these beautiful humans helped our family out tremendously by laying the floor in our rental. We were in the middle of the remodel when JP relapsed so everything came to a screeching halt. It’s at the point where we HAVE to finish it and we’re a month behind. What they did in a few hours would have easily taken us DAYS and with JP heading back to the hospital this weekend – we just don’t have the time.”
More angels who knew just what was needed, even though this time it wasn’t taking out the garbage.
Written by Norma Hendrickson