Sarah Hayes, a 2011 Eastern Michigan University alumnus, did a lot of fundraising for needy families during her matriculation at the university, but she never imagined she would be raising money in hopes to save her own sister’s life as she battles Stage 4 Hodgkins Lymphoma cancer.
“It’s my sister. I cannot live a day without her,” Sarah said. “It’s just simply not an option. What’s the other end of it? She dies? I don’t accept that. I don’t have any cousins or anything like that. She is it.”
“It’s destroyed and tampered her young adulthood,” Sarah said. “Cancer is who she’s becoming. She’s trying to fight that obviously but it’s taking over her. Cancer is what she’s becoming. In these five years, she’s never been in remission. The cancer is always alive or growing.”
Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a cancer of lymph tissue found in the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, bone marrow and other
Sarah’s sister, Margaret Hayes, was diagnosed with cancer June 8, 2007 at the age of 18.
Sarah said she vividly remembers the day when she knew something was wrong with her sister.
“She was at my apartment and it was really late at night and we were watching a movie,” Sarah said. “She turned from me and all of a sudden from her shoulders to her neck, it swelled huge. She could barely move her arms. We went to the doctor and they said she just pulled a muscle. We went to a couple of different doctors and they all kept saying she pulled a muscle.”
Often, the first sign of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a swollen lymph node, which appears without a known cause.
Sarah said her family implored the doctors to run more tests to make sure nothing was seriously wrong with Margaret.
“Finally, a doctor had did a scan and realized that cancer had pushed free of an overlaying muscle and it wasn’t knots, it was tumors they felt popping through her muscles,” she said. “This happened around the New Year and it took almost six months for a doctor to listen to her when she said she didn’t pull a muscle and run a scan.”
Sarah said when her mother, Debbie, called to confirm that it was cancer, she was overwhelmed with fear and blacked out.
“I was at my student job and I dropped the phone and literally fell over and I don’t remember anything,” Sarah said. “My friends said I was absolutely hysterical. As an older sibling, you’re the one who takes on the younger one. You’re the protector. I feel completely helpless. There’s nothing I can do except spread her story and make people aware. This is the only thing I can do. I can’t take the chemo for her. As an older sibling, it completely strips you and it’s debilitating.”
Upon finding out the diagnosis, Margaret began her first round of chemotherapy July 3, 2007 at the University of Michigan Hospital. There was no time for the family to process the devastating information.
“Since my sister’s cancer was immediately diagnosed at Stage 4, we couldn’t wait,” Sarah said.
All together, Margaret has had two rounds of chemotherapy, radiation treatments, two experimental drugs and a bone marrow transplant from her own stem cells—none of the treatments worked, making Margaret’s situation rare.
“The bone marrow transplant was extremely scary,” Sarah said. “There were days she wasn’t coherent at all. It does work for quite a few people, but it did not work for my sister. She even had a seizure one time.”
The toll it has taken on the family is unimaginable, Sarah said.
“It’s extremely hard,” she said. “You can imagine how I feel as an older sibling but for my mother, it’s ungodly painful. She doesn’t sleep… She’s always there.”
“One of the hardest times was when I drove up north when my sister was getting her head shaved and fitted for her wig. They wanted her to wash her hair beforehand. Her hair was matting and it was already starting to fall out in clumps. She was bawling and I had to keep it together because if I panicked she would panic more.”
In addition to the emotional burden, the costs of Margaret’s treatments has ballooned into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“For the bone marrow transplant, just my mom’s copay was $100,000,” Sarah said. “And that’s just one treatment, she’s had multiple others. The medications run about $5,000 to $8,000 a month. It’s absolutely phenomenal. It’s bankrupting my family even though we have insurance. It’s like get healthy and die poor or just die. Those are your options.”
To help cover costs and despite her sickness, Margaret works two jobs, seven days a week—one at Citizens Bank and another at a local restaurant waiting tables.
“She’s very upbeat and never tells anyone how she’s feeling,” Sarah said. “To the regular person she looks fine, but she is terribly ill. The bills are out of control. The money we’re raising is to cover the full costs for the seventh treatment because there is no money to do it and insurance doesn’t cover.”
The Arizona treatment facility, Envita, has a high success rate with cancer patients. The projected costs total between $38,000 and $40,000 for Margaret’s treatment.
While in Arizona, Margaret—who is now 23— would undergo physical therapy, mental therapy and drug treatments.
“Their theory is you can’t just treat one thing and not the other things, it’s a full-body battle,” Sarah said. “They’re really optimistic. Part of the reason it’s not covered by insurance is because they’re using treatments from around the world and she has international doctors and they take her cancer from every angle.”
The website used to gather funds, gofundme.com/MargaretsMission, went live March 31 and so far, Sarah has raised $15,320 toward the $45,000 goal. Any remaining monies gathered will go toward paying outstanding debt related to medical expenses.
Individuals interested in donating can pay directly through debit or credit cards and even through checks. The website is secure and the money goes directly into an account set up for Margaret.
Although 5,890 unique visitors have looked at the site, only 156 people have donated.
“I just want people to know that they can make a difference,” Sarah said. “Everyone has their own personal battles but don’t think you can’t help someone else. This has always been my philosophy and part of the reason why I did that huge drive at Eastern. Everyone is struggling. We might as well be struggling and helping each other out together.”
“Frankly we’re running out of options,” Sarah said. “This is one of two that are left and if she doesn’t get them it’s done. It’s just a waiting game.”
For more information about Margaret’s fight against cancer, visit:
Facebook: To Be Cancer Free http://www.facebook.com/MargaretsMission