Resource officer returns to school after cancer treatment

December 26, 2018

NEWBURYPORT, Mass. (AP) — Bresnahan Elementary School students are back to asking the only person they trust to peel open their bananas and yogurt lids during their lunch period: Officer Megan Tierney.

After 10 months of treatment for Stage 2 triple negative invasive ductile breast cancer, Tierney returned to the Newburyport Police Department as the school resource officer Thursday, Dec. 13. She said she hit the ground running and things are business as usual, which she thanked the community for a lot of support.

“I think being in the schools, becoming the school resource officer wasn’t something that I set my professional goals on ever, but once it became an opportunity I just decided to take it, because I didn’t know where it would lead,” Tierney said. “Fortunately, it dovetailed nicely into the support I needed later that I just didn’t realize I was going to need.”

Earlier this year, Tierney, 33, detected a small lump in her left breast after Dude, her blind puppy, jumped on her chest. Soon after, she and her husband were speaking with their doctor, hoping to have a child. After monitoring the lump that had not gone away, Tierney was diagnosed with the aggressive breast cancer Feb. 1, she said.

After returning to work last week, she said she’s been spending a lot of time introducing herself to new faces.

“I keep telling everyone that it’s great for my own head space to be healthy enough to be back, so that’s encouraging, because there’s so many ways you can look at it and say I’m not feeling 100 percent,” Tierney admitted. “It’s more like glass half full and know that you’re healthy enough to be back. It’s a blessing.”

Four weeks after her diagnosis, she began treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. She received 12 weeks of chemotherapy before preparing for her bilateral mastectomy, which she underwent July 31 at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“The summer was rough,” Tierney said candidly. “We finished chemo and there’s a certain window they have to give you so your body can sort of heal and repair, because they’re stopping all of the rapidly dividing cells in your body. Your body needs to be resilient on its own so you can get through surgery successfully.”

The rehabilitation was a long process, said Tierney, who admitted it took a couple of months before she was feeling like herself again. She turned to local organizations including the North of Boston Cancer Resource and Tough Warrior Princess.

Following surgery, Tierney underwent radiation at MGH’s Danvers location for five weeks. Although the appointment is only eight minutes, Tierney said she traveled to MGH every day, where she made friends with the technicians. From there, she built back up skin deterioration and muscle strength through participating in yoga and warm water exercises with the YWCA’s Encore Program.

Today, Tierney is still undergoing “at home” chemotherapy with an oral prescription she takes twice a day. She continues to feel fatigued, but said a positive mental outlook keeps her on track in addition to her family and friends. Another sign of progress she’s embraced is that her short, dark cut as her hair grows back in.

“My hair looks like a Lego piece that I just snap on in the morning, like the next time I’ll get a blonde ponytail and we’ll click that one on or a construction worker hat,” Tierney said with a laugh.

Triple negative is the most aggressive form of breast cancer for women under age 40 and there’s a high fatality rate within the first five years, said Tierney, who added that everything she’s done until this point puts her at an 80 percent range for survival.

“The way she explained it was that triple negative cancers tend to have a smoldering effect, so if you think of a fire and you don’t put it completely out, it can reignite,” Tierney said. “That’s sort of what the home chemo will help to take care of if there’s anything else. It sort of snuffs it out completely and we can move onto bigger and better things.”

While she was undergoing treatment, Tierney said fellow officers would stop by each school in the district to maintain the presence of a school officer for students, who she said were ecstatic about her return. Tierney has already run into familiar faces and is back in old habits of helping younger students during lunch.

Looking back, she said she was glad to share her story, especially with her students, because it solidified a bond with people she otherwise might not have been connected with.

“I know that not everyone can share their story, but for me it was more beneficial to share it,” she said. “They kind of know that I’ve gone through something and that everyone has troubles; they’re all a little different and some wear them openly and some don’t, but we’re all human and it’s just about being happy and getting through life.”


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Information from: The Daily News of Newburyport (Mass.), http://www.newburyportnews.com

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