GASPORT – Battling a rare form of cancer as a young teen, Meghan Redenbach was asked to speak to other children about how she coped with the disease. Always eager to help, she said she couldn’t do it then, but hoped to someday.
She’s doing it now, through a book begun while she was ill and published three years after she lost her courageous fight at age 15.
Family members and friends who helped finish and publish the book invite the public to a book launch from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Terry’s Corners Fire Hall, 7801 Chestnut Ridge Road. All proceeds from the sale of the book go to Meghan’s Fund, which helps bring joy to the lives of children fighting cancer.
“When Meghan was sick, they asked her if she’d talk to other kids with cancer, and she said no, she really didn’t want to do that then, but that maybe someday she would, when this was all behind her and she was better,” her mother, Nancy Redenbach, recalled. “I think maybe that’s why she wanted to write this book, to help other kids when they were struggling.”
The family published the book with help from friend Debbie Holahan, an English teacher with the Royalton-Hartland Central School District. It’s titled “Meghan’s Journey” and subtitled “The Story of Meghan Redenbach: The Teenage Girl Who Showed a Community How to ‘Man Up’ in the Face of Cancer.”
“This book has become a way to reach out and give other people information,” Holahan said. “Meghan’s story is so wonderful, and she is so inspirational. The fact that I could help them with this – and the lessons she taught me – well, I get emotional talking about it.”
The Redenbachs learned that 13-year-old Meghan had a form of ovarian cancer so rare that there were only 30 documented cases in the United States at the time of her diagnosis, and only two of them were children.
The book illustrates the story of Meghan’s busy, fun-loving life, her diagnosis, treatment and untimely death, and also the powerful support of her family, friends and community. Holahan used Meghan’s own writing, supplemented by excerpts from her mother’s journal, and comments from those in the community who knew and loved her and were affected by her life.
“Meghan asked me to help her write this book, and she started while I was tutoring her at home,” Holahan recalled.
Her family had no idea what she was up to.
“I promised her I would finish it for her,” Holahan said. “She thought maybe her story could help other people get strength and get through tough times. A while after Meghan’s passing, I told Nancy and (husband Mike) about it and then worked on it with Nancy once a week for two years.
“The heart of the book is Nancy’s journal. I had heard that Nancy had kept a journal, starting out just by listing medications and such so she wouldn’t forget things because she was so emotionally traumatized. But then she also started to write about the things that were happening.”
In addition, Holahan said, “I started to collect things from other people, too. For example, my husband, Bill, was her varsity coach (and eighth-grade social studies teacher), and he wrote a piece about Meghan’s involvement with volleyball – her love for it.
“As an English teacher, I put together a story arc, and you could see the things Meghan had taught people, her bravery and her need to make everyone around her comfortable and OK while she was dying. It’s indescribable.”
After the loss of Meghan, the Redenbachs modified Meghan’s Fund, which had been an account set up to manage donations while Meghan was ill, to turn it into a charity in her name.
“Meghan’s Fund has given Nancy and Mike a new purpose,” Holahan observed. “They are all about doing for others – that’s their mission.”
“Before she passed, Meghan always told us to take care of the kids,” Nancy Redenbach said.
Meghan’s family, which also includes brother Nick, now 23, and friends have done just that.
They have raised more than $30,000 to fund scholarships at Meghan’s alma mater, Royalton-Hartland High School; they have contributed to Make-A-Wish Foundation and Carly’s Club; and they have purchased countless items, such as iPads, for sick children, gift cards for their parents and even small refrigerators for hospital rooms on Roswell Park Cancer Institute’s pediatric floor.
“Whatever we get, we give out,” Redenbach said. “We keep doing this because we were so appreciative of what these organizations did not only for Meg, but for us, too.”
The Redenbachs have held one fundraiser a year for Meghan’s Fund in the last three years, a classic “Man Up Car Show” during the third week of July at the East Amherst Fire Company.
“We raised $8,500 this year, a little less than previous years, because it really poured that day,” Redenbach said. “We give to these organizations because they were very generous to us, and we know what it’s like to go through something like this.
“We’ve become close with two psychologists on the pediatric floor at Roswell, and they give us a list of what is needed there,” she said. “We’ve donated refrigerators for each room, for example, and this year, they needed a good dishwasher for the floor’s community kitchen. We also bought them a griddle and card table. We also find out who is on the floor and what they need and what they already have, and Mike and I go shopping.
“We’ve given out laptop computers, iPads, iPods and DS 3’s to the kids and gift cards to Tim Hortons to the parents.”
It’s not easy for the couple.
“I always get so sick to my stomach and nervous before we go back to the pediatric floor, but then I always have such a good feeling afterwards, because it’s so rewarding,” Redenbach said.
“We’ve also donated enough money to send a girl to Hawaii with her family through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which was nice because they did that for us. And we can designate that the donations we make to Carly’s Club go to children – Meghan didn’t want it to go to research; she wanted it to go to the kids – and they do wonderful things.
“And we gave away two $1,000 scholarships in Meghan’s name the first year at Roy-Hart and then three the next year,” she added. “This year, we gave six because this was the year Meghan would have graduated.”
Commenting on how her family remains strong while still grieving its enormous loss, Redenbach said, “It’s a very sad thing, but we try to make the best of it.”
The $19.99 book will be sold at Tuesday’s event and is also available at select local retailers and at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com, in paperback and e-book.
For more information, visit www.meghansjourney.com.