The path Miranda Mead walked the past nine months was littered with obstacles, massive challenges in the form of a tumor, radiation and chemotherapy.
Just as she was emerging as a breakthrough member of Wayzata High School’s high-achieving girls cross country team as a sophomore, excruciating back pain and leg weakness sapped her energy and messed with her times.
The results of an MRI on Nov. 25, two days after Miranda celebrated her 16th birthday, indicated more than a simple back issue. What initially was believed to be a slipped or herniated disc instead was a diagnosis of Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of cancer that grows in bones or soft tissue and can develop anywhere in the body. Miranda’s cancer took up residence in her sacral region.
She and her parents went straight to the Cancer and Blood Disorders Clinic on the Minneapolis campus of Children’s Minnesota, where Miranda began grueling treatment. She received chemotherapy, medication used to kill cancer cells throughout the body along with radiation. Patients with Ewing’s sarcoma sometimes require surgery as part of treatment, but this wasn’t an option for Miranda because her tumor was not resectable.
After the first round of chemo, she was pain-free and slowly getting back to “normal Miranda.”
Approximately 200 kids and adolescents are diagnosed annually in the U.S. with Ewing’s sarcoma.
“This could have been any other kid,” Miranda said. “I wondered, ‘Why me?’ ”
She wrestled with the desire to live the life of an ordinary teen and the charge of the fight she faced to show the world that cancer, like running records, can be crushed.
The competition migrated from cross country and track meets, soccer fields and school to the hospital. Treatment for Ewing’s sarcoma typically takes close to 10 months. Miranda completed hers in seven months. In order to receive chemo, blood counts need to recover between cycles. It’s common for cancer patients to experience delays between treatments due to low blood counts. Miranda’s treatment was delayed just twice for a total of four days.
“Miranda showed remarkable strength and determination during her entire course of treatment,” Nancy McAllister, MD, Miranda’s pediatric oncologist, said. “Her positive attitude and grit helped her tolerate treatment better than many.”
Those who know Miranda aren’t surprised by her sprint through treatment.
“A lot of people I hear call cancer the beast, but we call Miranda the beast,” Miranda’s mom, Julie Mead, said. “She has been a trooper. She never gave up.”
Today, and as of June 21, Miranda enjoys a cancer-free existence and serves as a spokesperson for The Truth 365, an organization that provides education about childhood cancer. She also has taken an interest in Children’s Adolescent and Young Adult Program and will continue to advise the medical staff in learning how to meet the needs of this unique age group.
“She will be a fantastic advisor to our group, because she has recently completed treatment and truly understands how difficult cancer treatment is, and can help identify ways to help support our patients,” Dr. McAllister said.
On Saturday, Miranda will attend Children’s Minnesota’s third annual Shine Bright Bash, a golden night to support the cancer and blood disorders program.
As she gets older, Miranda wants to make a difference in the childhood cancer community, whether it’s to continue as an inspiration for people or help find a cure. After college, she would like to pursue a career as an oncologist or nurse, or work with radiation.
Miranda has started to rebuild the muscles affected by cancer and the subsequent treatment. Once she’s able, she hopes to return to soccer, which she plays recreationally outside of school.
“She makes you want to coach harder because she’s so determined and wants to win at everything she does,” said Chris Bisanz, Miranda’s longtime youth soccer coach.
And, of course, Miranda wants to rejoin cross country and track, too.
“If we can get her back doing what she loves, physically as an athlete, we would all feel so happy,” said Addy Hallen, Wayzata assistant girls cross country coach.
Miranda’s goal for her junior cross country season: Run one race. A year ago, that would have been far too low a bar, but now it would mean everything.
“I missed running, smelling the fresh air and having a choice in my life,” Miranda said. “I took running and being in shape for granted.”
In the future, no matter what path she takes and obstacles may form, Miranda will run — not walk — through it.
Jimmy Bellamy is the social media specialist at Children’s Minnesota.