Rebecca Meek wears zebra stripes, not as a fashion statement but as symbol of her battle.
A fundraiser is being held in efforts to raise money to assist the Meek family with Rebecca's medical bills.
Tickets will be sold for $10 a piece at La Bella Capelli Salon at 3094 Whiskey Road, Todd's Convenience Store at 1181 Sand Bar Ferry Road in Beech Island, First Citizens Bank at 19031 Atomic Road in Jackson, Padgett Truck Bodies and Equipment at 2026 Jefferson Davis Hwy. in Graniteville and Nania at 1404 Whiskey Road in Aiken,.
First prize is a Ruger 10/22 donated by Hooties, second prize is a 20-quart YETI Cooler donated by Tyler Brothers and third prize is a $50 Visa gift card.
For more information, contact James or Vicki Gaskins at 803-645-5790 or 803-645-8875.
The 19-year-old Beech Island native spent many years with vague, painfully disruptive symptoms with no answers. But in November, Meek was finally diagnosed with carcinoid syndrome, an extremely rare form of cancer that causes tumors that release too much of the hormone serotonin and other chemicals that cause dilation of blood vessels. Rather than chemotherapy, surgery to remove the tumors is required to fight the disease.
Although almost every disease has an awareness color, carcinoid syndrome is a pattern, and the zebra print was chosen. Not all hoofbeats belong to horses but sometimes zebras, and doctors are taught to read between the lines when it comes to the symptoms of this cancer.
The summer before starting her freshman year of high school, Meek found herself getting flushed and red. She felt a tingling sensation in her face and her arms would get splotchy.
She figured she was just nervous about starting high school, but, as time passed, those symptoms only worsened. Her doctor agreed, saying that she was probably suffering from a little anxiety.
She then tried out for the girls' softball team, and the coach called her mother, Kim, because Meek almost passed out during practice. Meek said she felt weak and frustrated on the first day of conditioning because she didn't feel as capable as the other girls trying out.
“I thought it was something I was putting on myself, that maybe I could control it,” Meek said.
Meek then found herself waking up each morning suffering from some sort of attack as she felt as if her body was filled with pressure. Her fingertips turned purple and sometimes, she would vomit.
Doctors continued to diagnose her with anxiety. Meek eventually went to an allergist and even a psychologist in efforts to find an answer to what her body was doing.
Finally, in November, Meek was at University Hospital when she had one of her “attacks” in front of a doctor. A medical student working with the doctor had an idea of what was going on after witnessing the symptoms, and several tests were run.
Meek received a call and went back to the doctor the following Monday to discuss her results. She was told that her serotonin levels were off the charts.
More testing found that her liver was completely covered with tumors.
Meek reflected on the day that she found out that she had cancer. She remembered walking down the hall and seeing motivational posters about beating the disease. She recalls thinking, “I don't have cancer. I don't belong here.”
But the doctor informed her that she had stage four cancer. Meek said she sat there for a moment but didn't cry.
Her mother Kim said she thinks they were just relieved to know what was wrong, which meant now they could work toward fixing it.
“God gave us a peace there,” Meek said. “We were really happy to know what it was.”
Surgery and recovery
Meek had surgery on Jan. 23 at Vanderbilt University Hospital in Tennessee.
Surgeons removed 25 centimeters of her small intestines, and 65 percent of her liver and gallbladder. They were able to remove about 90 percent of the tumors, Meek said.
Meek said she tried her best to stay upbeat while in the hospital, and Kim said her daughter never cried once. Meek was in intensive care for nine days.
The remaining tumors will be monitored, and Meek will continue to get shots that are about $8,000 a piece to help stop the symptoms, as well as shrink the tumors.
There's also hope that her liver grows healthy cells.
Doctors have told Meek that it typically takes five to seven years to diagnose carcinoid syndrome, and the symptoms are vague.
Most cases start in the small intestines, and 50 percent of those cases are metastatic. Almost 90 percent of cases are misdiagnosed, often as irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn's disease.
About 12,000 people are diagnosed with carcinoid syndrome each year, and approximately 114,000 are currently living with the disease.
Meek said she made it as far as she has thanks to prayer, the support of loved ones and the doctors who have helped her get to where she is today.
If anyone has any kind of vague symptoms, Meek's advice is to stay vigilant and aware of what their body is trying to tell them. And, she added, a good attitude during such an ordeal is key.
“Definitely stay positive,” Meek said. “I know everybody says that, but it still hasn't set in that I have cancer. But just stay positive and pray. The main thing that I would always pray for was calmness and peace because you don't know what's really going on so that's all you can ask for.”
For more information, visit www.carcinoid.org. Donations can be made to the Rebecca Meek Cancer Fund at any First Citizens Bank or can be mailed to P.O. Box 1976, Clearwater, SC 29822. For more information, call Kim Meek at 803-507-7709.
Amy Banton is the County reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the publication since May 2010. She is a native of Rustburg, Va. and a graduate of Randolph-Macon Woman's College.