Friday, December 13, 2013
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Damon Haggan, 18, of Belgrade was diagnosed with terminal mesothelioma in May. He plans to marry his girlfriend of two years in November.
Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans
Damon Haggan, 18, of Belgrade has been diagnosed with stage 4 mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that affects the lining of the internal organs. Mesothelioma is rare, occurring in one of 100,000 people.
His medical care is covered by insurance, but his family is struggling to pay associated costs, such as the unpaid time off for travel to medical centers in Boston. He is also seeking support for his wedding, planned for November.
The family asks donors to send contributions to the Damon Haggan Cancer Fund at TD Bank, or to donate online at www.gofundme.com/damon-haggan-mesothelioma.
“My Looney Tunes bike,” he said, with a rare smile.
“Then he went onto a rock and broke his elbow, and we wound up in the hospital and all that,” Nalley said, with the kind of head-shaking smile common to mothers of high-octane boys. “He was definitely one that had no fear.”
It didn’t take Haggan long to graduate from bicycles to motor-powered vehicles. A few years later, Haggan said, he got one of the best Christmas presents of his life.
“Back when we were living in the trailer, great-grampa gave me his old ‘87 Arctic Cat Jag snowmobile,” he said. “I beat the heck out of that thing. I love speed.”
But now, the stakes have never been higher, and the outcome has never looked more bleak.
A grim prognosis
Doctors have told Haggan that he will live for three months without chemotherapy and 10 months with it.
Haggan is openly defiant of the prognosis.
“I got ’til I decide I want to go. No one puts a number on me,” he said.
It’s what he told the doctor, too.
“It ain’t gonna happen,” he said. “I mean, I do have it, yeah I do. But it ain’t gonna stop me. I’m just gonna keep doing what I love to do until the day I die.”
Haggan points out that the lifespan predictions used by doctors are based on the averages of all those who come down with that form of cancer.
Since most of the roughly 4,500 sufferers of mesothelioma get it when they’re older — four out of five are diagnosed when they’re at least 65 — Haggan reasons that he’s likely to outlive the doctor’s predictions.
And Haggan is not just young, but fit and active.
He explains the uncertainty of the prediction, aptly enough, using a car metaphor.
“It’s like trying to say, OK, my car is going to break down tomorrow. Well, it doesn’t break down for three, four, five, six months, or years,” he said.
Before the diagnosis, Haggan was determined to put his adventurous inclinations to good use. When he was a kid, he wanted to be a police officer. As he grew older, he said, the Army began to take on an extra appeal.
“I could say, ‘Hey, I’m actually brave enough to stand up for my country and the freedom that we have. You’ve got a lot of other people that sit home and are lazy and smoke pot or drink their lives away,” he said.
For now, Haggan is trying to live as normal a life as possible, even though he can’t run a half-mile, do pushups or lift more than 10 pounds at a time. Because of the illness, he has had a pulmonary embolism on each side of his body, he said, which has caused him to lose the use of the bottom third of each lung.
On Monday morning, he was rushed to St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston for emergency surgery because of bleeding in his lungs. Doctors installed a filter to stop the blood clots from reaching his heart, but have been unable to install a port for chemotherapy because blood clots are forming elsewhere in his body. Haggan was released from the hospital on Monday evening and returned home.
In addition to his recreational pursuits and medical appointments, Haggan is trying to cram a life’s worth of achievements and aspirations into however much time he has left.
He is still a teenager, but he is urgently trying to establish a family, a future and a legacy.
His first order of business was to ask his girlfriend of two years, Keshia Fournier, to marry him. The two are planning a wedding for Nov. 9, and Haggan said he’s put careful consideration into his outfit, mostly camouflage.
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