Courtney McGill remains strong and positive even though she has been diagnosed with liver cancer.
Courtney McGill remains strong and positive even though she has been diagnosed with liver cancer. SUBMITTED PHOTO

“At first, I kind of thought my life is falling apart, but then I realized that life is too short to sit around being negative, so I’m trying to stay positive about this,” stated 21-year-old Courtney McGill, of Racine, after she was recently informed by doctors at the Mayo Clinic that she has cancer.

On Dec. 22, while she was working at Rogers and Hollands in Rochester’s Apache Mall, she became short of breath as she was busy going from case to case helping customers. She didn’t really feel sick, but had a hard time breathing, so she called her mother, who took her to Saint Marys Hospital on Dec. 29. The X-rays and multiple tests showed she had stage four intrahepatic bile duct, or liver cancer. 

“That was hard to swallow,” said McGill. “At first, my parents didn’t have to say anything because they were as scared as I was.  My parents told most of my family, and I told my friends.  You could say that they were surprised, scared.  It was hard for me to breathe, and walking long distances; they were just thinking that I was a little out of shape.  They didn’t think the worst.”

Courtney, daughter and only child of Neil and Karman McGill, began treatment as soon as possible, starting on Jan. 8. She finished her third cycle of chemo last week.  There are a total of eight cycles with two treatments in each cycle, or 16 treatments, which are 10 days apart. She has a CT scan scheduled after the fourth cycle for March 7 to see if the chemo has been shrinking the tumor. 

“If it’s shrunk, it may be possible to have it removed — my tumor, being so big and so close to my aorta, has to shrink down to a certain size or move away from my aorta.  If not, I’ll continue with the same chemo,” said McGill. “I have not gotten any information yet, but I can tell that there’s a difference because I can walk further without being out of breath, and I can lay in my side and stomach, and I’m eating bigger portions and have more energy.”

She’s used to being a busy person, so slowing down for cancer has been rather frustrating, but her aim is to be back at work full-time as soon as possible and once again being the person who lends a hand to others. 

“I’m a very outgoing, friendly person who’s always wanting to help others who need it.  I haven’t gotten sick, really, so I do go to work because I have two jobs — one at Rogers and Hollands and another at a restaurant, 300 1st — and I’m taking classes, two of them online, at RCTC to become an administrative assistant.  I keep myself busy so I don’t have to think about the worst,” she said.  “I just started working at Rogers and Hollands in November, and it was my first full-time job.  Both jobs are very part-time right now, so that’s a big change for me.  I’d like to go back to having another full-time job…I want to go back to being full-time.” 

Her days are disrupted by doctor’s appointments, however, and she’s glad that her parents have been able to take off work so they are available to be with her at the clinic whenever necessary.  She can’t drive after chemo, so she has to have somebody to drive her home. 

“We’re all still scared, so they keep us positive.  Otherwise, I’m doing pretty good,” she said.

She’s like for this year to not be all about having cancer, as she described herself as being a very active person.  She enjoys spending time with friends and family as well as shopping, fishing, bonfires, camping, tubing on the river, really anything outdoors in the summertime.

She’s also certainly grateful to be a McGill. 

“I’m an only child, but being a McGill, I have so many cousins in Spring Valley, so much extended family,” she said.  “My cousin Kari has been a huge part of all of this, and I want to thank her and everyone else for their support.  I hope that people keep me in everybody’s prayers.  Cancer…life’s too short to be down about it.  I’m still here and I’ve got to keep positive.” 

The McGill clan has stepped up and planned a benefit to help the family with expenses while they’re shuttling to and from Courtney’s appointments and coping with the very unexpected diagnosis.  Courtney admitted that she’s slightly nervous about the event because of her immune system being fragile, but she’s otherwise looking forward to seeing family and friends who will come together this weekend, Saturday, March 3, at the Rochester Eagles’ Club for a beanbag tournament, live and silent auction, bake sale and sloppy joes from noon until 6 p.m. 

Cousin Josh McGill is in charge of the beanbag tournament at 507-259-9912, and cousin Angie McGill, 507-421-9174, is overseeing the auction item donations with help from Mary Moen, 507-421-8430, and Jill Riess, at 507-990-4758.  The Rochester Eagles’ Club is located at 917 15th Ave. SE, Rochester, and there is also bingo held there as a separate event by the Eagles from noon until 3 p.m., and a live band is slated to play in the club ballroom for anyone who wishes to remain after Courtney’s benefit. 

Additionally, a GoFundMe page has been set up, as has an account at Home Federal Savings Bank in Spring Valley.