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From fears of death to dreams of glory for Miss NH

Sunday News Correspondent

May 05. 2012 9:35PM
Miss New Hampshire Megan Lyman, center, had fun making muffins with her mother, Liz Lyman, left, and her grandmother, Rachel Allen, at the family's Gilford home on Thursday. (DAN SEUFERT)

GILFORD - In her 21 years, Megan Lyman has been a rising dance star, a Broadway show-stopper, and an honors student at Gilford High School.

But she has also been a Stage 4 cancer patient who, in her mid-teens, lost all hope of dancing at her own school prom or living long enough to graduate.

So when she was crowned Miss New Hampshire on April 28, she was overjoyed, speechless, and all smiles. And quite humble.

Unlike many pageant winners, she didn't cry as she donned the Miss America-level sash over her shoulder - the same shoulder that bears a circular scar from the operation that saved her life at age 15.

'Of course I hoped to win, but I wasn't thinking about it,' said Lyman, who credits her family and Christian faith for her strength and composure. 'I just hoped. I believe everything happens for a reason.'

Miss New Hampshire 2012 entered the contest as Miss Lakes Region.

She comes from a long line of Lymans in Gilford who are known and loved for bringing sled-dog racing to Laconia 83 years ago, establishing the Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby.

Though she was a sled-dog driver as a child, at age 4 she fell in love with dancing, especially tap-dancing. When she was 8 she joined Broadway North in Belmont, the dance studio of 1998 Miss New Hampshire Heidi Noyes-Bourgeois. There, she also trained with Emily Hughes, Miss New Hampshire 2006.

She learned river dance at age 9 after seeing professional river dancer Aaron Tolson, then of Manchester. But tap was still her love, and at 12, she hit the big time, tap-dancing her way onto a Broadway stage show called 'Half Time.'

Photo gallery: Miss NH pageant.

But later that year, she was under a different spotlight. Medical tests showed she had soft-tissue sarcoma, a cancerous malignant tumor of the muscles attached to the bones. It's a rare disease that affects mostly older men, but it occurs in children, as well. Lyman's condition was advanced.

'All of a sudden, the doctor's telling me my tests came back bad, and they really couldn't give me much hope,' she said.

She spent about half of each of the next three years in Boston hospitals for care and treatment. Her only treatment option was surgery to remove the cancerous tissue that was extending down her right arm. Doctors operated six times but still were not optimistic.

At 14, she was losing hope and was becoming so depressed that 'I was out of it most of the time. I thought I was going to die.'

But at her lowest point of depression, something special happened. One of her Red Sox heroes, catcher Jason Varitek, came to visit her in the hospital.

'I was a huge fan of his,' she said. 'The minute I saw him, I started feeling better, and then he started encouraging me, telling me I had to get back to my life in dancing, how important it was for me to get back to school.'

Soon after Varitek's visit, she got more good news. The doctors operated a seventh time, and, when she woke up, they were smiling.

'I was really surprised. This time they're telling me, 'We think we got all of it,'' she said.

She went back to become an honor student in Gilford and graduated with scholarships that paid for most of her tuition at New England College in Henniker, where she just finished her junior year as an education major.

On a platform of inspiration for cancer patients, she was runner-up in two Miss Teen New Hampshire contests and then won the third time.

Likewise, before winning this year, she was runner-up twice in the Miss New Hampshire Pageant. This year, she changed her platform to promoting the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which had granted her wish when she was ill, building her a dance studio in the attic of her family's home.

After she was crowned that Saturday night, she went back to Gilford with a $7,000 fur coat, a $30,000 gold Miss New Hampshire bracelet, a $10,000 budget for her Miss America wardrobe, and a $14,000 scholarship that will pay off almost all of her student loans.

Her immediate goal now, of course, is to be Miss America. She will travel to Las Vegas for the contest in early 2013 in hopes of becoming the first Miss America from New Hampshire.

'What more could I ask for than the privilege to win this for our wonderful state?' she said.

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