When Morgan went to her senior prom, she and her date were chosen as best dressed. It’s not surprising: she was wearing the dress her father, Howard, had chosen especially for her, a stylishly beautiful gown with a flared skirt and lavender accents. Her date looked stylish, too, in his matching lavender vest. The dress was expensive, and at first Morgan’s mother, Pati, had balked at buying it. But Howard won the day. “After all,” he said, “we almost didn’t have our girl to buy a dress for.”
Nowadays Morgan is a college student at Marymount University in Virginia, planning on a career as a pediatrician, pursuing a dual-degree program in fashion merchandising and biology. She’s a beautiful girl with a radiant smile, a ready enthusiasm for life, and a flair for fashion that shows—like at the prom—in the colorful outfits she coordinates for herself and her family. She had been an active high school student, playing lacrosse and field hockey, serving on the cheerleading squad and on the Principal’s Advisory Executive Board, when she began to feel ill. At first doctors thought she had the flu, but when a weekend of rest brought no improvement, her pediatrician became alarmed and directed Morgan’s parents to take her to the local ER. The conclusion there was swift: Morgan would need to be taken immediately to Johns Hopkins Hospital.
“We have a motto in our family,” Pati says. “When you have trouble in life, you give yourself 24 hours to cry, and do whatever you need to do. But then you work it out, because tomorrow is going to come whether you want it to or not.”
At Hopkins, Morgan was admitted directly to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. She was dangerously ill, and spent a week in the PICU as the doctors worked furiously to discover what was wrong. Night and day Howard stayed at her side while Pati went back and forth from the hospital, taking care of things at home. Meanwhile the extended family, which remains close, gathered around. Morgan’s older brother was in Tennessee, but her aunt flew in from Ohio. Morgan, who had recently taken a course in health, had an intuition she might have cancer. Still the diagnosis of Hodgkins Lymphoma, Stage III-B, came as a shock. Pati remembers hearing the word cancer and little after that. But soon the family was back in action, doing whatever they could to ensure Morgan’s recovery.
“It is what it is,” Morgan told her doctors. “Whatever I have to do to get better, let’s just do it.”
Morgan would require chemotherapy followed by radiation. The treatment plan took her through Halloween to Thanksgiving and into the winter. Meanwhile Morgan showed the kind of determination and positive thinking that, Pati says, were crucial in helping her get through it. “I was so proud of her. She never thought about herself. She always thought about somebody else.” Morgan remembers seeing another family in the hospital coping with cancer. “You’re going to be okay,” she told them. “You have to believe it.” At Christmas, she insisted on decorating the tree in the outpatient clinic. Anytime she could bring a smile to another child’s face, she was happy.
Cancer, Morgan says, changed her. Her parents lament that she lost a bit of her childhood to the illness, but Morgan sees a positive side. “I didn’t enjoy cancer,” she explains, “but I enjoyed the outlook I got from it.” Having cancer, she says, made her more conscious of what other people were going through. Recently she met a girl who had lost her hair. “I like your bald head,” Morgan told her. “You should show people what you’ve got.” And then, when the girl responded with a smile, Morgan added, “You have a nice smile, too.”
Morgan’s last day of radiation came in January. She was able to go back to school in time to graduate with her class—and attend that senior prom. Meanwhile she’s continued with her determination to help others by becoming a patient ambassador and a spokesperson for Optimist International in their campaign to raise funds for Johns Hopkins Pediatric Oncology Research. Having cancer, Morgan says, is like dancing in the rain. “Most people usually run away from rain. . .but you have to learn to dance in it. When you dance in the rain, it makes everything better, because after that a rainbow appears.”