Young mom learns ‘anyone’ can get cancer
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
If you go
This is one in a series of stories about survivors of cancer provided by Lawrence Memorial Hospital’s Endowment Association. These survivors’ stories and photographs hang in the hallway leading to LMH’s Oncology Center. These stories offer hope to patients being cared for at LMH Oncology and their families.
First came fatigue. Then a rash around her waist. But it wasn’t until her right trapezius — the muscle running down Morgan Miller’s neck and across her shoulder — cramped up and wouldn’t let go that the aspiring medical professional saw a doctor.
“It was like there was a vise on my shoulder — it was awful,” she said. “I’d just been at home and thought maybe I had turned my head the wrong way, you know?”
The doctor sent her to a chiropractor. Then someone pegged pain in her abdomen as acid reflux, and put her on some medicine.
“I just had a bunch of random symptoms,” Miller said. “But then it’s like, all of these symptoms that could’ve been anything, by themselves? When you put them all together, you have cancer.”
Miller had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The diagnosis came May 15, 2009, a few weeks after she felt a swollen lymph node under her left arm and underwent a biopsy at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Her doctor had sent the tissue to the Mayo Clinic for analysis.
Miller, at the time a 24-year-old mother of three boys, simply didn’t know what to think.
“I mean, at 24?” she said now, still somewhat exasperated. “Who gets cancer at 24?”
The answer comes from a boy seated across the table, his face buried in a Kindle Fire.
“Anyone,” 9-year-old Trenton calmly tells his mother, drawing a nod from his twin brother, Derek.
Miller understands, but she still can’t shake how unexpected she found the illness. The young, married, stay-at-home mom was looking forward to going back to school to finish her nursing degree. Then cancer comes along?
Good thing she had received a list of things to do from her LMH oncologist, Dr. Matthew Stein, to keep her occupied: Get a CT scan. Get a PET scan. And have a port put in to accommodate chemotherapy.
She received six rounds spanning 18 weeks, with some sessions more exciting than others — including the time she experienced a somewhat heavy allergic reaction.
“I felt like I had an elephant sitting on my chest,” Miller said. “I was pulling wires off. It freaked me out.”
Even so, she managed to draw strength from that episode and others. She endured the headaches and the pain in her teeth, bones and even hair, only to be more prepared and ready for each successive treatment. Once her hair started to go, Miller got in front of the change and even invited her oldest son, Matthew, to join the twins in helping shave her head.
“Creepy,” Trenton said.
“Not cool,” Derek said.
But successful. Miller reports feeling great these days, and enjoys working as a nurse with a family practice medical group in Lawrence.
“It was scary going through all that, but it made me realize that I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was,” Miller said.