“Eyebrows are sisters, not twins.”
This is the best advice Morgan Gaynor received when she was in treatment for ovarian cancer. She laughed as she admitted it, acknowledging that it may seem ludicrous considering, but for the 31-year-old woman from Red Bank, New Jersey, it was poignant.
“There’s something about the eyebrows and eyelashes that I felt like were an important part of my face that’s missing,” Morgan said as she spoke about the effects from chemo and her struggles with penciling in her eyebrows and getting frustrated that she looked perpetually ‘surprised.’
She knows it’s lighthearted advice, but it dovetails with the other piece of advice that has been instrumental: it’s important to acknowledge your feelings – as trivial as some may seem – and then move on from them. Morgan has found a place to put these feelings – the ones she wants to keep to herself go in her journal, and the ones she wants to share in order to connect with others go on her blog morganbeatscancer.com.
Morgan studied marketing and finance in college in Philadelphia and has been working for a wealth manager near her home in New Jersey, taking care of the company’s communications efforts. She turned 30, finished her MBA in May of 2019, and was all set to chair the community committee of the Junior League of Monmouth County when she got the shock of a lifetime.
“I was not at a place where I was ready to have children, so I went to a fertility specialist to look into freezing my eggs,” Morgan said as she described how she has always been proactive when it came to staying on top of her annual checkups. In fact, only one month prior, she had her annual gynecological exam and her physical with her PCP, coming away from both with a clean bill of health.
“It was at that first appointment, during the ultrasound, when we saw what she thought were a lot of cysts.”
A few weeks, and an MRI and CT scan later, she discovered that she had stage 4, low grade ovarian cancer.
A surprising response
“The support I received from my community,” Morgan said, “has been really amazing. Sometimes overwhelming, just strangers stopping by and dropping things off and telling me that they’re here for me.” She found meal trains and an offer of housecleaning particularly helpful.
Morgan was quite public about her diagnosis, sharing her story on social media and posting pictures. By using hashtags, she found a community on that forum, following others in the survivor community for inspiration and support.
“Just being able to vent to somebody going through the same thing is really helpful,” Morgan said. “Some friends would say ‘You’re going to be fine! You’ll get through it.’ Sometimes that’s what I needed … and sometimes it really wasn’t.”
What astounded her most was when she did a Facebook fundraiser, on a whim, to celebrate her birthday. “My initial goal was to raise $200,” said Morgan. “I figured if I could get 10 people to donate $20 each, I’d be happy.”
On the first day alone, she had raised $1000. So she kept the fundraiser open another two weeks and raised $10,000. “I shut it down because I saw people donating twice and I didn’t want to over tap my community.”
Following in her footsteps, her cousin and his girlfriend each did a Facebook fundraiser for their birthdays, setting a goal of $1000.
Keeping her head above water
“I definitely had moments where I would get defeated and feel overwhelmed,” Morgan said, referring especially to some decisions she had to make. So in addition to finding solace through social media, she turned to music. Particularly Avril Lavigne’s song “Head Above Water.”
She also played the song “I Hope You Dance,” remembering that it was the song that kept her aunt going 18 years prior when she had been battling breast cancer.
“She is doing great and was always so inspiring,” Morgan said, “so I would play that song and think about her strength and try to emulate it.”
The cruel irony is just as Morgan finished with her treatment and was looking forward to getting back out into life – volunteering with the Junior League, visiting with friends, living each day to the fullest in a way that she had not felt particularly compelled to prior to her diagnosis – she, like everyone else in the world right now, has to stay inside and social distance.
Morgan, we hope you, and everyone else, can get back outside soon. Meantime, keep writing, keep singing, and thank you for being a Facebook fundraiser OCRA Hero!
Want an easy way to be an OCRA Hero? Start your own Facebook Fundraiser for OCRA in just a couple easy clicks. Who knows, you may surprise yourself!