Kathy Morgan says she always knew she would get cancer. “My father was diagnosed with cancer, and his mother, my grandmother, died of cancer. A number of my dad’s brothers and sisters did, too. I never saw anyone survive a diagnosis. I always knew that that was going to be it, because there was so much of it in our family—a ton, just a ton—and you always went to funerals. It was just in the back of my mind,” she explains.
In 1998, eight years after her father passed away from bladder cancer, Kathy received the diagnosis she always knew was coming—she had invasive ductal carcinoma in her breast. The news came immediately before a planned three-week trip to Hawaii with her husband for their 25th wedding anniversary. “And the one thing that helped me through it so much,” Kathy says, “was the fact that I had gone to a Tony Robbins seminar right before I was leaving. He was talking about when you are somewhere, BE THERE. You become what you focus on. And I thought, ‘I don’t want to focus on this cancer… I want to enjoy Hawaii.’ So we went and had a fabulous time.”
While on the trip, Kathy saw a display of the culture of different Polynesian islands, and mentioned to her husband that she would love to visit Tahiti. “The outfits were gorgeous, the music was awesome, and I said, ‘Oh, I’d love to go,’ she says, tearing up. “My husband said, ‘When you turn 50,’ which was going to be like six years later, ‘I’ll take you to Tahiti.’
“So I was determined to survive it… to break the family legacy,” Kathy continues. She returned home and had a lumpectomy to remove the tumor, followed by six months of chemotherapy, 35 radiation treatments, five years of Tamoxifen, and five years of Femara. It was during her first year of treatment, not knowing what her outcome would be or if she would survive, that Kathy experienced her first Relay for Life. The event would change the course of her future forever.
The first thing she noticed at the event was the luminary bags lit up in the middle of the track field. “There were a couple thousand of them,” she says, “and I thought it was for all the dead people, because I had never seen anybody survive. But when I walked up, I saw that there were more that said ‘In honor of…’ than ‘In memory of….’ That was such a gift that was given to me.”
She continues, “You know, what chemo does to people… I don’t think anyone can understand that the fatigue is just indescribable. And I kept seeing the word ‘hope’ written everywhere, and I thought, ‘What does hope mean? Like, hope you live? Hope you don’t suffer? Hope you go quick?’ And I remember getting in a survivor lap, where they get all the survivors together, and there were hundreds of them… and everybody had a sign with how many years they survived. Mine was 9 months, but I turned around, and I saw children with five-year signs, and teenagers with 10-year signs, and adults with 20 and 30 years. And that’s when I knew what hope was.”
From that point on, Susan knew she had to give back to the organization that had given her hope. In 2001, she helped form and became team captain of Captain Morgan’s Cancer Crusaders. The group’s original goal was to raise $5,000 their first year. Instead, they raised $7,500. Six years later, in 2007, the Crusaders became the top-grossing fundraising team at the Relay for Life. “It’s incredible,” Kathy muses. The group raises their money mainly through throwing parties, dances, and organizing trips. “We don’t cook. We don’t bake. I’m sure there’s a lot of talent on our team, but we’re pretty good at that party part of it,” she laughs.
To date, Captain Morgan’s Crusaders has raised an astonishing 1.2 million dollars for Relay for Life. Kathy herself has served as co-chair of Lancaster’s Relay event, as division chair for Pennsylvania, and as a member of the national advisory team. She is a Reach to Recovery volunteer, mentoring women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2011, she was presented with the American Cancer Society’s Sword of Hope Award.
When she turned 50, Kathy’s husband made good on his promise to take her to Tahiti. And now, 21 years after her initial diagnosis, Kathy continues to relish the opportunity to give hope to those who receive the grim diagnosis of cancer. “It’s such a difference between my dad’s generation and mine,” she says, “they didn’t have the opportunity to survive. Somebody raised funds in order to do the research that allowed me to live. So, it’s an honor and a duty for me to pay that forward for the next generation—for people I’ll never meet— because someone did it for me.”