AYA Week Reflections

As AYA Cancer Awareness Week draws closer, I am reflective on how much the AYA cancer community means to me. I recall how for two years after treatment, I didn’t even know this community existed and how today, I can’t imagine my life without it.

During my treatment in 2013, I didn’t want any part of the AYA cancer community because I didn’t want to be labeled as the girl with cancer. I did not want to be the youngest cancer patient in the radiation waiting room, or to be told yet again that treatment would be easy because I was young (by the way, it wasn’t), or to become more familiar with insurance deductibles and FMLA than someone twice my age. I just wanted my pre-cancer life back. I wanted to go on dates, to go to the state fair without the worry of being immunocompromised in a large crowd, and to be able to eat whatever I wanted without getting sick.

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I first met a fellow AYA cancer survivor two years after my treatment and it changed my life. I was no longer alone. Someone finally understood me. I had a community and I felt like I belonged for the first time in a long time. Alongside other AYA cancer patients and survivors, I was able to process what I had just gone through and I gained knowledge about what survivorship should look like. This growth gave me a sense of purpose as an AYA cancer survivor that I needed.

Today, I am a seven-year AYA cervical cancer survivor. I share my story with a lot less fear than I did five years ago because I want people to see that I am what an AYA cancer survivor looks like. I want people to know that a cancer diagnosis in your 20’s and 30’s is difficult to navigate, not only during treatment but as a survivor. I also share my story with medical professionals so that they can better understand the unique needs of the AYA cancer community. And I mentor AYA cancer patients and survivors, so they don’t feel the loneliness that I felt during and after treatment. No one should go through cancer alone.

I’ve watched the AYA cancer community grow since 2015 from a few scattered voices to one loud collective voice. This community’s advocacy and momentum has generated much needed attention and change that will impact not only our lives, but the lives of future AYA cancer patients and survivors. During AYA Cancer Awareness Week, we deserve to recognize and celebrate our community’s accomplishments.

Emily Hoffman is a seven-year cervical cancer survivor who was diagnosed with stage 2B cervical cancer at age 30. After cancer, Emily didn’t realize she even had an advocacy voice until she attended her first Cervivor School in 2016. Today, she is a patient advocate and active Cervivor Ambassador who shares her cancer story to raise awareness for ending cervical cancer and to educate others on the importance of cervical cancer screenings and prevention. Emily is the recipient of the 2020 Cervivor Spark Award. She is currently pursuing her certification to become a cancer registrar.

My Social Work Story

Morgan and her closest friends during a “night out.”

My social work story began in 2014 with a decision to go back to school. Little did I know, I was to be diagnosed with cervical cancer during my second semester. The diagnosis disrupted my life and turned it upside down. I was your typical “social” 24-year-old who loved going out with her best friends; a young professional working full-time as a dental assistant; and an ambitious nontraditional student attending school full-time.

Looking back, I really don’t know how I managed it all but in reality, I think it’s what kept me going.  I had something to look forward to in the future and helping people was my reward. Unfortunately, my cancer story didn’t end there. Nearly a year after my initial diagnosis, I was given a second cancer diagnosis. This time it was metastatic recurrent cervical cancer in my lungs. Even though the chemo was heavier and my body was impacted more, I did not quit.

Morgan cuddled up to her dog, Sassy, after a long day of classes.

I finished my treatments and graduated with my Associates in Liberal Arts just two weeks shy of entering the bachelor’s program at the University of Iowa School of Social work. I was terrified that I wasn’t going to be able to retain the information, but I proved myself wrong rather quickly. In the program, we were trained rigorously. We dove deep into the biopsychosocial aspects of humans. We were required to have a deeper knowledge in cultural competence and were faced to see our own implicit biases. After, we would process through as a cohort to understand why and have the opportunity to learn from each other.

Morgan posing with Herky on the University of Iowa Campus in Iowa City, IA.

After two years of a fast-paced program, I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Social Work. Then I immediately entered the Master’s program with the University of Iowa School of Social Work. When I started the program, I had the passion to be a medical oncology social worker. I wanted the opportunity to work with cancer patients and their families. I wanted to give back after getting through my own experience, however, after being in a macro-level program, it shifted my mindset on how I could still work with the population of my choice while advocating and creating change in the cancer community.

            It’s no secret that I fell in love with advocacy and what it is on a day-to-day basis. You see, I found Cervivor and attended a Cervivor School in the summer of 2017. I learned how to use my voice as a patient advocate and it only amplified as I became an educated social worker. It led me to becoming the 2018 Cervivor Champion Award Recipient, the 2019 Advocate of the Year for the Iowa American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and the 2020 Advocate of the Year for Above and Beyond Cancer.

After accepting the Cervivor Champion Award at the 2018 Cervivor School in Cape Copd, MA.
Volunteers with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network during the Iowa Day at the Hill event in 2019.
Dr. Richard Deming and Morgan filming the award segment for Above and Beyond Cancer in 2020.

My love for advocacy, cancer prevention, and macro-level social work falls right into place within the nonprofit world. We know nonprofits are vital to communities and often help build resiliency skills, raise awareness to specific issues, and make change happen. Social workers are a common thread amongst nonprofits and are community-based professionals. We assess the needs of the communities we serve, identify existing barriers, and develop sustainable programs or resources.

As I am stepping into the Community Engagement Liaison role for the organization, I look forward to serving our community. I intend to emphasize the importance of the word community and what it means to us as a whole. To listen to the needs of our community and bring support, resources, and programming to fulfill those needs. And last, but certainly not least, to continue raising awareness about our greater mission: “Ending cervical cancer is within our reach.”

Morgan is a metastatic cervical cancer survivor, Cervivor Ambassador, and a 3x award winning patient advocate. She lives in Iowa and is currently in the last two months of finishing her Masters in Social Work with the University of Iowa. She continues to advocate tirelessly in hopes her story can help others.