The cheers must go on

Photo by John Russell

For 6-year-old devoted cheerleader Morgan Rogers, not even a brain tumor and chemotherapy treatments could keep her from performing her routine.

“At some competitions we would take the chemo with us and give it to her. She said she wasn’t missing anything,” said Morgan’s mom, Michelle Rogers.

Morgan started competitive cheerleading at age 3, begging to begin as soon as she could after attending her older sister’s practices in Hendersonville. It’s a high-energy, two-and-half-minute routine full of flips and dancing.

“She absolutely lives for cheerleading,” Michelle said. “She had to take three months off after surgery and couldn’t wait to get back out there.”

Around Christmas in 2013, Morgan had an unexplained fever that shot up really high. Then Michelle noticed one of her eyes was moving inward. Their family eye doctor referred them to a specialist, who thought maybe a virus had caused the fever and damaged her eye. They waited a few weeks to see if it would heal but nothing improved, so Morgan had an MRI and the mass was discovered.

“I had a feeling there was more to this, but it was still such a shock. We didn’t know what was going on and what it could mean. I started Googling, which was not the right thing to do,” Michelle recalled.

At her appointment the next morning with Robert Naftel, M.D., assistant professor of Neurological Surgery, Morgan got her first taste of Children’s Hospital’s patient- and family-centered care.

“Her cheerleading team was headed to Disney World that weekend for a competition and we thought we would have to cancel. But they said it would be good for her to go and have fun,” Michelle said. “I have great pictures from the trip. I captured her face and her smile, knowing what was coming.”

Morgan had a craniotomy, meaning a portion of her skull was removed to access the tumor, but its location in the brain stem made it hard to take out completely. She was diagnosed with pilocytic astrocytoma, which is usually a slow-growing tumor. She just finished a year of chemotherapy treatments, under the direction of Adam Esbenshade, M.D., MSCI, assistant professor of Pediatrics, which shrunk the remaining tumor. Morgan will be monitored with MRIs to make sure it does not grow again.

“Her doctors can’t believe how well she has handled treatment and I think it’s because of cheerleading. (The treatment) can cause neuropathy (nerve damage), but I believe she doesn’t feel as bad because she is staying active and limber. She has a port and is still out there doing flips. She’s an inspiration to us,” Michelle said.

– by Leslie Hill