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For Montgomery County Controller Diane Morgan, becoming a financial donor to Fox Chase Cancer Center was about much more than just writing a check. Diane experienced Fox Chase care first hand when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma at age 39 in 1987.
"The news was devastating," she recalled. Always a dynamo, Diane was married, running her own rehabilitation therapy business and the mother of 2 teen-age daughters. "One of my tennis buddies had died from Hodgkin's, so naturally, I was concerned."
At the age of 39, this busy wife and mother learned she had Hodgkin's lymphoma, stage 3-A.
It all started when she developed a hacking cough that wouldn't go away. Diane noticed a lump on her throat that just didn't feel like a swollen gland. She called on a doctor and family friend, who took a look at her that same day, and advised a course of antibiotics. When nothing changed in 10 days, he ordered a chest x-ray. "Three days later, I was out in the field treating speech pathology clients and went back to my office to do some work. My friend, the doctor, and my husband were waiting for me there. They told me to sit down." The diagnosis: Hodgkin's lymphoma stage 3-A.
Diane turned to another close family friend, who also happened to be her gynecologist. "I had known him since I was 10, so he was family. I said 'Herb, I have cancer, what should I do?' It turned out he knew that my aunt had a nephew on the other side of the family who happened to be an oncologist who was associated with Fox Chase." The biopsied lymph node was sent to 3 different hospitals to assure a consensus diagnosis. All agreed - Diane definitely had Hodgkin's. Dr. Larry Sigman worked closely with medical oncologists at Fox Chase to set up a course of aggressive chemotherapy for Diane in March 1987.
The cancer treatment was customized to her body's needs based on what she could tolerate.
By the second treatment, Diane began experiencing severe side effects. She was admitted to Fox Chase for almost 2 weeks, the first of 4 hospital stays. "I had an allergic reaction to the chemo," she recalled. After a thoracotomy surgery determined that the cancer had not spread to her lungs, she was put on a high dose of steroids that did the trick. Her doctor then customized the treatment to her body's needs based on what she could tolerate.
"The nurses were just amazing. They helped me plan my 40th birthday party.
"During the weeks that I was in the hospital, the nurses were just amazing. They decorated my room for Halloween. They helped me plan my 40th birthday party, which I was hoping to have in February. They really helped keep my spirits up." Her family and friends gave her constant love and support.
By that Christmas, she was finished with chemotherapy and the cancer was gone. "I was very weak. My husband did everything from the shopping to the laundry. My friends made me dinner, put food in my freezer and took the girls overnight so I could rest." After 7 months of physical therapy, Diane regained her strength and returned to the tennis court.
With her normal "can do" attitude, Diane built up and then sold her therapy company, started a small insurance business, and in 2004 she became deeply involved in Citizens for a Better Ambler, an organization that was working to prevent residential housing from being built on a former asbestos site. "I got involved because I didn't want anyone in the community to risk getting cancer by construction or living on the site. I didn't think it would be safe." With lots of hard work, in the spring of 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency added the 36-acre BoRit Asbestos Site to the Superfund National Priorities List (a national list of sites where hazardous contaminants could impact public health and/or the environment).
Once fully recovered and back on her feet, Diane began a political career. She is seeking re-election in 2011.
Working with the group in Ambler gave Diane a taste of life in public service. She is a founding member of the Community Advisory Group that works with the EPA regarding the site. A political career was born in 2007 when she was elected as Montgomery County's first female controller.
"The care, the nurses, the research at Fox Chase - there's no one else like them on earth."
Diane continues to be followed by medical oncologists at Fox Chase, including Dr. Mitchell Smith, director of the lymphoma service. She is forever grateful for the persistence of her doctor, Larry Sigman, who coincidentally passed away from ramifications of the same disease - and to the level of care she received at Fox Chase. "I owe Larry and Fox Chase everything. The care, the nurses, the research at Fox Chase - there's no one else like them on earth."