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February 7, 2013

Standing strong

Athens Intermediate’s Morrison marks five years free of cancer

Athens —

Thursday, Jan. 24, marked a major milestone for the principal of Athens Intermediate School. It was her fifth anniversary of being cancer-free.

The center of a celebration by students and teachers, alike, involved Ginger Morrison, who has been with Athens Independent School District for 20 years, first as a teacher, followed by other positions.  She is now the principal.

“My faculty and students wore pink in my honor that day,” she said. “They had lunch for me, and later gathered in the gym to celebrate my return. It makes me a little nervous when 500 students can keep a secret from me. But it was a nice surprise to walk in  and see them walking down the halls and into the cafeteria wearing pink in my honor.”

Morrison suffered through the experience of breast cancer. Even as she had to undergo the tough treatments, the biggest thing that helped emotionally over the long run was having hope.

“Kids came up to me and said they had a grandmother, aunt or someone else in their family who had had it. This time it was a way of offering hope to them,” she said.

Morrison said that when a person receives information that they have cancer taking over their body, it is “devastating news.”  At the time she was diagnosed, she was a 38-year-old wife and mom with six children.

Morrison said her husband, Michael — known by most around town as “Mo” — was probably more devastated than she was. He said he felt helpless, in that he wanted to take it away, but could not.

“My children came through it OK. They shared their struggles at school during the luncheon,” she said. “Their thoughts had been the ‘what-ifs,’ too. What’s going to happen?”

Again, hope is one of the big answers in Morrison’s mind.

“I want to be that light of hope for anyone going through this. Hope is what is needed to get through the struggle.”

“I felt good when I got back and noticed that the children had a little more hope that day. We, the survivors, forget to get that message out there. You want to know someone survives, because you so often hear all the horror stories about it.”

Morrison recalled that the faculty had gathered in the intermediate school gym five years ago when she was diagnosed, but before her surgery. She was out ill and unable to attend that day.

“When I returned, there was a banner on my wall in pink,” she said. “That’s why I wanted another celebration after five years. It was a celebration picture for me.”

Morrison had six “difficult” chemotherapy treatments the first six months and lost her hair in the process.

“It was draining of energy,” she said. “About the time you felt good, it was time for another one. After that (first six months), they couldn’t find anything.”

Morrison was happy about all the support she received during this difficult time.

“This faculty was so supportive,” she said. “They have been just the most amazing people to work with.”

Mr. Morrison said his wife is the “most wonderful woman in the world.” 

“I was the scaredest I have ever been in my entire life.  It was, for me, a total loss of control. I was lost,” said Mr. Morrison, who is vice president of operations at Cole Air Conditioning in Athens. “She never missed a beat, and it was tough.”

He complimented his wife for working on her master’s degree even as she was having chemo treatments and surgeries.

“She’s my hero. No question.  I wish I could deal with things only half as good as she can,” he said. “She really knows how to take it in stride. She simply put it on her list of things to do.  And then she did it.”

Deidre Pool, librarian at South Athens Elementary, Bel Air Elementary and Athens Intermediate School, said Mrs. Morrison is her “best friend.”

“We met about 20 years ago, and started as partner teachers.  We went to college together at UT-Tyler and now live across from each other,” Pool said.

Pool said she and the people she knew from AISD were “all devastated” when they first heard about the cancer.

“If anybody could go through it, and make it look better, she could. She was as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside.  She is the strongest person I know,” Pool said.

Then came the day when Pool and her colleagues and students learned that the problems with the cancer were becoming a thing of the past.

“I was absolutely thrilled,” Pool said. “I remember the day she came back to school without her wig on. That’s the first day of true victory that we all felt. And I’ve been celebrating every day after her last bout with chemotherapy.”

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