Deciding to have a baby can be a happy – and sometimes scary – time for parents. Worries and questions about finances, the future, and the baby’s health are common. But most parents-to-be don’t have a cancer diagnosis looming over their heads like Abby and Tom Morgan did.
A 32-year-old teacher, Abby says she always wanted children – but that dream met a harsh reality in 2013, when she was diagnosed with metastatic synovial sarcoma during a physical meant to assess her likelihood of getting pregnant.
The Morgans went through a two-week crash course in IVF at Brigham and Women’s Hospital before Abby, then 28, began a year of intense treatment at Dana-Farber: eight rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, and two surgeries. She then went on an oral agent to slow her tumor’s growth – a drug that worked so well it even shrunk one of her tumor spots.
“We weren’t specifically thinking about having children — we had narrowed our focus on just keeping me alive,” Abby says of her first year in treatment. “But once the oral chemo started to work so well, we thought more about the future.”
Although they had talked about children before, deciding whether to go through with it given Abby’s uncertain prognosis presented an ethical and moral challenge.
“As a parent, you always want what’s best for your child, and dealing with cancer is not the best,” Abby says. “I felt like I was forcing them to live with a challenge that other kids don’t have, and how could I ask a child to do that? How could I ask Tom to potentially be a single parent?”
Abby sought guidance from her Dana-Farber psychologist, Karen Fasciano, PsyD, who specializes in treating young adults with cancer and had worked with on disclosing her diagnosis and coping with an unknown future.
“Karen helped me realize that you never raise a child on your own; the support system of family and friends who had stepped up to help me would step up to help us in this, too,” she says.
Once Abby had secured her community’s support of the couple and their baby-to-be, and Tom confirmed his commitment to creating a family, it was on to logistics.
It wouldn’t be safe for Abby to carry; being pregnant would mean being off her treatment for a year – far too much of a risk. So the couple began thinking of surrogates, a conversation that came up with their good friends Crystal and Ben Hutchins, who soon offered to take on the challenge. In November 2015, Crystal learned that she was pregnant.
Throughout the pregnancy, Crystal and Abby stayed close and attended every doctor’s appointment together. The Morgans made weekly visits to Crystal and Ben, parents of two young boys, to make dinner and watch the kids. Meanwhile, Abby and Tom worked on getting used to the idea of being parents. It was something they, like many others, still weren’t entirely prepared for when Crystal’s water broke in late June 2016. Both couples rushed to the hospital to see the birth of a beautiful baby girl.
That moment will forever be etched into their memories.
“We followed the baby into the nursery and we stayed with her the rest of the day – the rest of our lives,” Abby remembers.
Now one year into life as a parent, and still on active treatment, Abby recognizes how important it is for her to have a relationship with her daughter for as long as possible – and the value of creating a legacy and memory her daughter can have for a lifetime.
Each Christmas, Abby creates a photo book for her family, and for her little girl’s first birthday she created a video of her life – in which Abby plays a prominent role.
As for Crystal, Ben, and their children, the families see each other often, with the boys thinking of the baby as a cousin.
“We will always have a great friendship with them – and Crystal clearly has a soft spot for Amelia,” Abby says with a smile.