XENIA — Sitting in a wheelchair on the track at Doug Adams Stadium, Morgan Claude looked over at her 4-year-old brother.
She smiled and her face lit up.
“I do this for Liam,” Claude said in a soft voice, mustering just enough energy to finish the sentence.
That’s probably an odd thing to hear from a 16-year-old high school cheerleader who was on the sideline for her first game Aug. 30 as Xenia took on the Troy Trojans.
But Claude’s situation is far from normal. She’s battling a rare form of liver cancer called fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma or FHCC for short. Diagnosed last year, the disease is more common in younger adults and affects just one in 5,000,000 people. To put in perspective, take the population of parts of Butler and Warren counties along with Clinton, Preble, Montgomery, Greene, Darke, Miami, Clark, Champaign, Logan, Mercer and Auglaize counties, multiply it by five and out of all the people, the odds are only one person has FHCC.
Claude has been in and out of Children’s Hospital more times than she cares to remember. She has a feeding tube, can only drink liquids and has given up on the chemo pills because they make her too sick to function.
But she’s still fighting.
“I want to see him grow up,” Claude said of little Liam.
Infusion chemotherapy has given Claude more time with Liam and the rest of her family. But like a good cheerleader — and we’ll get back to that — Claude is aware of the score.
“(Morgan) knows,” mother, Lisa Bowen said. “The doctors are giving a poor prognosis. They’ve pretty much exhausted everything they can do.”
Without the infusion treatment, the expectancy was three to six months. With it, nobody really knows.
“It should have grown out of control,” Bowen said. “She should have already been gone.”
But Claude is still with us. Her family thinks its divine intervention.
“Something refreshed her spirit,” Bowen said. “Something refreshed her faith. We believe it’s her faith in God.”
“God,” she said. “I trust in him. I’ve had visions and stuff. I pray every day. I believe I can keep going with him. I trust God and my support.”
Despite the sunny-side up attitude, Bowen believes a few weeks ago Claude was ready to stop fighting.
“She was just in so much pain,” Bowen said. “She didn’t necessarily say anything. You could just tell in her body language.” A pain pump was installed and it has made a big difference.
“The pain pump has been a blessing,” Bowen said. “It’s giving us a little more time with her.”
A couple years ago nobody thought this family would be talking about pain pumps and pills.
A 2016 physical alerted doctors that something was off when Claude’s blood platelets were too high. Originally written off as acid reflux, constipation and abdominal pain ensued. Then part of Claude’s stomach began to descend leading to the next step in February 2017 — the cancer diagnosis.
Suddenly Claude’s priorities changed. Instead of getting ready for high school classes and hanging with friends — and all the things teens get to do — she had to worry about just making it to the next day.
The next week.
The next month.
Which brings us back to the cheerleading. Knowing her time could potentially be cut short by FHCC, Claude was determined to make the cheerleading squad, a dream since middle school. Even though she wouldn’t have enough energy to stand on the sidelines and do actual cheers — if she was able to show up at all — cheerleading coach Robin Irvine and the rest of the squad made sure there was a place for Claude.
They even came to Children’s and took a team picture with her when she was hospitalized shortly after being told she made it.
“I like the cheerleading and stuff, being part of a team,” Claude said. “That was my big thing. Being part of a team. I was excited.”
At that point Claude was laser focused on making it to at least one game “because of all the support they’ve been giving me” she said.
She couldn’t attend Xenia’s season-opening win at Beavercreek.
But she was on the sideline for the game against Troy Aug. 31 and she was the center of attention. The game was declared a green out; green is the color for liver cancer awareness. Cheerleaders for both teams wore green T-shirts, Troy and Xenia students were encouraged to wear green and a green balloon launch took place prior to the game.
At halftime, the Troy cheerleaders came over to Claude and gave her a bunch of flowers and took more pictures.
“I’m liking it,” Claude said of the festivities. “I don’t like all the attention, but I like all the support.”
Bowen began to tear up when talking about the outpouring of love and affection for her daughter.
“The community … it seems like everyone is pulling together,” she said. “Everyone is giving her encouragement.”
That — and Liam — are keeping her going.