It’s Never too Late to Commit – and Recommit – to Hard Places
The symptoms were innocuous at first. Joan’s kindergarten-aged daughter, Morgan, kept getting sick. It was nothing alarming – headaches and fatigue – but it was unusual for a healthy, active child. Joan and her husband, Steven, took their daughter in for tests, thinking perhaps she needed to have her vision corrected, but when the results came back, the young parents were presented with something unfathomable: Morgan had a malignant brain tumor.
The full reality of what they were facing hit Joan hard when she called her father, a neurosurgeon, to tell him the news and she heard the anguish in his voice. What followed were eleven excruciating months of treatment, including a series of brain surgeries. In the end, none of it worked; Joan and Steven lost Morgan, their beloved firstborn child, in November of 1998. Their lives, both personally and professionally, would never be the same again.
Mired in grief, with a young child at home and a new baby on the way, not to mention the demands of her career in accounting, Joan’s plate was more than full, but when her husband brought up the idea of directing their personal philanthropy in a way that would honor their daughter and help others facing similar struggles, she readily agreed. They began with a fundraiser born out of Steven’s photography and art background. The art auction, dubbed ARTMA (Art for Morgan Adams) raised over 100,000 dollars for research into pediatric cancer. Mission accomplished, Joan thought. Now I can go back to my regular life. Steven had other ideas.
The annual fundraiser became biannual and the scale of the events increased, culminating in an immense car show held at a local airport. The work was all consuming and soon Joan decided it was time to dedicate herself to the mission full time. She and her husband launched the Morgan Adams Foundation, a non-profit organization funding kids’ cancer research. Staying in a place so full of raw emotion was not easy and there were times when Joan wanted nothing more than to wall herself off from it all, but she kept finding the strength to stay. Her personal experience had taught her how a parent’s world is turned upside down by a child’s cancer diagnosis; she wanted to do whatever she could to help others reach a better outcome than hers.
The foundation was flourishing, its reach and impact steadily expanding, when Joan and Steven were hit with yet another shocking diagnosis; this time, it was Steven who had cancer. He endured two years of intensive treatment before succumbing to the disease. Devastated, Joan stepped away from the foundation. Spending each day immersed in the very subject that had shattered her world not once but twice was simply too much to bear. Over time, however, with some healing and a lot of soul searching, Joan made her way back.
Today, the Morgan Adams Foundation grants well over a million and a half dollars annually, partnering with researchers and clinicians all over the country. Joan has seen the difference they are making up close, like the thirteen year old girl whose family was told there were no more options available to her and it was time to take her home and wait for the end. Instead, thanks to a cutting edge treatment the foundation was able to fasttrack, that girl got a chance to grow up. She went to college and got married and now, instead of mourning her loss, her parents are looking forward to the grandchildren she will give them one day. Stories like hers keep Joan going, even on the toughest of days.
In her office, Joan has a wall filled with photos of kids with cancer, some who made it and others who have not, but all of whom have had a little more of a chance at life because of the work Joan carries on doing on behalf of her daughter and husband. While staying in such a place so full of pain and loss keeps her own open wounds from ever fully scabbing over, it has also allowed Joan to turn her pain into something necessary and good: hope for families like hers.
It is never too late to commit – and recommit – to hard places.