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Teen with terminal cancer gets special prom

In photo taken Thursday, Morgan Hayes stands on a platform as her mom, Julie, puts the finishing touches on her prom dress during a fitting in Fargo, N.D. Celebrations are coming early for Morgan because she is battling two types of cancer, cancer so advanced that treatments ceased March 16. Eric Hylden / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Morgan Hayes is preparing for prom like countless other teen girls this spring: finding a date, trying on dresses, picking out flowers and selecting styles for hairdos and manicures.

But Morgan, 15, will attend prom earlier than most. Although a sophomore, she's going to the junior-senior prom Saturday at her high school in Langdon, N.D.

It's a privilege secured for her by persistent family friends and an understanding principal. For Morgan, prom will be a speeded-up celebration, like her 16th birthday, which her family marked on a Caribbean cruise in mid-March. Her birthday is June 2.

Photoblog: A teen with terminal cancer gets to experience prom early

Celebrations are coming early for Morgan because she is battling two types of cancer, cancer so advanced that treatments ceased March 16. The cruise, donated by Carnival Cruise Lines, and the chance to attend prom are wishes granted by generous friends and strangers.

"I know it sounds silly in the light of what we stand to lose, but mammas have dreams for their little girls . prom, graduation, college, marriage, babies ." wrote Morgan's mother, Julie Agnes, on her daughter's CaringBridge website. "We know that these dreams will most likely not be obtainable, but to those of you who are going that extra step to try to make prom a reality . thank you and we love you!"

Morgan's take on prom is more concise. Asked what she is most looking forward to Saturday night, Morgan says, "Being a normal kid."

Morgan discovered a tumor in her thigh in January 2010, and Ewing's sarcoma was diagnosed the next month. A second form of cancer, metastatic melanoma, was diagnosed in July. The diagnosis is terminal, but there is a ray of hope. On March 24, Agnes learned of a clinical trial chemotherapy for Ewing's sarcoma that could prolong Morgan's life. Those treatments will start Wednesday, but they have just a 1 in 5 chance of working.

Agnes hopes for a miracle. She urges friends and family to pray. Her daughter's CaringBridge site is titled "Miracle 4 Morgan," the same slogan emblazoned on a necklace and four silicone wristbands Agnes wears. After hearing most treatments would cease two weeks ago, she still found something positive to write.

"The amazing thing is, is that despite the horrific news that we have been dealt this week, I still hear (Morgan) laugh, still see her smile, still see the little things that please her. I look at her in amazement because I feel like crawling into a hole and never coming out.

"Despite this, she is still teaching me about life. She has been handed the death sentence, yet she goes on like it is something she didn't hear! She is my hero . all victims of cancer are my heroes!"

Beyond her own daughter's story, what Agnes most wants people to know, she says, is the tiny percentage of cancer research money dedicated to researching childhood cancer — just 3 percent of federal funds.

"Why is it that we can put a man on the moon (and) they can watch us walking on the street from a satellite but cannot come up with a cure for cancer!?" Agnes wrote on CaringBridge on Tuesday.

Treating the cancer has been all-consuming for Morgan and her mom. During her first six months of treatment at Sanford Health in Fargo, N.D., she and her mother spent only 45 days at home in Langdon. Agnes took a leave from work at First State Bank of Munich. And Morgan stopped attending school, though she is still able to do some schoolwork online through the state Center for Distance Education.

On CaringBridge, Agnes describes Morgan's days — visiting the doctor, sleeping, seeing friends and family and eating her favorite foods when she has an appetite. Those dishes include beef stroganoff, hamburger hot dish, tater tot hot dish, spaghetti and BLTs, though those were best on the cruise ship, Morgan said.

The cruise gave Morgan, her mom, her stepfather, Rodney, and more than a dozen other relatives the chance to escape for six nights. They rode a Jamaican bobsled, feasted on room service and swam with the dolphins, a longtime dream of Morgan's. Dolphins are Morgan's second favorite mammal after dogs, she said. Humans rank somewhere in the Top 10, she added, displaying the wit which her mother praises frequently on CaringBridge.

Saturday's masquerade-themed prom will be a night for Morgan to enjoy, but preparing for it was an all-day event for mother and daughter.

Morgan and her mom flitted around south Fargo on Thursday afternoon, making the final arrangements for Morgan's dress, flowers and nails.

The duo stopped first at Beth's Alterations so Morgan could try on her turquoise princess dress, a gift from The Bridal Shop. The alteration shop owner, Beth McNea, had shortened and gussied up the gown with a pink hem on one of the layers hiding under yards of flouncy tulle.

"It's just a little bling. When you sit down or get in the car" it will peek out, explained McNea in the dressing room. Giggles erupted as McNea, Morgan and Agnes cinched the corseting ribbons on the bust of Morgan's strapless dress.

Morgan will accessorize with pink and silver costume jewelry donated by Steve Kemp of Tobias Industries, a pink fedora with a sequined turquoise band attached by McNea, a blond wig styled into an up-do and her signature rectangular glasses.

After the dress was ready and back in its pink garment bag, it was off to order flowers. Morgan chose pink spring roses, blue-tinged carnations and pink for her corsage and her date's boutonniere, sticking to the pink-and-blue theme. Though traditionally the boy has bought the flowers, Morgan and her mother say these days the task is left to the girl — that way she'll get the flowers she wants.

Morgan won't say who her date is. Her doctor, Nathan Kobrinsky, volunteered to accompany her, but Morgan politely refused in favor of someone closer to her own age. She did say Thursday her date is a fellow sophomore who is a good friend of her stepbrother and will wear a pink bowtie Saturday.

With the order for flowers placed and paid for and a promise that one of Morgan's older sisters would pick them up the next day, it was time to get a manicure and pedicure, a gift from one of Morgan's doctors.

"I need it bad. I'm a nail biter," Morgan said.

She picked a base coat of hot pink and blue designs for her fingernails and settled into a spa chair to soak her feet in a bubbling tub to prepare.

Morgan is excited for Saturday, and her message is one of gratitude.

"It's amazing what a community can do when someone they know gets a disease that's life-threatening," she said.