I met Caroline Morris in March 2016, nine months after she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common type of childhood cancer. During the hour we spent together, 6-year-old Caroline left a big impression with her spunky personality and infectious smile. Mature beyond her young years, she spoke about how she made her family laugh during months of intensive weekly chemotherapy treatments, multiple medications and spinal taps, and regular trips to Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU (CHoR) from her Stafford County home. She also talked about her love of cooking and the fun she had with other patients and hospital staff.
In February 2016 Caroline finished weekly chemotherapy treatments and began an 18-month maintenance phase that includes taking chemotherapy and steroid pills at home and making monthly visits to CHoR. A month later she started kindergarten and last summer, was featured on the cover of Young at Heart. She also served as the spokesperson for Anthem LemonAid, a community-wide lemonade sale that raises funds for the Infusion Center in the ASK Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Clinic at CHoR.
In March, I caught up with Caroline and her mom, Carla, to see what had changed in the last year and to talk about Caroline’s role as spokesperson for Anthem LemonAid again this year.
“I’m seven now,” Caroline said when asked what was new. “I’m in first grade, I’m busy playing with my friends, and I really like math. And I can’t wait for summer because I’m going to see my cousins.”
As Caroline chatted about the last year, I noticed her blond hair had grown back, and she had lost a few teeth since we last met. Her sparkling personality continued to fill the room – even her pants and shoes had sparkles and gold stars. As we visited in the Sky Lobby of CHoR’s Children’s Pavilion, a few hospital team members stopped by to say hello and comment on the video that Caroline, who wants to be the next Ellen DeGeneres, recently recorded for the Pavilion’s first birthday. No surprise she used a microphone with silver sparkles to conduct the interviews.
As Caroline went on about her love for mermaids and princesses (Rapunzel is her favorite because “she is adventurous and has long hair like me”) and the next three books she planned to borrow from the school library, Carla reminded Caroline that she had traveled to Disney World, started taking acting classes and learned to read in the last year. Caroline reminisced about the lemonade cookies she had at her Anthem LemonAid stand last summer and her plans for this year’s event. “I might make muffins, but last year the cookies were really good,” she stated.
Most importantly, she shared her excitement about saying goodbye to “Squeaks,” the nickname she gave her port that delivers her monthly chemotherapy treatments, when she completes her maintenance phase in August.
“That’s good [that I’ll be done] because I’ll have more time at school and more normal time,” said Caroline. “And I won’t have to have any more band aids. That’s the worst part of treatment. I like spinal [taps] better because I get put to sleep then I get a snack and a popsicle. So it’s a win-win.”
Caroline didn’t allow Carla much time to talk during our visit, but in the four minutes she allocated to her mom, Carla shared her relief at getting “back to normal and not worrying so much.”
Carla knows Caroline will continue to visit CHoR for check ups and other opportunities to support the hospital and events like July’s Anthem LemonAid.
Something tells me I’ll cross paths with Caroline again soon.
“I have a lot of story going on in me,” she said.