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An unplanned detour

The Abel family includes (left to right) Bruce, Morgan, Hannah and Heidi. Nineteen-year-old Morgan was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in March. (Contributed photo)

When 19-year-old Morgan Abel of Farwell spent most of the winter coughing, she didn't think much of it, even after her mother encouraged her to see a doctor.

She figured she'd go in for a simple office visit, be prescribed some antibiotics and be on her way. Even the fact that she'd experienced some unusual finger clubbing didn't make her concerned.

The visit went as planned - after some blood tests and routine checks, Abel was sent home with an antibiotic prescription.

After a week of not improving, however, she made a return visit with her mother, Heidi. More blood tests were done, as well as a chest X-ray and CT scan, which showed something more serious - a mass behind Abel's rib cage above her lung.

"It was about seven inches long and was pressing on the lung," Heidi explained. She called her husband, Bruce, and together they listened with their daughter while the doctor gave them options about what to do next.

That was Friday, March 9. The following Monday they were on the way to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester for more tests.

Morgan admitted that a lot of things went through her mind during the next week.

"What do I have? How much longer am I going to live? Will I live a normal life? It was scary," she said.

It was no easier for her parents.

"It was an unbelievable blow," Heidi said, adding that parents always want to make things better for their kids. "The lollipop just didn't work this time. There was nothing I could do.

"Is it treatable? That's all I wanted to know."

On Friday, March 16, Morgan was diagnosed with Stage III Hodgkins lymphoma (see sidebar for more information).

"I felt like this huge boulder was lifted off my shoulders," Morgan said, once she received the diagnosis. "I knew what it was and now we could just focus on getting rid of it."

Morgan just completed her first year at Alexandria Technical and Community College where she is enrolled in the medical administration specialist and medical coding specialist courses.

This education made her much more in-tune to medical terminology, which helped her better understand what the doctors were explaining to her in those first few days.

After further testing showed there were no cancer cells elsewhere in Morgan's body, she began chemotherapy treatments at the Mayo Clinic on April 9.

She goes to the clinic one day every other week to have tests, see her doctor and receive chemotherapy.

For several days after each treatment she experiences nausea and what she describes as "chemo brain" - she has trouble focusing on things and describes things as being "fuzzy."

"I feel really good the rest of the time," she said with a smile.

Morgan will undergo chemotherapy sessions through early September. At that time, she's hoping the chemotherapy treatments worked as planned and that the mass will be gone.

"Then I want to finish my second year of school, get a job and get on with my life," she said.

Morgan added that it hasn't been easy to remain positive, but her family and friends have been very supportive.

She lives at home with her parents - something both she and her parents have been thankful for since the diagnosis.

"I'm very thankful I have them to help me out," Morgan said, adding that her boyfriend, Jake Schnitzler, and his family have also been a strong source of support.

She's also thankful for her little sister, Hannah, 15, who keeps her smiling.

"It's been tough on her," Heidi said. "They're so close.

One thing the family has been able to do throughout the ordeal is to laugh together, and they all find comfort in that.

"There have been some pretty intense moments, but even during those times there's always been a laugh here and there," Heidi said. "It helps a lot to find something to laugh about."

Morgan said that her thoughts, emotions and mostly her fears have been "all over the place" throughout the past two months.

"At first I was scared of the blood draws, and then the chemotherapy. Right now I'm afraid to lose my hair," she said with a tear in her eye.

"She's been unbelievable," Heidi said of her daughter. "I don't know where she pulls her strength from.

"One of her doctors said, 'She doesn't act like a 19-year-old with cancer'. How's a 19-year-old with cancer supposed to act?"

• • •

A Caring Bridge website has been set up for Morgan at


A benefit will be held for Morgan Abel on Saturday, May 19 from 4 to 10 p.m. at the Kensington Community Center. Matching funds will be provided by Thrivent #31301. Donations may also be sent to:

First State Bank of Kensington

Attn: Morgan Abel Fund

11 N. Central Avenue

Kensington, MN 56343.

For business donations, contact Jill Cosh at (612) 747-6709 or Toni Fuoss at (320) 766-8277.


Hodgkin's lymphoma - formerly known as Hodgkin's disease ¬- is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of your immune system.

In Hodgkin's lymphoma, cells in the lymphatic system grow abnormally and may spread beyond the lymphatic system. As it progresses, it compromises the body's ability to fight infection.

Hodgkin's lymphoma is one of two common types of cancers of the lymphatic system. The other type, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, is far more common.

Signs and symptoms may include:

• Painless swelling of lymph nodes in neck, armpits or groin.

• Persistent fatigue.

• Fever and chills.

• Night sweats.

• Unexplained weight loss, as much as 10 percent or more of body weight

• Coughing, trouble breathing or chest pain.

• Loss of appetite.

• Itching.

• Increased sensitivity to the effects of alcohol or pain in lymph nodes after drinking alcohol.

Follow #AlexMN @EchoPress Life Editor Tara Bitzan on Twitter at @TBitzan.

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

(320) 763-1211