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Halia Morris partied like there was no tomorrow at St. Jude’s Children Hospital with a “No Mo Chemo” party celebrating end of treatment for her stage 3 cancer. The senior basketball player at Madison Academy is in four years remission. Photo Contributed

Madison Academy’s Halia Morris Survives Cancer- Leads Mustang’s Basketball Program

MADISON- As she awoke from a good night’s sleep the morning of Dec. 15, 2016, Halia Morris thought she was dreaming when she felt a lump on neck that was painful, but she soon realized her experience was not a dream, but reality.

Morris quickly readied for school as an eighth grade student at Madison Academy and by the time she made her way to after school basketball practice her pain was so intense to where she was unable to raise her arm. She also noticed a lump in the middle of her chest and at the expert direction of the school’s athletic trainer, she made her way to her primary physician who instructed the young teen to visit a specialist. Morris was in trouble.

The current Madison Academy senior relives those moments daily. She spoke of how the day after Christmas in 2016 she underwent a biopsy surgery and three days later the results of her tests arrived, which forever changed her life.

“I’ve always been an over thinker as I thought about what was happening, but wasn’t scared,” said Morris, who is completing her finals days as a member of the Madison Academy girl’s basketball program as a starter where she averaged 15 points and 5 rebounds per game and has hit on 48-percent of her field goal attempts and 76-percent of free throws. The Lady Mustangs finished the regular season 12-10 and ranked No. 10 in Class 6A.

The test results indicated Morris was suffering from diffuse Large B cell lymphoma- a non-Hodgkin cancer most prominently found in the lymph nodes. She was in stage 3 of the cancer and she needed treatment right away.

Her doctors helped secure a spot for the eighth grade student at St. Jude’s Children Hospital in Memphis where she arrived on New Year’s Day 2017. Her plan of treatment was to last anywhere from six to nine months, but due to the great physical condition her overall body was in, due to her playing sports, Morris had just a three-month stay at St. Jude’s.

“My mother, Aretha, accompanied me to the hospital and remained with me the entire time, while my father, Nate, stayed home with my younger sister,” said Morris. “I went through eight rounds of chemotherapy. Some of the medications were tough on me as my hair fell out, my nails turned black and some of my skin peeled. I never became ill from the chemo, but it took a toll on my body.”

During her stay in Memphis, her father and sister would visit on weekends where they stayed at the local Ronald McDonald House. With her father alongside, Morris would visit the weight room and go through many facets of a workout and then visit the nearby YMCA where her father would feed her passes and she would work on her sharp-edge shooting talents. She added, “It’s remarkable how my body was resilient to this entire unique experience. While I stayed in Memphis I kept up with the MA team. That was the year we won a State Championship.”

This March will mark four years remission of the lymphoma. She looks back on her stay at St. Jude’s as a time in her life that was meant for the better. The facility in Memphis is meant for kids, but does not look like a hospital. Morris added, “It was a blessing. It spoiled me as I now expect all medical personnel to be like the ones I experienced at St. Jude’s. There was no charge to my family for my treatment. While there, the administration reached out to me and my mother to conduct an interview for the hospital’s website.”

Today, she supports St. Jude’s during the facilities’ annual walk/run. She and her entire family volunteer and partake in the festivities.

On the basketball court this season as a senior, the 5-foot-10 Morris is known as the team’s offensive producer. According to head coach Alissa Flowers, “Halia is a threat from the three-point line and gets up and down the floor faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. She has played a major role in rebounding and is very athletic.”

The senior season hasn’t been all fun and games for Morris as she and her entire family were tested positive for COVID-19 during the Christmas holidays. Each are fine now, but the experience sent her back in memory of the holidays in 2016 where she learned of her illness and what she had to endure to weather the cancer storm.

“My spirituality is what got me through it,” said Morris, who has a 4.23 grade point average. “I didn’t really have a great relationship with God, but two months after arriving back home from St. Jude’s I was baptized. Through my spiritual beliefs, I never really doubted my recovery. I’m looking forward to attending college where I plan on becoming a marine biologist as I earned an academic scholarship to Hampton University of Virginia. I have no interest of playing basketball in college. I’m happy just being a survivor.”

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