Liz Morrow knew soon after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was not going to let it win.
After going in for a routine mammogram Nov. 28, 2017, shortly after finishing her doctorate degree classes, she was called back for a biopsy on Dec. 4. Her mother Bertha Armstead was with her when she returned to the office of her OB/GYN Dr. Teri Deffenbaugh at Capital Region Medical Center the next day to hear the results.
“The biopsy showed the cancer was in two of my lymph nodes. … I cried plenty of tears; I was in denial. … I called my best friend (Kimberly Murray) on the phone. Then I put the phone down. Something just overcame me,” she said.
“I am a spiritual person and I had a revelation. I said, ‘Cancer you got the right, but the wrong one this time. I’m going to share my story. I’m going on Facebook Live and going public.’ Dr. Deffenbaugh’s response was, ‘Good for you.’ I did it immediately.”
Going to her first doctor’s appointment, through to the next year of her battle with cancer, she continued to document her journey. Liz has taken pictures, filmed videos and spoke publicly at chemotherapy sessions, before and after surgery and also enduring radiation treatments.
“The unknown was I didn’t know how I was going to react. Anything could have happened to me with all those chemicals being put into my body. But I was bold enough to take that stance and show people what chemo looked like, not knowing I would inspire people all over the world,” she said. “That wasn’t my intention at all. I just wanted to educate people about early detection. … But if they follow my journey they see what chemo looks like, radiation looks like, doctor’s visits – the whole nine yards.”
Thousands of followers watched as she learned she had a mass at size 4, prompting eight rounds total of chemotherapy, qualifying to first take Adriamycin, or the “red devil,” for the first four weeks under the guidance of Dr. Raonak Ekram. That was a hard start, having a
short time during the holidays to spend with her family, before beginning that process Dec. 27. Liz said she would have chemotherapy and then shots over the course of three days. With time to rest, she would build her strength back up before going back to work as an assistant dean of students and registrar at Lincoln University, in which the St. Louis native has held the registrar position for 11 years. LU is where she also got her Bachelor of Science and Master of Business Administration degrees, taught, coached cheerleading and loved since 2001.
Following her chemotherapy, she let her body heal for six weeks. But she was anxious to get back to work and graduate the Lincoln University students, whom she loves like her own children and often call her Mama Liz. Liz scheduled her lumpectomy with Dr. Diane Light with Capital Region Medical Center, and Light removed 10 lymph nodes, two of which were positive for cancer.
Another six weeks of healing followed amidst physical therapy through the CRMC Sam B. Cook Healthplex. She then started radiation treatments five days a week with Dr. James Allen at Goldschmidt in early July. By mid-August, Liz was done with her treatments, now taking a chemo pill for the next few years.
Her treatments have not caused her pain, even though she has shared how chemo made her lose her nails, appetite and hair. She has her emotional moments, but Liz often becomes that person to lean on and allows loved ones and friends to release their emotions to her about her battle with cancer.
“Asking people to help me was difficult at first. I learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. That is a phrase I often use now,” she said. “People are so helpful and loving. … This journey has showed me people in a new light.”
Her support system was there from the beginning − her parents, her best friend, her cousin Priscilla Mason, Scroggins/Grieve caregivers, her sorority sisters, her mentor Tammy Dunn and mentee Dee Adams, her LU family, pink sisters, her adopted brother Herman Hopson and many others. In fact, Hopson organized a Team Liz 5K/1 Mile Pink Run/Walk event April 7 on the LU campus following her last round of chemotherapy.
Participants and attendees bought shirts that helped raise money for Liz’s medical expenses, and 100 people showed up on the LU campus with 65 participants. Some of her sorority sisters also surprised Liz with a photo shoot complete with dress, makeup and inspiring “pink” themed photos. Friends, family and followers from across the United States then surprised her in a neighboring room in the shape of a pink ribbon.
Countless other efforts include LU greek letter organizations hosting fundraisers, the campus going pink for a day, invites for Liz to speak at men’s and women’s basketball games and much more. She has also spoke at several events locally, regionally and in neighboring states, and will be the guest speaker at a breast cancer support group at Goldschmidt Cancer Center in September. Her honest, open public battle with cancer has garnered several fellow pink sisters, who have been inspired by her story and also have moved Liz.
“It has freed me. With anybody else, I say, ‘Don’t hold that in; release it,’” she said. “People say you are helping me in so many ways. I’m with dealing something, but because of you I’m fighting. You encourage me and give me the strength to fight.”
Seeing what others diagnosed with cancer go through gave Liz the idea to help those who do not have that strong support system like her. Having lots of family and friends with her during treatments, she often was moved in a private room to accommodate them. She didn’t see that others were by themselves with no one celebrating milestones with cupcakes or providing small things they may need.
“If these people were local, I would find out when they would have a surgical procedure or treatment, and I would surprise them with care packages. … A lot of people did it for me, so I thought I could duplicate it,” she said. “Now,
I’m working on starting a foundation with Dee Adams to raise funds to continue to deliver care packages and support those individuals.”
Liz currently has three more modeling events this fall/winter after participating in a pink celebration in St. Louis in August, including the annual Council for Clubs Fall Fashion Show in October, another in St. Louis and being a first-time model at Strut Your Style. She is excited to be the first African-American model featured at the show and help raise awareness and money for a cause that helped her during her journey, the Community Breast Care Project. Liz talked to Lorie Smith, director of the organization, the evening she was diagnosed.
She helped Liz with information, resources and a donation. Her connection to Smith has now come full circle not only being in Strut Your Style but also with Smith’s other project, Dreams to Reality. Liz was able to secure pink clothing to wear at speaking engagements and will also help promote the Jefferson City-based organization, which helps secure interview and career appropriate attire for women in need.
Liz plans to continue to share her story and speak worldwide, making this a second career along with helping others through her new foundation. She lives by her motto – “I’m bald. I’m bold. I’m beautiful.” – and wants others on this same journey to do the same.
“I want to share how I approached my journey and how it worked for me,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to feel alone going through this. I’m going through it as well. … There is support out there regardless of what you are going through. You just have to put yourself out there and make yourself readily available to receive it.”
Follow Liz’s journey on her Facebook page, @LizMorrow.
Click here to read Nancy K. Gratz’s story.
Click here to read Lori Hoelscher’s story.
Click here to read Pam Schnieders’ story.
Click here to read a special tribute to the late Strut Your Style model and breast cancer survivor Dana Kliethermes.
Find out more about the Strut Your Style Fashion Show & Luncheon here.