Katelyn Morales is a three-sport athlete, competing in soccer, basketball and track while attending Howell’s Middle School South. So when the 14-year-old first felt pain in her back, it seemed like another sore muscle.
Except it wasn’t.
Katelyn was diagnosed with an aggressive form of T-cell lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells. She’s been in Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) since mid-June and her mother Tabatha has been by her side continuously, taking leave from her job in radiology.
The first course of chemotherapy treatment did not work, Katelyn’s father Jamie Morales said, “so now we’re on a different path. We’ll know in a month if this chemo is working, and we’re praying that it does.”
“I personally felt helpless; I said to Tabatha, ‘Let me do this to try to help you,'" Shannon Sullivan said. “The outpouring has been just incredible. There is so much love and support for them. It’s really encouraging.”
Battling T-cell lymphoma “is a long road,” said Jamie Morales, who is a doctor of sports medicine. Treatment is expected to last at least two years. One tumor caused spinal-cord compression, impacting Katelyn’s ability to walk. The pain is debilitating at times.
“I think we all feel the same way: It feels like you’re living in someone else’s life,” said grandmother Mary DeAnni, who lives in Point Pleasant Beach. “This stuff happens to other people, not your family. But I think with the family and friends and friends of friends, there is so much support.”
Katelyn checked into CHOP the day after her eighth-grade formal. She missed graduation, but “we streamed it so she could watch from the hospital,” Shannon Sullivan said.
“She’s a fun, spirited, kind kid,” Sullivan said. “Great athlete. Lots of friends. She’s just an all-around great, great kid.”
Katelyn is one of three siblings. Family friends have pitched in to make sure her 15-year-old sister Madison and 10-year-old brother Taylor have rides to their sports and other activities. People have sent blankets and crafts to the hospital. Morgan Sullivan started a fundraiser featuring soccer-style shirts with “We Fight for Kate” written across them.
“The community response is what we’ve been most inspired by,” Jamie Morales said.
Katelyn was ready to attend Red Bank Catholic this fall, suiting up for the Caseys’ girls soccer program.
“She was so looking forward to high school,” said DeAnni, her grandmother.
The road there is longer now, but there is no shortage of determination. Her grandmother recalled Kate, during the lockdown phase of the pandemic, practicing soccer drills in her yard with her iPad on to communicate with coaches and teammates. She refused to get sidetracked.
“If anybody could get through this,” DeAnni said, “it’s her.”
To contribute to the fundraising campaign for Katelyn Morales and family, visit www.GoFundMe.com and search under the keywords “Help Katelyn fight cancer.”
Jerry Carino is community columnist for the Asbury Park Press, focusing on the Jersey Shore’s interesting people, inspiring stories and pressing issues. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Howell teen athlete at CHOP, needs your help battling cancer