John Morris, a Levine Cancer Institute patient, rides in the 17th annual '24 Hours of Booty'

News | 3 years ago

Dad Participates in '24 Hours of Booty' Despite Losing His Sight

John Morris’ life was similar to many of ours during this time last year. Married with two daughters, he had a stable career, enjoyed mountain biking and was pursuing his master’s degree. That all changed in September 2017 when he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor that ultimately took his sight.

 Surrounded by friends and family at one of the region’s most popular fundraising events – the 17th annual 24 Hours of Booty – John Morris was grinning from ear to ear. The husband and father of two daughters was in high spirits as he and his teammates helped lead the pack of cyclists on the first lap of the race.

But what you wouldn’t have known that in the days leading up to the event, John was reeling from a spell of vertigo – a nasty side effect of a brain tumor he has been battling for the past year – one that has also taken away his vision. But determined to participate and help others in their fight against cancer, John was able to receive an IV infusion and nausea medication at Levine Cancer Institute the morning of the race’s start. He wasn’t going to miss this. But that’s just the kind of person John is – positive, persevering, selfless and an inspiration to everyone he meets.

A life-changing diagnosis

John’s symptoms started in August 2017. His wife, Nicole, says he was experiencing an increased number of headaches, constantly felt fatigued and was having difficulty with his vision.

Following a visit to the eye doctor the next month, John was referred to a neuro ophthalmologist who discovered John had no vision out of his left eye. He was taken to the emergency department at Carolinas Medical Center where physicians discovered an anaplastic astrocytoma – a rare and inoperable type of tumor – on his brain.

“We didn’t have much information about a brain cancer diagnosis,” says Nicole. “We just heard that he could be dying soon.”

Soon after his diagnosis, the Morris family jumped into a strict plan of treatment for John, led by Ashley Sumrall, MD, the section chief of neuro-oncology at Atrium Health’s Levine Cancer Institute. But just a week after beginning chemotherapy, his routine came to an abrupt halt. John’s brain had swelled so much that he suffered a stroke, which consequently took his sight and forced him to temporarily stop treatment so the swelling could subside.

Riding the Booty Loop

With the mission of inspiring and engaging communities to impact the lives of people affected by cancer, John found 24 Hours of Booty to be a great way to be involved with an event that gives back to survivors.

“When I got out of inpatient rehab they said the best source of exercise is to bike because walking on a treadmill isn’t great for my vision challenges,” says John. “[Bike riding] was the safest thing.”

But in the two weeks leading up to the race, John fell ill with vertigo – a sensation of feeling consistently dizzy and off-balance. Determined to participate, John was able to receive the fluids needed to help his symptoms subside and showed up at the starting line – with a bandage still on his arm – ready to start the race.  

He was harnessed into a Hoyt chair pulled by his teammate, Marshall, for the Survivor’s Lap – the first lap of the race that is led by cancer survivors. His team had initially planned to circle the 3-mile Booty Loop one time. But feeling well enough, John and Marshall went twice! And on Saturday, John returned for another surprise: the Speed for Need team had two additional seats available for his two daughters to ride a lap alongside their dad! 

“It was a great team atmosphere,” says John. “It was so special to have my family and friends come out both days to support me.”

And at the end of the 24 hours, the 1,200 cyclists and 200 walkers had set another new record, raising more than $1.8 million that will help benefit cancer navigation and survivorship programs at Levine Cancer Institute, Levine Children’s Hospital, the Livestrong Foundation and Queen’s University.

“It felt so great to be a part of a race that gives back to survivors – just like me. I know how important navigators and survivor resources are to those with cancer,” says John. “I was so excited to be a part of this race for the first time in any way that I could. I plan to return with a team for next year!”

Preparing for the future

Not only did John surpass his goal of participating in this year’s event, but he was also given some much-needed good news when his scans showed that his tumor has shrunk.

And while he is holding off on returning to work to focus on his health, he is viewing this period in his life as an opportunity to spend more time with his girls.

“They’ve grown up because they’ve had to go through this with us,” says John. “They are spectacular. They make our lives more special.”

John will continue to see Dr. Sumrall at LCI for treatment five days a month.

“We see people beat the odds – and John now has every resource available, both spiritually and medically,” says Dr. Sumrall. “He and his wife are an incredible example of the inspiration we see every day.”

Read WCNC coverage from before the event.