Headaches worsened amid final rehearsals for Morgan Rayhill’s big performance with the Louisville Creative Arts Academy. She had studied musical theater, dance and voice at the Academy for years and had parts in half the program.
“I’ve always been a headachy person, but this was different,” said Morgan, 18. “They were worse than ever before.”
While people across the country binge-shopped on Black Friday, Morgan’s parents, Beth and Clint Rayhill, took Morgan to the hospital. A brain tumor showed up on a precautionary CT scan.
No one knew what was ahead. A year earlier, Clint had surgery to remove a brain tumor. Though he fully recovered, it took time.
Specialists came in and out of Morgan’s hospital room, ordered and analyzed tests and talked with Morgan. Except for headaches, she was remarkably good.
Doctors settled on a conservative plan: Perform a surgery to insert a shunt to reduce pressure and keep a watchful eye on the tumor. Morgan asked two questions: How long was recovery? And could she perform in the program the following weekend?
Doctors assured Morgan she’d feel better in a few weeks. But that was way too long for Morgan. Finally doctors said she could be in the program if she felt well enough to perform.
“One of the biggest things about me is that I hate letting people down,” Morgan said. “I’d like to think people can rely on me. It was my biggest worry in the hospital.”
Morgan laid some ground rules during surgery and recovery. No crying in front of her. No talking about worst case scenarios. No depressing conversation.
Lots of prayer.
The Rayhills attend Southeast Christian Church and have a long history of faith.
“I have no idea how people get through these things without God,” Beth said. “We never expected to be in this position, but through it all God has been with us.”
Cricket Hater, founder and director of Louisville Creative Arts Academy, watched and prayed from the sidelines.
She founded the nonprofit to give homeschoolers a chance to study voice, drama, filmmaking and dance. The motto of the school is “art helps.”
In the five years since the Academy began, Hater has seen art help students face all kinds of challenges.
“Sometimes finding that thing that you can pour yourself into helps you get through difficult days,” Hater said. “Every one of us has something that we love to do—a talent God gives. It’s that thing that gives joy.”
Surgery lasted two hours Monday, Nov. 26, followed by two days of strict bed rest. That was hard.
“As the days slowly crawled by, I worked to move and recover as much as possible, but I was frustrated by how slow I felt it was going,” Morgan said. “I could barely stand after two days of bed rest, and I had to lean against the walls or my parents to get anywhere. On top of everything, I kept thinking about the performance. I wasn’t going to give up.”
Thursday, Nov. 29, Morgan went home from the hospital. She was still wobbly, but wanted to try practice the next day.
“I was exhausted, but I felt better than I had all week,” she said. “The familiarity of it brought the happiness it always does, really lifting my spirits.”
The next night, she joined friends on stage for the big program.
“I was able to perform in the songs in which I had large parts, which included running, spinning, even lifting someone off the ground,” Morgan said. “I wasn’t completely recovered, but I was able, and that was all I needed. It’s true. Art helps.”
Morgan gets scans every three months to make sure the tumor has not changed.
“We have more faith than fear,” Beth said. “All this has been a blessing in disguise. We have grown closer to God and to each other.”
In the fall, Morgan will attend Campbellsville University where she received an academic scholarship and performance grant in theater.