Margo Price, a junior at Glendale High School and a competitive swimmer, woke up one Tuesday morning in April with leg pain. The pain steadily increased in the following days, until a 3 a.m. trip to Cox Hospital delivered an unexpected and gut-wrenching diagnosis of leukemia.
A flurry of transfers to various hospitals landed Margo at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. A narrower diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia was confirmed, explaining her rapid deterioration.
“We thought that it was due to a cold muscle,” Margo’s mother Cari Price said. “We initially thought the leg pain was associated with working out.”
Margo, too, was in disbelief of what the MRI revealed.
“I was really shocked and wondered how I could even have cancer when all I came in for was a hurt leg,” Margo said.
Otherwise known as AML, this rare type of cancer occurs in the blood and bone marrow, inhibiting the normal development of myeloid cells into white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. As rare as AML is, it is even more unusual to turn up in her demographic, as the average age to receive a diagnosis is 68, according to the American Cancer Society.
The diagnosis was only the beginning of a long journey for Margo, at which time unrelenting support from family, friends and the Springfield Public Schools community began, according to Cari. They spent Easter weekend in a mostly-empty unit at Mercy Hospital surrounded by loved ones, providing encouragement in the wake of chemotherapy.
“Everyone has helped me feel encouraged and has given me strength to keep going and to stay positive, even when I don’t want to,” Margo said.
Local schools and swimming community show support
In order to keep friends and family updated and share Margo’s story, Cari started the Team MARGO Facebook page. It has grown to have 1,328 followers so far. Glendale, and Margo’s former schools, Wilder Elementary and Pershing Middle School, have done coin collection drives and spirit weeks in support of her fight against leukemia. Clubs that Margo has been involved in and a number of other organizations and businesses have shown their support through fundraising, gifts, yard signs, and shirts that display ‘Team Margo’ and ‘Margo will Beat AML.’
Competitive swimmer and five-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin, after hearing Margo’s story, joined the local and national competitive swimming community to show her support as well.
“I cannot imagine what you are going through right now,” Franklin said. “The emotions that you must have, the battle that you are fighting. But I also cannot imagine the strength that you have to fight it and the people in your life who love you and are going to support you through every single step of this journey.”
Despite the overwhelming support, things have clearly been challenging for Margo, according to Cari.
“I don’t think we realized how low we got at one point,” Cari said. “The degree of exhaustion and sickness. She gets very sick from the chemo; she can’t talk much, can’t eat much. She’s a strong, strong athlete. That has been a big change for her, not being able to be active.”
Margo and Cari were able to make a brief return home to Springfield for Memorial Day weekend, following her completion of the most recent round of chemo; the reunification with friends and family lifted their spirits, according to Cari.
In face of the long road to recovery for Margo, there is plenty of room for optimism.
“They don’t stage leukemia, they categorize by risk level,” Cari said. “She’s technically in remission right now. Anyone doing this trial has an 86 percent cure rate, and being that she’s low risk, she has an even better chance.”
The current plan is for Margo to be transferred to the St. Jude affiliate at Mercy in Springfield on June 11, but should expect to continue spending time in Memphis during rounds three and four of chemotherapy.
Post cancer? Margo hopes to return to Glendale to complete her last two years of high school before going to college to study something in the criminal justice field, all while continuing to participate in competitive swimming and spending time with friends.