Story of our Remembered Hero, Morag MacLean, written by her partner, Jonathan, with the help of kids, Finn and Caleb
It’s still hard to believe that Morag isn’t with us anymore, even though it’s been 5 years since we lost her, just 12 short months after she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). She was an amazing mum, partner, sister, friend, and colleague, and an irreplaceable part of our lives.
Morag grew up in Ontario with her sister Anne, part of a close family with their parents Moira and Ian. After studying at York University and briefly practicing family law, Morag shifted her career to legal publishing and education, a change that eventually brought her to Vancouver.
Like so many newcomers to BC, Morag embraced the outdoors – she was an avid competitive rower, cross-country skier, hiker, and kayaker. Over the years, she racked up many adventures, close friendships, and fond memories. Morag and I met when I arrived in Vancouver from the UK, and a few years later we were thrilled to create an instant – if somewhat exhausting – family when twins, Finn and Caleb were born. Morag’s energy, sharp wit, and love carried us through many sleepless nights and joyful moments.
Our full family and professional lives had moved on a decade when the unimaginable hit in 2017. One day we were figuring out Morag’s low energy levels with a GP, and seemingly the next she had been admitted to the leukemia unit at Vancouver General Hospital and had begun chemotherapy. The diagnosis of AML floored everyone, but she began treatment with determination, incredible support, and hope.
However, as it does for too many, that journey went far from plan. One unsuccessful course of chemo led to another, and then the stark reality of a terminal prognosis for treatment-resistant AML just 5 short months after diagnosis. Those days – and the many heartbreaking conversations with kids, family, and close friends – will stay with us forever.
Seemingly out of options, it was then that we were able to connect with one of LLS’s clinical nurse navigators, Alissa. She worked tirelessly for Morag, tracking down every potential clinical trial across North America, connecting with researchers, and organizing calls and appointments. Amazingly, Morag was connected with the blood cancer team at the US National Institute for Health, NIH, in Washington DC, and again, within days, she was in treatment, part of a unique clinical trial.
The summer and fall of 2018 holds intense memories for our family. We decamped to DC, supported by amazing kindness and the generosity of strangers and friends alike to find a home to stay in, activities for our kids, and incredible emotional support. There was stress and worry, but also fun, amazing sights and museums, and – on Morag’s strict instructions – no limits on ice cream!
Morag died a few months later, back in Vancouver surrounded by family and close friends, almost a year to the day after her diagnosis. Even though there was no fairy tale ending to her particular story, what Alissa, and the team at NIH, gave us was not just hope and a few more precious months together as a family, but the comfort and reassurance that absolutely no option had been left untried.
I often reflect on our privilege and good fortune to even have been able to think about setting out on that last adventure. However, even with all those advantages, nothing would have been possible without Alissa, LLS, and the those who fund their work. As a dad trying to support 11-year-olds – now incredible teens embarking on their own life journeys – come to terms with unimaginable loss, that has been more of a comfort than I can put into words. We’ll be forever grateful.
I wish that clinical trial had been Morag’s answer, but we know that research is a long and winding trail. In the end though, if Morag’s participation and contribution to just one clinical trial among thousands adds a single brick to that path toward a new and effective treatment option for this awful disease, we’ll celebrate that with joy and pride alongside those whose lives will be helped and extended.