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Crystal Morgan: I Don’t Just Survive, I Thrive

Crystal Morgan

Crystal Morgan of Toms River, NJ, is a student, mother, advocate, businesswoman, Kansas City Chiefs fan, and self-proclaimed Gryffindor, among many other things.

She initially enrolled at Georgian Court College in 1988, and after taking time off to focus on her family, she returned to Georgian Court University in 2023 to earn her Bachelor’s degree in Business Management with a minor in Spanish, en route to earn her Master of Business Administration.

A few years before returning to Georgian Court, Crystal was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer with a 9% survival rate. However, unexpected challenges have never stopped her from reaching her goals and empowering others. We sat with Crystal to discuss her journey back to Georgian Court and her role as a patient advocate.

Why did you originally choose to attend Georgian Court College?

Mercy values have followed me throughout my life. I was born in the Sisters of Mercy Hospital in San Diego and attended Catholic school. I chose GCU for its commitment to these values, which I didn’t find at other, bigger schools back in 1988. I was also excited by the opportunity to live on such a beautiful campus while being close to home.

Why did you return to Georgian Court to complete your degree?

Even after taking a break from my education, I always held onto the fond memories I had from my time at GCC. I forged lifelong bonds with my former roommate and other GCC sisters. We still get together often to celebrate one another’s triumphs and accomplishments. Our sisterhood, which formed right on campus, represents what Georgian Court stands for. No matter where we were in life, we knew we could return to this supportive community at any time.

In June of 2016, almost 30 years after originally enrolling in GCC, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. After going through chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, the cancer was still present. I decided to enter a clinical trial for immunotherapy, which was not approved by the FDA at the time as a viable treatment for pancreatic cancer. It was by the grace of God that I even got into that program – I was the last entrant, and the opportunity was going to close that day. God stepped in and performed a miracle. My body loved the treatment and the cancer did not. I’m still in immunotherapy treatment and doing incredibly well. It was daunting, but I drew on my faith and the foundational values that I learned as a student at Georgian Court to get me through.

During this time, I had to face my own mortality and think a lot about my priorities. In 2023, I decided to go back to school and complete my degree. It felt right to go back to the place that nurtured my faith and values all those years ago.

Lastly, the most crucial reason behind my return to Georgian Court is my daughter, Alana. She holds an impressive tally of three degrees, including a Master of Psychology, with aspirations to pursue her Doctorate. Her relentless drive and achievements inspire me to strive for my best self—she’s my ultimate source of inspiration.

Why did you decide to study Business Management with a minor in Spanish?

As a woman of color in the 80s, I felt like I could make a difference in the business world. I was young and vivacious, and the idea of corporate America excited me. I wanted a corner office and I wanted to break glass ceilings. Going to an all-women’s school empowered me in this way, and I hoped to be a trailblazer for other women.

Growing up in San Diego, I have always been passionate about Spanish, and it felt like the right pairing with a degree in Business Management.

How do you apply what you’re studying at GCU to your work as a patient advocate?

I’m still interested in business, but my focus has changed. Today, my mission is to use my business skills to help people in the pancreatic cancer community. There is not enough research, access to resources, and information regarding pancreatic cancer. These things require money, and I use my business skills to advocate for these needs.

I’m an advocate for Merck, the manufacturing company through which I received my immunotherapy treatment, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PANCAN), and Project Purple.

Additionally, I’m in the early stages of launching my own foundation, the Purple Ribbon Network. We create care bags for patients in treatment that contain tools they might need, such as a cup, chapstick, ginger chews, and a blanket—anything that will make their experience more comfortable. We also provide them with a “connection card” so they can speak to someone who has been in their shoes. Although there is a lot of fear associated with the diagnosis, I want other patients to know that it doesn’t have to define them.

I’m also writing a book called “My Purple Ribbon” about my journey with pancreatic cancer, which I hope will help other patients realize that they are not alone.

What is something you’ve accomplished as a patient advocate that you’re proud of?

I’m happy to say that the immunotherapy treatment I received through the clinical trial has been approved by the FDA as a viable treatment for pancreatic cancer patients, and my tissues and participation were an integral part of making that happen.

Through my advocacy work with Merck, I participated in an infomercial about the importance of immunotherapy treatment, which was presented to doctors in Europe. It’s humbling to be part of something that could impact lives worldwide.

I’m also very proud of the work I do on social media. On my platforms, I’m transparent about what I’m going through. I interact with people from around the world. What brings me the most joy is when someone messages me that my words and journey have helped them in some way. That is more than any corner office can give me.

What is a project that you completed at GCU that you are proud of?

I’m very proud of an autobiographical presentation I created as part of a Managerial Communications course with Laura Wagner, Adjunct Professor of Business. I got to share my pride about my family, my advocacy work, and my patient journey. Through that project, I discovered that I’m more than a survivor—I’m an overcomer and a thriver.

Learn more about Crystal’s advocacy work on TikTok or Instagram (@caligrlnrzy).

Aerial view of GCU.

About Georgian Court University

Georgian Court University is a leading regional university that provides a transformative education, preparing students for ethical leadership and service in the Catholic Mercy tradition. Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. The university has a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women.

As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 1,900 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 16 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2020, GCU was named a Best Value College by and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. High student retention and graduation rates make GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility on U.S. News & World Reports rankings.

The main campus is in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students through its Center for Professional Studies, and at other locations, including GCU at Brookdale, and through multiple online degree and certificate programs.