Rocklin High photography teacher battling cancer

School, community show their support
By: Amanda Calzada, Placer Herald correspondent
-A +A

Neither an attitude of apathy nor an ornery outlook are side effects of chemotherapy for Rick Morris, who has been on a leave of absence from Rocklin High School since Dec. 12, 2012.

“I can beat this disease and live as normal a life as possible with only one lung, so that I can spend time with my wife and friends and enjoying this world and return to teaching,” said the photography and mass media teacher who had both lobes of his left lung removed along with some muscle tissue, bone and lymph nodes Dec. 17 to better his condition of malignant spindle cell neoplasm sarcoma, a condition different from lung cancer.

The left lung and part of the tissue were sent to Stanford University for testing. Because a lymph node and muscle tissue were involved, Morris began chemotherapy Jan. 14 for five weekly sessions, then two weeks’ intermission to kill any remaining sarcoma cells.

Morris, who was diagnosed with lung cancer Nov. 28 and sarcoma Nov. 30, will return to Rocklin High for the 2013-14 school year.

“I don’t feel a day over 40,” said the photography and mass media teacher, who will celebrate his 60th birthday April 15.

While the cause of the sarcoma is not certain, Morris, who survived prostate cancer surgery in 2006, said it is not a condition caused by second-hand smoke.

His last chest X-ray of 2006 revealed no complications, but when he decided to visit the doctor in September to alleviate a persistent cough caught during the homecoming football game, the X-ray exhibited a 2-inch mass.

The surgeon estimated that the sarcoma had been developing over the course of a year.

After his treatments, Morris said he is able to walk more. He still walks “normally,” he said, but he has to remind himself to slow down at times so he isn’t out of breath.

Recovery consists of some walking and exercise, as Morris’ doctor advised him to not become a “couch potato.” Morris also keeps in touch via email with Rocklin High staff and family in addition to a researching cancer on the Internet.

The coughing and pain, he said, are decreasing each day.

The support of his wife, sister and her family, relatives and friends in the Rocklin Unified School District have helped him stay positive throughout this difficult time, he said.

His spirit and positive demeanor, however, preceded his diagnosis.

“I don’t think I ever saw him not happy,” said senior and Morris’ former student Rachael Williams.

Senior classmate and former student of Morris Devin Moss agrees.

“His liveliness always could cheer people up and he brought a freshness to this campus,” Moss said. “You could count on him to be at every school event and he was always the best at capturing the greatest moments of the year.”

The students and staff are the parts of Rocklin High that Morris misses most. He likes that there is “always something going on” on the campus and finds happiness in seeing students excited to participate in various school activities.

Rallies, football games, basketball games and lunchtime activities rank as his favorite Rocklin High events to photograph. He relishes the challenge of trying to capture the “perfect shot” and likes how there are always great expressions on the students’ faces, he said.

When he wasn’t capturing campus moments or teaching in classrooms, Morris helped Rocklin’s other photography teacher, Frank Shields, shoot school sports teams for Photo Club and also photographed dance shows and school plays.

“He is always there to help the students and staff, but it’s the way he always has his camera handy to capture the moment that we miss. He’s been a presence at so many events, backpack on and telephoto aimed,” said journalism teacher Casey Nichols, who said Morris keeps the department organized.

The Rocklin High community and district office have sent Morris “get well” cards, kind thoughts and prayers to help Morris and his wife.

Morris also appreciates the support of all those who have helped his wife and mother during his recovery.

“Many thanks to you all for your thoughts, prayers and support,” he said. “It means so much to my wife and me to know that we have that. You are the best.”