BY DANNY MOGLE // PHOTOS BY CHELSEA PURGAHN // July/August 2017
Dr. Michael and Kim Merrick of Tyler, Texas, have endured a crisis no one wants to face. When their fourth child, Annie, was just a few months old, she was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor.
Surgeons removed the tumor and the Merricks were told it likely would not come back.
But it did.
That forced Annie to have multiple rounds of chemotherapy. At times, Annie was extremely sick. The ordeal was difficult and Kim had to cling to her faith in order to be a pillar of strength for Annie, her husband and other children.
After eight rounds of chemotherapy, little Annie, who now is 2, is cancer free.
The American Cancer Society is recognizing Annie as a Li’l Wrangler, a child who has beaten cancer. Earlier this year, Dr. and Mrs. Merrick; Annie and her siblings, Luke, 9, Langley, 6, and Kendall, 5; along with other families of pediatric oncology patients, were guests of honor at the Lindale Rodeo, the venue for the Li’l Wrangler Roundup.
The roundup is one of the events which leads to the Tyler Cattle Barons’ Gala, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society that will take place on Aug. 12 at the Texas Rose Horse Park. The popular western-themed event offers food, refreshments, games, auctions with fabulous items and live music. Country star Trace Adkins will headline the concert.
For more information about the Gala, contact the American Cancer Society at 903-597-1383; visit tylercattlebaronsgala.org or find out more at Tyler Cattle Barons’ Gala on Facebook.
Dr. and Mrs. Merrick are thrilled that Annie is giving hope to others.
Kim chronicled the emotional ordeal they faced during Annie’s treatments in a blog, anniekickscancer.com. She started the blog in 2015 shortly after Annie was diagnosed.
“I want to document our journey for two reasons – to help me process through how we got here and to be reminded of all the Lord has done for us,” she writes in one of the first postings.
Below are edited excerpts from some of her blog posts.
Each of her blog posts include Bible verses that Kim says give her strength. In many posts, she asks for prayers and thanks their supportive friends and family. The posts often are accompanied by family photos.
Oct. 22, 2015: Annie’s Story
Annie was born a year ago yesterday (how is that even possible?). She was born on her due date and came home the happiest, healthiest baby there ever was.
We were in Louisville, Kentucky, from July 2014 to July 2015 where Michael completed his spine surgery fellowship.
Just before Annie’s six-month checkup, I was feeding her and noticed that her eye pupils were considerably different sizes. I tried not to worry and planned to bring it up at her checkup a few days later. The pediatrician didn’t seem too alarmed but sent us to a pediatric ophthalmologist for further inspection.
The ophthalmologist told us she had Horner’s syndrome – a condition that affects the pupil size and the droopiness of her eyelid. He said it can be caused by a few different things: some children are just born with it, some have birth trauma, while a few have a tumor on the sympathetic chain of nerves.
He ordered a MRI the following week to investigate the tumor possibility but felt pretty certain that was not what we were looking at.
MRI day rolled around and after an excruciating couple of hours the radiologist came out to grab Michael to come “look at something.” I felt as if the world was crumbling beneath me. I just knew.
He confirmed it was a tumor in her chest … and referred us to a surgeon and oncologist. How could they be talking about my baby? My worst nightmare had come true, but the Lord was there.
A few days later, we had the tumor removed. The surgeon and oncologist felt pretty certain that was all that was going to need to be done. The results came back that it was neuroblastoma in her chest.
At that time, there was no need for chemo based on all sorts of markers, and we were transferred to Texas Children’s Hospital (in Houston) where we would have scans every three months to make sure nothing returned. We were elated!
Life carried on the rest of the summer – we moved to Tyler, had a little house construction done, Michael started work and the kids started school. Life was good.
We finally kept an appointment (for the scans) and headed to Houston on Oct. 7. We saw the oncologist … and she was confident that this would just be routine monitoring and it was very unlikely Annie would need any further treatment.
As we were getting ready to head back to Tyler, the oncologist called with the surprising news. This non-aggressive tumor had grown back bigger than before and it had spread to her lymph nodes and bones. We were shocked and heartbroken.
We started chemo that night and stayed the next three days on the oncology floor.
Annie tolerated chemo like a rock star. So the plan from here is to go for chemo every 21 days … with weekly blood draws back in Houston to check her (blood cell) counts.
People have asked how we are doing and my answer is we are hanging in there. We are ready to fight with and for our baby girl, and we trust she is in the safest arms of all, Jesus!
Oct. 30, 2015: Battlefield
The reality of everything has really sunk in and the daily grind of keeping Annie germ free and hibernated is enough to drive us bonkers.
I wish this still felt like a bad dream, but it feels like life now.
I keep picturing this journey as a battlefield where we are currently killing off both the good and bad guys with chemo.
Oh, how I want to live in a world free of cancer.
Nov. 7, 2015: Not Alone
Tuesday was brutal. Annie’s counts were too low for chemo. When the nurse came in to tell me I started crying immediately and then waited 45 minutes to get more information.
During those 45 minutes I felt true despair. This journey is a moment-by-moment, hour-by-hour struggle of clinging to the One who made Annie and knows every hair on her head (even as they are slowly falling out).
Dec. 19, 2015: Enjoying Home
Annie is doing awesome and we have been busy enjoying this Christmas season at home. I am certain we have never appreciated the hope and joy of Christmas more. I’m continually amazed at how well her body is tolerating these nasty drugs.
Jan. 31, 2016: Weary
I have found myself pretty weary of this road we are on. Part of the reason I have been feeling so weary is Round 5 (of chemotherapy) turned out to be a real doozy.
Annie didn’t make counts on Monday. Wednesday rolled around and much to my surprise she made counts! I was full of doubt walking into the clinic, but by God’s grace her numbers came up on their own for the first time.
Feb. 13, 2016: Walk Not Run
Lately the Lord has been reminding me that this race, this journey we’re on, is not a sprint.
As badly as I want to pick up my baby and sprint to the finish line — the line where they say the cancer is gone, she’s healed, she’ll live a long, healthy, normal life — He says walk.
March 24, 2016: New Mercies
Next week we are heading in for Round 8. Those very words bring tears to my eyes. It will be just one long outpatient day. Hallelujah!
In the beginning, that seemed impossible and yet here we are. I have found myself a little paralyzed with the fear of the unknown of what is around this next bend.
April 22, 2016: I Trust Him
Scans are next Tuesday and Wednesday. To say they are weighing heavy would be a gross understatement.
Annie is doing fantastic, cracking us up all day long and is as strong willed as ever. We plan to meet with her doctor to go over the results.
No more bombshell phone calls please.
April 28, 2016: Thank You, Jesus
(Annie is) 100 percent cancer free! Thank you, Lord for hearing our prayers. Annie rang that (cancer survivor’s) bell loud and proud!
We are overwhelmed with thankfulness, humbled by the army (of supporters) that has lifted us along this journey. We could never adequately express our gratitude. Thank y’all!
For now, we celebrate!
Aug. 9, 2016: Clear!!
Annie’s scans two weeks ago revealed she remains cancer free!!! We have been praising the Lord with thankful hearts since!
I am so excited to be finding our new rhythm of normal, with waves of thankful emotion overtaking me at times.
It is pretty hard to believe all that has happened over the last year but I am thankful to have walked this road, for the friendships we have made because of it and to be able to tell of the Lord’s goodness through it all!