Teen hears promising news about her rare brain tumor


Kassidy Merritt fit a lot into her summer.

The 16-year-old Centennial High School senior had regular days: outings with friends and rooting for Team USA in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Those were paired alongside extraordinary ones: Her softball team clinched a state title, her family vacationed on the beach in California, she attended summer camp and a concert, met her favorite artist, Ron Pope, and attended a Las Vegas 51s game, where she threw out the first pitch.

Merritt's summer kicked off with news that she and her family - parents Ryan and Massiel and brother Kyle - had wanted. Tests showed that the rare, inoperable brain tumor that she battled for almost a year had no cancerous cells.

Even when the still-benign tumor grew by 14 percent midsummer, it was still fair news, Massiel Merritt said.

"If it grew, we knew the medicine was working," she said.

Kassidy Merritt's summer shadow was her black backpack, which contained her near-constant flow of antineoplaston therapy. The oncology treatment is administered by the Burzynski Clinic in Houston and devoid of chemotherapy or radiation. It is also expensive.

The two-year treatment costs about $200,000, or about $7,600 a month, Massiel Merritt said, on top of medical co-pays and other bills. A group of family and friends, known as Kassidy's Army, have helped curb some costs.

The group organized carwashes, garage sales, bake sales, fireworks stands and made a fundraising board game, "Bulldogopoly." They hosted charity 5K runs and two golf tournaments, one of which was scheduled for Aug. 20.

The rally of support has helped the Merritts make about a $75,000 dent in medical debt, Massiel Merritt said.

"It doesn't fail to amaze me how people have embraced Kassidy's Army," she said.

Kassidy Merritt said the support reaches beyond loved ones.

"We see people with shirts and Kassidy's Army bracelets on that we don't even know," she said. "It's cool to see people be so giving."

The family has also rallied with other patients around the world who have brain stem ganglioglioma, the scientific name of Kassidy's tumor.

They keep in contact with families in New Zealand, Great Britain and U.S. states, including the parents of an 11-month-old girl in Houston, to discuss treatment and carrying the emotional and financial burdens, Massiel Merritt said.

"It's just an easy road," Massiel Merritt said. "I'm always willing to share what we've learned so far."

The Merritts hope to make Kassidy's Army a nonprofit organization to benefit others.

Kassidy Merritt is gearing up to return to high school Monday. She attends half days yet maintains an honors schedule and is on track to graduate. Merritt said she plans to pursue veterinary medicine in college.

Along with her schoolwork, Kassidy's therapy backpack will be in tow as she returns to academic life. The tumor's growth spurred doctors to return her to the maximum dose. She will also receive hyperbaric treatment to aid the medicine.

"It's still one day at a time," Massiel Merritt said.

Kassidy Merritt said her motto is "never give up," and a reminder is inked on her left wrist.

The family keeps a blog for supporters to keep up to date with her progress.

In a recent post, Massiel Merritt wrote about the summer and the medical strides and setbacks.

"We've done our crying and feeling sorry for ourselves," Massiel Merritt wrote. "We are ready to fight along with Kassidy. We will never give up."

For more information about Kassidy Merritt, visit kassidysroad torecovery.blogspot.com or email kassidysarmy@live.com.

Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter Maggie Lillis at mlillis@viewnews.com or 477-3839.

 

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