Community reaches out to St. Louis Park student with cancer
A fishing trip that ended in a unexpected diagnosis led to a painful journey for the family of 11-year-old Adrian Merfeld.
The St. Louis Park resident and his father, John Merfeld, had been on a trip when a medical problem led them to visit an urgent care center in October 2011. A hospital in Onamia, Minn., performed scans and then sent them to Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. From there, Adrian was referred to Children Hospital in Minneapolis.
“The doctor then told me they thought he had cancer,” John Merfeld explained. “That was a big shock.”
Doctors removed one of Adrian’s kidneys the day after his diagnosis.
Adrian had been diagnosed with a Wilms’ tumor, a rare type of kidney cancer that mainly affects children.
After months of chemotherapy and other treatment, Adrian’s cancer appeared to have been eradicated.
“We thought we were all done, and then pretty much a year to the day later, we had a big shock,” John Merfeld said.
The cancer had returned.
The Merfelds said they maintained privacy about the cancer during Adrian’s first bout since doctors had said he had a 95 percent chance of survival. Facing lower odds this time, though, the Merfelds said they have begun speaking more publicly about the disease.
“The first time, we were definitely more about pulling your head back in your shell, but this time around, we can’t do that because it’s important people know what’s going on, and it’s serious,” said Adrian’s mother, Steph Merfeld.
“I don’t want any other parent to go through that, so I’m trying to be more of an advocate for childhood cancer,” Steph Merfeld said. “This sucks really, really bad having a kid with cancer. There’s no glossing it over. It’s just hard. Breaks my heart.”
She has spoken to a group for a fundraiser, asserting that more funding for research focused on cancer in children is necessary.
“I cried, and I don’t like crying at all,” Steph Merfeld said. “I’ve always been very stoic, I guess, at least outwardly. It’s a lot harder this time.”
With Adrian’s grandparents living out-of-state, his parents said they have had to rely on friends for assistance.
“We found out we have quite a few good friends,” John Merfeld said.
Friends helped arrange a “meal train” to provide dinners for the Merfelds. A former colleague of Steph’s called KDWB and arranged for a deejay, Big D, to visit the family with an iPad for Adrian, iPods for his siblings, a Nook for his mother and a Gander Mountain gift card for his father.
“They just showed up in our driveway with a bunch of presents and gift cards for us,” Steph Merfeld said. “It was just amazing, just amazing to have that as part of our holidays. It really made the kids’ Christmas. They didn’t stop jumping up and down and being all excited for over an hour.”
John Merfeld reported, “I’ve never seen children who couldn’t stop bouncing. They just couldn’t stop.”
Adrian has also been excited to connect with Big D through Xbox 360 so the deejay and fifth-grader can play video games together, Steph Merfeld said.
Also in December, Adrian’s classmates at Park Spanish Immersion School wore orange T-shirts in his honor. Orange is one of the school colors for St. Louis Park Public Schools and is also a color designated to represent kidney cancer.
Orange bracelets created to support Adrian say, “Let’s kick cancer.” A small fish on the bracelets represents Adrian’s love of fishing.
Adrian has mostly not been able to attend school due to hospital visits and illnesses resulting from a hindered immune system. However, he managed to make it to school for on special day. As a volunteer at PSI, Steph Merfeld said she appreciated watching the students arrive in their t-shirts in Adrian’s honor.
“It was really neat seeing all the fifth-graders wearing orange,” she said. “Some of their siblings had it on, too. It’s just gratifying to know that we have some support in the community.”
St. Louis Park parent Thomas Mundahl, who plays in a metal band called Reverend Poky Bunge, organized a rock concert called “Shock Cancer to Death” at Club Underground in Minneapolis this month benefitting the Merfelds. The bands raised $1,100 to go toward the family’s medical bills.
While the concert took place, Steph Merfeld said she took the family’s two other children, 11-year-old Amelia Merfeld and 5-year-old Avery Merfeld, on a trip to Duluth for a swim meet with the Ridgedale YMCA Swim Team – a community that has also served as an extended family for the Merfelds.
Of the trip with Adrian’s siblings, Steph Merfeld explained, “The family’s more focused on Adrian because he’s sick, but when there’s an opportunity to make the other two kids realize they’re just as important as the sick kid, you try to do that.”
Amelia said Adrian is not home often, but when he is they enjoy playing video games together.
“I’ve never been that sick, so I can’t relate to it, but I know he doesn’t like being so sick,” said Amelia, a sixth-grader at St. Louis Park Junior High School.
Adrian had recently arrived home from the hospital when photographed for this story and did not feel well enough for an interview. However, his parents said the efforts of the community have helped him and the rest of the family during the ordeal.
“It’s really amazing what people do for kids,” John Merfeld said, “It means a lot to the kids, and it means a lot to us to see them happy.”
A Caring Bridge website for Adrian is set up at caringbridge.org/visit/adrianmerfeld. A Facebook page is at facebook.com/KickCancerForAdrian.
Donations may be made by visiting AdrianSlaysCancer.org or sending a check to Adrian Merfeld Kick Cancer Fund, American Bank of St. Paul, 1578 University Ave. W., St. Paul, MN 55104.
Contact Seth Rowe at firstname.lastname@example.org