By Merel Durrsma, Cancer Survivor

I am a childhood cancer survivor. I’ve gotten so used to saying that, accepting that as part of my identity, that I sometimes forget the weight of those words.

In the spring of first grade, 1999, I failed the school vision screening. That summer, I became a cancer patient at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC when an MRI detected a tumor at the base of my brain.

After a year-long chemotherapy regimen, arguably the most difficult year of my life, I was deemed in remission, and life returned to a “new normal.”

But in January of 2001, my family got a call from CHP. My most recent follow-up MRI showed new growth. The cancer was back for round two. That spring, I received six weeks of daily radiation treatments pinpointed at the tumor.

Getting Chemo

Thankfully, this put me into a second remission where I have remained for the past 12 years, and will hopefully remain for years to come.

No child should have to call brain biopsies, Medi-Ports, IVs, numbing cream, finger sticks, growth hormone shots, blood transfusions, face masks, hairbrushes full of hair, MRIs, foul-tasting laxatives, excruciating leg cramps, crippling fatigue, nights awake puking in the bathroom, school days spent in the nurse’s office, sleepovers sent home early, dance classes missed, and friends lost, their childhood.

No child should be so familiar with a hospital that they can find their way to the chemo clinic, the OR, or the radiology suite with their eyes closed. No child should be able to hum along with the MRI machine or an IV pump. No child should have these memories a part of their childhood.

Because I can call all of this part of my childhood, I have chosen to spend my life giving back to the hospital that has made it all more bearable and has given me life so that I may reflect on childhood at all!


While there is so much pain and hurt in my past, thanks to CHP, there is also so much happiness-past, present, and future. Some of my best childhood memories are of Camp Courage, a CHP sleep-away summer camp for oncology patients. Thanks to the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Oncology program, I’ve had some once-in-a-lifetime experiences with irreplaceable friends. And now, as a Staff Nurse at Children’s, I have the privilege of working with children and their families on a daily basis.

Until there is no cancer in the world, kids and their families should have a program and a place like the Oncology program at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

This is why I CureROCK.

Christmas 1999

AuthorWhitney Lerch