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Statesboro teen embraces her place in the spotlight as advocate for cancer

    Madison Merrifield is definitely not the typical freshman at Statesboro High School. She was first diagnosed with cancer at the age of eight. Then the second time at 10. Then the third time at 11.
    When she was diagnosed the second time, the doctors gave her less than six months to live.
    It is  very unusual to contract the disease more than once and in Madison’s case, contracting the disease three times puts the doctors in unexplored territory.
    "We were in uncharted waters. When you have cancer the first time there’s a set protocol,” said her dad, Dennis Merrifield. “The second time you go through it, you start venturing into the experimental range. To get Ewing’s Sarcoma a third time is simply unheard of.”
    He said that with each diagnosis, the rate of survival drops.
    “Getting it the second time the chances for survival drop down to about five percent,” Dennis said. “To have it a third time, you’re pretty much making it up as you go.”
    Ewing’s Sarcoma occurs primarily in or close to the bone and is found most often in adolescents between the ages of 10 to 20. It is usually found in the arms or legs. There are less than five cases in the U.S. for every one million children.
    Cancer is considered to be in remission, by the experts, for the first five years after a successful treatment. After that, the individual is considered cured.
    Mom said “We consider it gone, but that’s the big landmark — five years.”
    Along the way, she has been through incredible trials, seen incredible events and raised a fairly incredible amount of money.
    Madison has created her own non-profit organization, called Madison’s Fund, in which she sells CDs that she records and donates 100 percent of the proceeds to three organizations. First, is the American Cancer Society through its Breathing For Life program. Second, is the Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, where she received her previous treatments. The other is Candlelighters of Southwest Florida.
    Candlelighters is a charity that sends families on dream trips to take their mind of the ups and downs of cancer care. They sent her to see American Idol during its fourth season,  the year Carrie Underwood won.
    “Simon is really nice,” said Madison. “Being mean is just an act for TV.”
    She added that Simon Cowell got her and her family tickets for the two live finals.
     So far, she has sold about 2,300 copies of her CD which has raised more than $34,000 for her charities. Her CD can be sampled or purchased at www.madisonsfund.org.
    Her volunteer and fund-raising efforts were recently rewarded by Kohl’s Department Store’s Kids Who Care program, which granted her with a $1,000 scholarship for college.
    Charles Springfield, a senior account executive at CKPR, said, “She offers hope and inspiration by speaking and singing to groups through the American Cancer Society, community and hospitals.”
    The next fund-raising project she’s going to be working on is a cookbook that she will promote through the Relay for Life program here in Bulloch County. She’s trying to get some celebrity recipes as well as recipes from family and friends.
    “I enjoying cooking anything that has to do with sweet stuff,” said Madison.
    When Christopher’s, a new restaurant in the Midtown Market, opens, Madison said she would enjoy taking some cooking classes.
    She had her own team for Relay for Life in Florida and she plans to have her own team here in Statesboro, called Madison’s Friends.
    Relay for Life is usually held in March or April at the Ogeechee Fairgrounds and is sponsored by the local chapter of the American Cancer Society.
    “It is a big event. Huge. The community really rallies behind it,” Dennis said.
    “Relay for Life is definitely something that is at the top of my priority list,” said Madison.
    Madison and her family have recently moved from Ft. Myers, Fla., so her father could take the job as fire chief here in Statesboro. 
    Madison’s mom, Renee, is currently a homemaker. For the last five years she has home schooled her children. Now that the kids are enrolled in Bulloch schools, she’s enjoying the peace.
    “I am enjoying a little quiet time,” said Renee, “but I volunteer at our church and at the kids’ school. It may not be long before I’m itching to do some more things.”
    Madison has an older sister, Megan, who is a junior at SHS and on the cross-country team. Her younger sister, MaKenna, is a student at Langston Chapel Middle and her younger brother, Jacob, participates in the pre-K program at SHS.
    How has the transition to Statesboro been?
    “It’s been really good. We’ve found a church that we really like, Eastern Heights, and I’ve made new friends,” said Madison. “Overall it’s been smooth, a lot easier than I thought it would be.”
    “Had there not been a Claire’s or a Bath and Body Works in the mall, we could not have moved here,” Dennis said.
    “I almost didn’t move here ...” Madison said.
    “... because there was no Target,” said Madison and her Dad in unison, laughing.
    More information about Madison and her fund-raising can be found at www.madisonsfund.org.


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