Meet Our Hero: Ruthie Mersburgh



It was starting to sink in that Ruthie really was seeing a Pediatric Oncologist. “
Ruthie today.

Ruthie today.

Ruthie was just 4 ½ years old in February 2006. The next school year she would enter Kindergarten, which meant she needed to get her physical.  At her annual physical she passed and got an immunization. Two days later we notice a little lump on her left neck.  Ruthie being the youngest of our three children, we just thought maybe it was a swollen lymph node. We called her doctor just to report it but did not worry. We then noticed two days later that the lump seemed to have gotten larger. We called her doctor and he had us come in. He felt the lump and immediately ordered blood work and a neck and chest x-ray.  By 5pm that afternoon I got a call that we needed to pick up her chest x-ray and take her to Kapiolani Women's and Children Hospital.  The trip to the hospital required an airplane ride as it is located on a different island than we live on in Hawaii. We still did not think that Ruthie had cancer as her blood work was normal. When I was booking the flights I also Googled the doctor’s name we were going to see. It was starting to sink in that Ruthie really was seeing a Pediatric Oncologist. 

We got to the hospital, were admitted, and then she started her first three week stay.  It took a while to diagnose her. That was the hardest part of this journey. Our little girl was diagnosed with Stage IV Neuroblastoma, non MYNC amplified. Neuroblastoma is a very difficult cancer to beat as the treatment is so brutal. March 2006 started our one year journey of treatment which included chemotherapy, two major surgeries, a stem cell transplant, radiation and Accutane.  While doing the scans to prepare for her transplant, we found out that Ruthie had relapsed which earned her two extra rounds of chemotherapy.

Ruthie during treatment.

Ruthie during treatment.

Having a child with such a serious illness required us to move to Oahu for a year as that is where her treatment would be done at the children’s hospital.  I quit my job to care for Ruthie full time. Dad and Ruthie’s two other siblings came to visit us on the weekends.  At the time there was a year long airfare war going on so flights were very discounted.  As you can see this was a very difficult and chaotic time for our family. Many people and organizations helped us.

The actual treatment plan was very fast past and grueling.  It was like actually jumping on a fast moving training that does not stop for breaks.  But through this time we were able to still make friends.  Some we still have today, and others have gone on because their cancer had become too strong.  Ruthie had to learn many of life’s lessons at an early age when children should not have to. Instead of looking at this in a negative light our family chose to look for the ray of sunshine in each day. Some days that ray of sunshine only was a glimmer, but it was there.

Through this experience Ruthie has remained such an amazing person. She has been NED (No Evidence of Disease) for several years. What now affects her is the life-long side effects which we have a team of doctors to care for. Ruthie lives a full life.  She spends much of her free time paddling outrigger canoes and sailing traditional Hawaiian sailing canoes.