Keely, 5, and Ailey, 2, give attention to their dad, cancer survivor Chad Merrick, at family time in their Perrysburg home.
Even after more than a year of abdominal problems, suddenly dropping 40 pounds, and having a doctor find a tumor, Chad Merrick couldn't believe he had cancer at age 31.
"I still wasn't thinking anything like cancer," recalled Mr. Merrick, a married Perrysburg father of three. "I wasn't thinking anything like that."
Now, less than two years after being diagnosed with advanced colorectal cancer - a disease that doesn't run in his family - the AT&T repair technician and part-time Perrysburg Township firefighter has been deemed cancer free.
Rigorous chemotherapy treatments coupled with radiation and surgery at Ireland Cancer Center at University Hospitals in Cleveland helped Mr. Merrick fight the disease. So did support from Mr. Merrick's employers, family's friends and relatives, and even strangers, said Mr. Merrick and his wife, Kristen Merrick.
A September, 2007, benefit spearheaded by fellow Perrysburg Township firefighter Ryan Shank and his wife, Kelly, raised roughly $20,000 for the Merricks. The Shanks had to convince the Merricks to let them launch the benefit, knowing they would have mounting travel, mortgage, and other expenses while he temporarily couldn't work.
Perrysburg Township firefighter Chad Merrick relaxes with his family in their Perrysburg home by helping the children with their games. From left are Keely, 5; Ailey, 2, on the lap of her mother, Kristen, and Aidan, 8.
"It's just one of those things you do for a friend," said Mr. Shank of Perrysburg Township. "I wouldn't hesitate to do it again."
Having the extra money allowed Mrs. Merrick to continue caring for their three children, 8-year-old Aidan, 5-year-old Keely, and Ailey, 2, instead of having to get a job, the Merricks said. The Merricks let their children know what their father was facing, they said.
"Without having that financial stress, we were able to focus on our kids," Mrs. Merrick said. "We wanted to make sure they knew what was going on."
Initially, the Merricks were told he would need radical surgery and a permanent colostomy, but they sought a second opinion at Ireland Cancer Center. There they found a more positive prognosis.
They also found some Toledo area ties: Mr. Merrick's oncologist was a graduate of the former Medical College of Ohio, and his surgeon was with the Ohio Air National Guard 180th Fighter Wing
"It was kind of hometown connections even in Cleveland," said Mr. Merrick, a Sylvania native.
Mr. Merrick finished his treatment last spring and continues to undergo periodic testing. The highest risk of reoccurrence is in the first year after treatment, the Merricks were told.
He judged his strength is at about 80 percent of what it was before he was diagnosed.
"I still get tired very easily," said Mr. Merrick, now 33. "I feel good, but then there's those days when I'm like 'ugh.' "
He underwent genetic testing to help determine what kind of treatment he should receive - and to see if his children are at risk for colorectal cancer. Mr. Merrick tested negative, but his children will be closely watched starting when they are 10 years younger than the age he was diagnosed, the Merricks said.
"For their 21st birthday, all of my kids get a colonoscopy," said Mrs. Merrick, adding another test may be used by then.