STATESBORO, GA (WTOC) - Friends describe 16-year-old Madison Merrifield "funny", "silly", anything but a cancer "victim". She was 8 years old when her journey began with what she thought was a toothache.
"I went to the dentist because we thought I had a cavity. The dentist sent us to an oral surgeon," she recalled. "The oral surgeon saw a cyst and rushed me into surgery. On July 2002, they went into my left sinus cavity and found a tumor there and came out of surgery and told my parents, 'your daughter has cancer'".
Chemotherapy and radiation took it away. But a year and a half later, doctors discovered another tumor and she repeated the whole process, twice. The third tumor in her cheek was the toughest to fight. She'd already had as much chemo and radiation as she could take in a lifetime. While doctors searched for another drug, the tumor grew rapidly.
"It was starting to affect my breathing and eating," she noted. " But when they found the drug, within a few days the tumor was visibly smaller."
She underwent a 14 hour surgery to remove the tumor and has been cancer free since April 2007. Over the years, she's gotten more and more involved in Relay for Life. She brought that involvement to Statesboro when she moved here from Florida.
"I look forward to this every year and it's just an amazing event. I just love to hang out and walk for an amazing cause," she stated.
Friday night, she will walk the first lap with cancer survivors in Bulloch County's Relay for Life then lead her own team, "Madison's Friends" to walk and raise money in the battle for more research, treatment and a cure. Madison said even the slightest donation could be part of the funding that makes the difference. She felt everyone knows someone impacted by cancer, whether they can identify them or not. She hopes others find inspiration in her fight.
"I'm proud that I'm here and standing at 16 years old, saying I've gone through this 3 times and you can do it too," she assured.
She tries to make each Relay more of a rally and celebration than a tally of cancer's toll. Bulloch County's Relay starts at 7pm Friday night at the Kiwanis Fairgrounds on Highway 67 south of Statesboro.