Everett shares journey to help others

    Meri Everett, 28, has been chosen as one of the two honorary co-chairs by the Adams County Relay for Life Committee to walk the first lap around the Adams Central track at the event on Friday.
    Meri is a Bellmont High School graduate and the daughter of Kim Stoppenhagen and Jim and Becky Everett, all of Decatur. She said she is willing to share her journey of her cancer survival with others because, "If my story can help even one person, it would truly be a blessing."
    Her journey began in September of 2009, when she went to the doctor with what she thought were flu symptoms. When her condition did not improve, she returned to the doctor, who then decided to run a complete blood count test, or CBC.
    The test revealed that Meri had low hemoglobin, white blood cell and platelet levels, some of the first signs of acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), a fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
    Shortly after Meri received the CBC results, she underwent a bone marrow biopsy. And, on September 22, 2009, doctors confirmed that Meri had AML.
    "It was most definitely a shock," said Meri. "I was athletic; I was healthy."
    Her treatment included chemotherapy and consolidation treatment, a less harsh chemotherapy, to maintain remission.
    Meri was cleared to go back to work as a graduate architect at Design Collaborative in Fort Wayne in the spring of 2010. But she began to feel ill a few months later. "I knew something was going on," she said.
    Blood tests revealed her counts were low again, and she underwent another bone marrow biopsy. On September 22, 2010, exactly one year after her first cancer diagnosis, Meri received the news that her cancer had returned.
    Meri said, "When I did relapse, my doctors were shocked. They realized that this leukemia is not responding to chemo, and they recommended a bone marrow transplant."
    "It was different the second time, but just as difficult," she said.
    In February of this year, after several more rounds of chemotherapy, Meri received a bone marrow transplant at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. She returned to Indiana just last month.
    Meri's brother and sister were unable to be donors because neither was a match, so she received bone marrow from an outside donor. She said she would like to meet her donor someday "just to say 'thank you.'"
    Meri said her boyfriend of more than five years, Tyler Pritchard, was her primary caregiver while she was going through treatment and the bone marrow transplant. "His support and care during my transplant recovery was truly a blessing, and I couldn't have done it without him."
    Meri also said, "I cannot thank my family enough for their support during the past two years; Liz August for being a best friend when I needed her the most; and the entire community for showing support and sending prayers during my cancer journey."
    She feels blessed to be selected as a Relay co-chair this year, and is looking forward to the opportunity to celebrate that "I'm a cancer survivor and support such a great cause." She said she is participating in Relay for Life "to remember and celebrate people who have been affected by cancer."
    "Faith, family and friends" are what Meri said have helped her on her journey of fighting cancer. "I don't think I'd be where I am without all of those."
    "I'm ready to be back to normal. I don't know when that will be, but my doctors are optimistic."
    Meri said that this experience has given her a new outlook on life. "Things that were a 'big deal' before are now not so important."
    To learn about how to donate bone marrow, visit www.marrow.org.