Carmen Fleming Merrell survived childhood cancer and is now dedicated to helping others battling the disease.
“When I was four I was diagnosed with a Wilms tumor on my left kidney,” the 27-year-old mother of two said during a recent interview at the News-Telegram offices. Her father, Kevin “Fred” Lincycomb has been an employee of the News- Telegram’s parent company Echo Publishing, for over 35 years.
Merrell spent a lot of time at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.
“They took the kidney and I had to go through chemotherapy and radiation,” she remembered. “Chemo was horrible.”
While the treatment itself was awful, Merrell’s memories of Children’s Medical Center are happy ones.
“I remember the nurses being so good with the kids,” she said. “A rock singer named Lita Ford came to entertain us.”
Merrell is now required to get annual checkups – so far, so good.
Her mother is Paula McPherson of Sulphur Springs. Her brother, Joshua Kyle Peters, 25, is a U.S. Marine who has served two tours of Afghanistan.
She has two children, Ava Jones, 6, and Jakobe Dolan, 3. Now that she’s a mother, Merrell started thinking of a way to help other children who are facing a cancer diagnosis.
She organized a Relay for Life team a couple of years ago, but decided she wanted to keep her efforts local.
“We have so many local children who have been treated at Children’s,” she recalled. “I think it’s something good.”
The 2004 North?Hopkins High School graduate contacted staff at Children’s and asked what their cancer patients needed.
“Small toys for their prize closet were on the list,” she stated. “When the kids do something good, they get to pick a toy from the closet.”
Crafts for the kids are also popular.
“Anything to keep them busy is good, especially around Christmas to make stockings and ornaments,” she explained. “They do that in clinic. There’s one lady that does crafts with the kids all day long.”
Merrell said she decided to focus on the kids from infancy up to five years old.
“The toys need to make sounds or sing to get their minds off being in chemo treatment,” she noted. “They get those toys out when kids reach a milestone, like learning to take medicine or finishing chemo. We might think of them as little milestones, but it is huge for them.”
In addition to the toys, the kids need individually wrapped packages of food.
“Goldfish, mini-oreos, cereal bars will work,” she said. “Anything that’s wrapped by itself. They use those in the infusion room taking their treatments. Some kids are in for a while and need something to eat to keep from being so sick.”
Merrell has planned toy and snack drives and a yard sale to raise funds to purchase items.
“We will accept used toys,” she said. “We will sell them in the yard sale [set for Sept. 28 at her house at 2353 Highway 313 - Main Street/old U.S. 67] because these kids have compromised immune systems.”
Merrell is accepting donations for the garage sale through Sept. 26.
“If someone wants to donate items for the sale, just come to our house and drop them off,” she advised. “If they want to suggest prices for their items, that’s great.”
Merrell will be doing publicity for the project on local radio stations and has flyers prepared to post in local businesses.
“We’re also doing a fundraiser on October 1 at Chili’s,”?she said. “Ten percent of the proceeds will be donated to Children’s Medical Center.”
While there is no official confirmation yet, Merrell is hoping other Chili’s locations in the Dallas/Fort Worth area will join the effort, since the proceeds will be given to Children’s.
She also plans to ask for help from other sources, but wasn’t ready to make an announcement about those efforts yet.
“I remember how much fun it was to have those toys,” she said. “I love kids and want to give back. Being a cancer patient myself, I?thought this would be a good way to do something for these kids. Children with cancer almost always smile. I want to keep that smile on their face. It’s a hospital. It’s not all roses and unicorns. Children’s [hospital] gave so much to me. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the doctors and staff. If anyone deserves help, it’s them and the children.”
Right now, Project Smile is being operated by Merrell and her husband, Tim, a welder.
Although their efforts are in the beginning stages, it’s already bigger than she expected.
“I told my husband if it’s this big this year, then it should be huge next year,” she said at the end of the interview. “I’m hoping to do it yearly.”
Raffles will be announced during the project’s time frame.
n Sept. 20-21: Fill the truck with new toys and kids’ crafts drive in front of Dollar General store, 1179 South Broadway St., Sulphur Springs. Toys need to be for ages infant to five years and should light up or make noise. These toys will be rewards when a child achieves a milestone, like learning to take medicine, letting nurses access their chemotherapy ports or completing chemotherapy.
n Sept. 26: Deadline to submit items for yard sale at 2353 Highway 313 (Old Highway 67). Used toys will be sold, with proceeds being used to purchase new toys. Children in treatment have compromised immune systems.
n Sept. 28: Yard sale at 2353 Highway 313.
n Oct. 1: Chili’s Give Back event. Mention Project Smile and 10 percent of the proceeds will be donated to Children’s Medical Center.
n Oct. 18 - 25: Snack Drive in front of Dollar General in Sulphur Springs. Individually wrapped items only, please. The snacks will be used in the infusion room, where children receive chemotherapy treatments.
n Nov. 1-29: Toy, snack and kids craft drive in front of Dollar General. Items can also be dropped off at Home Town Auto, 335 South League St. in Sulphur Springs. New toys only, please.
n Nov. 29: Deadline for all items.
n Dec. 7: Delivery of items to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.
For more information on
Project Smile, contact
Carmen Merrell at
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