Meet Marissa, a fun-loving, lighthearted 18-year-old Jacksonville local who was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare type of soft tissue cancer, two weeks before graduating from Atlantic Coast High School. An active student, playing soccer, lacrosse, running and swimming, Marissa noticed a bump on her lower calf which she assumed to be a sports-related injury. When it didn’t go away after a few months, she made an appointment at Wolfson Children’s Hospital. After a number of tests and biopsies, her doctor gave her and her parents the news no one ever wants to hear… she had cancer.
The tumor, now the size of a baseball, was wrapped around the bone and nerves in her leg. Surgery was not an option if Marissa wanted to retain full use of her leg. She would need to undergo chemotherapy and radiation for at least a year and put her college plans on hold. Yet, Marissa always seems to find the positive in situations. Shortly after being diagnosed, she took a family friend up on a referral to Live for Today and reached out to us. We met Marissa and her father in the hospital while she was getting chemotherapy. After meeting Marissa for the first time, we were blown away by how positive she was and how her smile seemed to light up the entire room!
People are always wondering how I stay so positive. It’s simple. If I walked around everyday with a dark cloud over my head, then what am I fighting for?”
Marissa soon joined Live for Today, becoming our first member. She was excited to meet other young adults who were battling cancer and learn from their experiences. When we asked Marissa what she would like to do for a Life Adventure, she told us that she had never flown in an airplane. Not only did we want her to go up for a flight, but also to take the controls and experience what it feels like to fly a plane!
So, we brought Marissa and her family down to the Northeast Florida Regional Airport in St. Augustine, FL to meet up with our volunteer pilot, Harry Ruhsam. Harry is a retired military and commercial pilot who enjoys giving back to the community through flying. Harry took Marissa and her family to his private hanger to show them his airplane and explain how everything worked.
Soon, Marissa and her brother Nick were ready to take off for their first flight…ever! They went on a tour over historic St. Augustine, the beaches, the intracoastal waterway, and other local landmarks. Marissa even got to take the controls and learn to fly the plane.
That was awesome! It was beautiful… We flew over St. Augustine beach, so we got to see all the pretty houses. The beach is just so pretty from up there!”
Since being diagnosed, Marissa has been living life to the fullest and taking the “Live for Today” motto to heart. She has been able to meet professional athletes like Eli Manning, Maurice Jones Drew, and Justin Blackman. She has been an advocate for Wolfson Children’s Hospital, taking Tom Coughlin for a tour of their new cancer wing, becoming a member of the Wolfson 55, and personally fundraising over $12,000 for the hospital. She has spoken at numerous events, been featured in videos, and attended charity galas and golf tournaments. As a member of Live for Today, she has learned to fly and attended group events at Brio Tuscan Grille and the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. We look forward to spending more time with Marissa at group events and enjoying her positivity! She will complete her treatment on June 17th and we are all looking forward to celebrating that milestone with her and her wonderful family!