For many years, students in DMU’s physician assistant program have stepped out to support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS), participating in its annual Light the Night event and other activities that raise funds for research on and the fight against blood cancers. This year, fourth-year DMU osteopathic medical student Melissa Deer is joining that fight.
Deer says many of the patients she’s interacted with have positively influenced her amid the challenges of medical school, but her “absolute inspiration” came in the form of a 35-pound spitfire who would soon lose her hair but not her spunk: During Deer’s pediatric rotation at Des Moines’ Blank Children’s Hospital, four-year-old Ashley was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
The two met on a day the spinal-tapped, port-bearing tyke refused to “talk to anyone in scrubs,” Deer recalls.
“I knew the new ‘Barbie’ movie was coming out, so I asked her if we should make a paper chain to count down the days,” she says. “Ashley said, ‘Okay.’ We started to go to the playroom together every day that I had a break, or I would just drop by her room to say hello to catch a glimpse of her smiling.
“I was going through a difficult time in my personal life, too,” Deer adds. “She pulled my focus off of that situation and gave me this saving grace.”
That wasn’t Deer’s first personal encounter with leukemia, lymphoma and other cancers affecting the blood and bone marrow. Last year, her family’s business, Bridal Elegance in Urbandale, IA, supported the campaign of a friend, Jamie Morrow, to raise funds for the central Iowa LLS chapter and blood cancer research. Morrow’s efforts made her the runner-up for the chapter’s “Woman of the Year” title. That honor and its counterpart “Man of the Year” are bestowed on the two people who raise the most money for the chapter during an annual 10-week campaign.
At last year’s campaign finale gala, Deer was nominated by a chapter committee to vie for the 2014 Woman of the Year title. Every dollar she raises during this year’s campaign, from Feb. 27 to May 10, counts as one vote.
“I was a little hesitant when my name came up, because I’m going through rotations,” she says, “but there’s a larger world out there. I decided to give back to my community.”
Deer continues to be inspired by Ashley, now in the “maintenance phase” of her treatment, who is serving as the central Iowa LLS 2014 Girl of the Year.
“As a medical professional, we are taught to diagnose and treat our patient’s health problems. Ashley’s diagnosis kept me up at night, because there was no quick treatment to make everything better,” Deer reflected in a letter soliciting contributions. “Fundraising is not going to cure Ashley; however, the funds we raise will help patients with similar diagnoses and aid in research to find a cure.”
On days she’s not on her rotations, Deer is drumming up support from individuals, local restaurants and other businesses to donate money as well as prizes for raffles at upcoming events. (Stay tuned to this blog for details.)
“I’m not the type of person to sit around,” she says. “If I’m going to be busy, I might as well be doing something for a good cause.”
To join Deer in this “good cause,” visit her fundraising page on the central Iowa LLS chapter website.