As her mother describes it, Marissa was doing “awesome” after a nigh spent in ICU. By evening, she was walking around. Her neurosurgeon was amazed. The bad news, however, soon followed that Marissa’s growth was malignant.
Marissa immediately began receiving radiation treatments. Three weeks later, her oncologist approached her parents and said, “There's something exciting that I want to discuss.” The doctor was referring to Precision Oncology For Young People, or PROFYLE. This research project is transforming the way children and young adults with difficult-to-treat cancers are treated. Samples from their tumour undergo genetic analysis to identify specific molecular targets for therapy.
Cells from Marissa’s growth were sent away for genetic analysis. In the meantime, a second surgery was conducted to remove her tumour followed by more radiation to kill any malignant cells left behind.
Asked for her recollections about this stage in her recovery, Marissa says, “At first, I was asleep almost the entire time. I knew what was going on but I just shrugged the situation off and went back to sleep. I did not want to get stressed out because I knew that would make things a lot worse.” Admiring her fortitude, Jan says, “She definitely took it like a champ. She was a trooper through the whole thing.”
To help bolster Marissa’s spirits, and to help her family out financially, the hockey association she played with hosted a fundraiser to help with travel and other expenses. More than 1,000 people came out to show their support. The event was covered in the media, which referred to her as “Marissa the fierce.”
#MarissaTheFierce began trending on social media.
In addition to this outpouring of support, Marissa pays special tribute to her dog Bauer, named after the company that makes hockey skates, for getting her through this difficult time. Thankful for all the help they received from the community, Marissa’s family later fundraised forthe Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada and Make-a-Wish Foundation.
Eager to hear the results from the genetic analysis, Jan concedes she “drove the doctor a little crazy” because she was constantly asking if there was any news. Four distinct genetic mutations were identified that contributed to Marissa’s cancer. A treatment was identified that targets one of these mutations.
As it turns out, further treatment was not needed. The surgery was a success, with no reoccurrence of the cancer. However, says Jan, “it is very reassuring to know PROFYLE has identified a drug that we now have in our back pocket if a problem were to arise.” She adds that, based on this new form of therapy, “there are always new trials coming out” that could target the other three mutations and add to Marissa’s arsenal of treatments if need be.
Five years after her ordeal began, Marissa is back to playing hockey following physiotherapy. Now 18, she looks forward to a new chapter in her life, one that is no longer defined by cancer. She plans to study early childhood education.
Gord Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in May 2016 according to Billboard News
According to the CBC
, Gord Downie talks about cancer, his recent cross-country tour and why he's focusing on Indigenous issues
“Marissa the fierce: Community rallies around N.B. teen with brain tumour.” CTV Atlantic. November 9, 2017. Accessed online