MILWAUKIE, Ore. (KOIN) — Two years ago, Leah Merklin was diagnosed with one of the rarest forms of brain cancer, both inoperable and incurable.
She was given less than a year to live — but she’s beaten the odds so far. Now 5, Leah continues to battle and a new non-profit is working to help raise funds for her family.
The Merklins are the beneficiary this month of that non-profit that began in August. Dollar for Portland was founded by Jared Walker after his own family experienced the loss of a loved one.
“Dollar for Portland came to me about three-and-a-half years ago,” Walker told KOIN 6 News. His aunt died from cancer and he felt the need to do something.
“It was just kind of like, well, I don’t have the resources to give these people thousands of dollars, but I think I can get thousands of people to give $1.”
The goal for the non-profit is to “give families hope and community support, let them know they’re not alone.”
The Merklin family is the beneficiary of the efforts of Dollar for Portland during September, which is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
Dollar for Portland partners once a month with an organization that nominates a family. They shoot a short video of the family, then “blast it out to social media and say, ‘Sign up for a recurring monthly donation of a dollar,” Walker said.
“Every single dollar that comes in for that month goes to the family we’re featuring that month.”
In this instance, Good Roots Community Church nominated the Merklins, who will use the money for alternative treatments.
On Thursday night, a group of people will gather at The Warrior Room in downtown Milwaukie to call their personal contacts to donate $1 per month.
The kettleball studio is hosting the event in partnership with Dollar for Portland.
In September 2014, Bethany and Erik Merklin told KOIN 6 News Leah was diagnosed with DIPG a year before. It’s one of the rarest forms of pediatric brain cancer and is both inoperable and incurable.
At that time, her parents credited cannabis oil for helping Leah, which they said helped slow the tumor’s growth.
On this day, her mom said Leah is stable.
“It’s incredible. I mean, we hoped for it but we try not to expect it,” said Leah’s mother, Bethany Merklin.
She said an MRI in August revealed the tumor is the same size it’s been since January 2014.
“We use cannabis oil as her medicine,” she said. “We decided to try it and she’s still here, two-and-a-half years later.”
“Each day means a lot,” Bethany said. “We didn’t expect it, so it’s special and exciting.”
Bethany said Leah “loves to be a mommy. She’s very caring and empathetic toward other people and animals and baby dolls and anything. Right now,” she said, laughing, “we have a pet caterpillar.”