Mercy Haub has wanted to cure cancer since she was 7 years old.
“The irony of it all is unbelievable,” she said.
Today, at 16 years old, that mission still drives her, but now it hits closer to home, more so than she could have ever imagined.
A week before the statewide lockdown went into effect in Washington, Mercy began to feel sick. An assortment of unusual symptoms compounded on one another. She felt weak and fatigued, experienced chest pain and rashes. The symptoms persisted and eventually doctors were able to determine the insidious cause: cancer.
An unbelievable journey
Mercy has an inquisitive mind for science, especially biology, and she is also compassionate and determined. She wants to help people.
“She is pretty amazing,” her mother, Erika Haub, said.
Weeks before receiving a diagnosis, Mercy led a fundraiser for leukemia and lymphoma research and to help patients and families experiencing financial hardship while undergoing treatment. She promised to shave her head if her fundraising team reached their goal. An incredible $32,000 later, Mercy followed through with her promise and donated her beautiful, long blonde locks to Wigs for Kids.
What happened in the weeks to follow were truly a cruel irony.
In September 2020, a CT scan revealed enlarged lymph nodes. After a biopsy, a diagnosis was confirmed. Mercy had Hodgkin lymphoma, the same type of cancer she was raising money for weeks prior.
“Cancer was hovering over me,” she said. “No one knew. To receive that diagnosis was truly unreal and such a crazy form of irony.”
Mercy is a positive person. Her infectious smile and sunny disposition doesn’t usually waver, even in the face of so much adversity, she continues to focus on hope.
“Cancer better look out. It picked the wrong girl to mess with. It’s gonna get it’s butt kicked, and I’m only going to come out stronger,” she said in an Instagram post.
She says this journey has been a learning experience, and she hopes it inspires acts of kindness. Like a wave building momentum, this is not the end; it’s the beginning of a powerful force to come.
“Everyone you know is a fighting a battle you know nothing about,” she said. “Be kind, always.”
Starting treatment at Seattle Children’s
Mercy started treatment at Seattle Children’s on Nov. 12, 2020. Her specific kind of lymphoma is often one treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, according to her oncologist, Dr. Jennifer Wilkes.
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For about four months, Mercy has been in and out of clinic at least once a week, and she has spent many days in the hospital. In total, she underwent eight rounds of a chemotherapy regiment at Seattle Children’s, and she also enrolled in a clinical trial in hopes of helping to advance better treatment approaches and outcomes for more kids with Hodgkin lymphoma.
Throughout her medical journey, Mercy has been an active participant.
“Mercy is a truly inspirational individual,” Dr. Tim Ohlsen, the oncology fellow on Mercy’s care team, said. “She’s a talented student, active athlete, and involved activist. However, what really struck me from the beginning was how informed and involved she has been in her overall care. Hodgkin lymphoma can be treated in a number of different ways, each with upsides and downsides, so an individual patient’s values really matter in our chemotherapy decision-making. Even at her first visit following her diagnosis, she had tremendous insight into her cancer and took a very thoughtful approach to her own treatment.”
Compassionate experts at Seattle Children’s Leukemia and Lymphoma Program care for young people with cancers of the blood or lymph system and treat more young people with leukemia and lymphoma than any other hospital in the region. Consistently ranked among the top pediatric oncology programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Seattle Children’s team is solely focused on helping children beat their disease and thrive. Each treatment plan is tailored to meet the unique needs of each patient.
“The Seattle Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center provides multidisciplinary care that combines the benefits of expert clinical care and cutting-edge research to allow our team to provide personalized care for children, adolescents and young adults diagnosed with cancer and blood disorders,” said Wilkes. “Like Mercy, many have benefitted from our patient centered team approach to clinical care, both in the inpatient and outpatient setting.”
Seattle Children’s is more than a hospital though. Mercy said it’s all the little things that make the biggest difference.
“I have always felt heard,” she said.
From the receptionists who knew her by name to the nurses who knew to bring her a cup of hot water to take her medications, it’s been all those small, thoughtful and personalized touches that made her feel valued and seen.
“Every time Dr. Ohlsen passed by us he’d stop and chat,” Mercy said. “He takes genuine interest, and he asks about me and not just about my cancer.”
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A supportive community
On Saturday, Mercy was scheduled to undergo her last round of chemotherapy. The drive to Seattle Children’s is not unusual for Mercy and her family. The hospital has been like a second home these past few months. This trip was different, however.
Lining the streets outside her high school in Shoreline were hundreds of people. Streamers flowed from their car and balloons fluttered in the wind as they passed by friends and family banging pots and pans, holding up signs and cheering.
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“I was speechless,” she said.
Overwhelmed by the community’s kindness, Mercy said the gesture filled her with joy.
“My cheeks hurt from smiling so much,” she laughed.
Mercy says it takes a caring community to support kids with cancer, and she’s grateful for her community.
“One of the reasons I’m able to be so positive is because of the support from the community.”
Yesterday, Mercy was discharged from the hospital. Her nurses created a large sign to celebrate the milestone with four giant words: Last Day of Chemo! As she left the hospital, cheers once again erupted.
A bright future
Mercy has a bright future ahead of her, and she’s determined to be at the forefront of future cancer research.
“I want to be a person who is responsible for an advancement in cancer research,” Mercy said.
Ohlsen said he’s excited to have her join the field, and he knows she will do great things.
“If that is the career she chooses, I know she’ll make an extraordinary colleague,” he said.
Wilkes echoed those sentiments.
“Mercy’s future is bright, both from the standpoint of her lymphoma and from her amazing ambition in becoming a cancer researcher in the future,” Wilkes said. “She is a kind, thoughtful and driven young woman who we expect to continue to thrive with the ongoing support of her community and family.”
Mercy said she wants people to hear her story and believe anything is possible.
To others who are going through a cancer diagnosis, Mercy said it’s important to remember your strength.
“Your baldness and scars, these are all things that don’t make you less,” she said. “You are so much stronger because of those things. Truly appreciate all the amazing things your body is doing to kick cancer’s butt. And remember, you have an army behind you.”