Two stories of courage in cancer struggles [Ellicott City]

"Is solace anywhere more comforting than in the arms of sisters?" wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alice Walker. This is all too true for sisters and Mt. Hebron graduates Stephanie and Jen Merson.  

"Out of the blue one day, Jen suffered from two grand mal seizures. She was taken to University of Maryland Medical Center where we were told she had Grade 3 astryocytoma (brain tumor). When they performed surgery they were not able to get it all out so one day this will come back unfortunately," said Stephanie. "They say the average is three years. She is currently undergoing experimental chemotherapy for a year ... (and) radiation."

Stephanie, her twin sister Christina and their large, close-knit family have been there for Jen every step of the way, including the craniotomy she underwent in July. 

"It is tough for her living day to day wondering when it will come back or if her scans will show cancer growth," said Stephanie about her sister, who turned 28 on March 19.

As manager of the Uno Pizzeria and Grill in Ellicott City, Stephanie recently conducted a "doughraiser" —  a fundraiser where Uno donates 15 to 20 percent of the cost of a customer's check to charity — to support her sister's fight against cancer.  

Over 50 customers participated in the "doughraiser" that was held in multiple Uno's locations in Maryland and Virginia. Proceeds from the event will be donated to the Race for Hope 5K walk/run, an organization that raises funds for brain tumor research. Jen has also organized a team, Forever Fighting, to participate in the May 4 Race for Hope 5K  in Washington, D.C. 

With Jen at their side, Stephanie and family, plan to walk in this event, one of the largest fundraisers in the country that supports the National Brain Tumor Society and Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure.  

While its common to see groups at this race wearing matching t-shirts, Stephanie and her sisters will be sporting something unique. 

"My twin sister Christina, Jen and I all got matching tattoos to symbolize our strong bond and how strong she has been throughout this battle," touted Stephanie.  

Stephanie invites the community to join Jen and their family on the Forever Fighting team. If you would like to donate to the team or participate in the run or walk, go to the team's website at Click the hyperlink "View All Events," scroll down to "Race for Hope Washington, DC — May 4" then click "Register to Run/Walk," "Join Team" and enter team name "Forever Fighting." 

In 2012, another local family organized a team for the Race for Hope 5K — Team Zaching, in honor of Centennial High graduate  Zach Lederer and his fight against brain cancer.  Zach participated in the event along with approximately 100 of his teammates all wearing grey "Zaching" T-shirts where he was the named the recipient of the Rabbi Joseph P. Weinberg Triumph of Spirit Award.

Lederer passed away on March 11 at the age of 20 after battling the disease for nine years.  He gained national attention when a photo of him flexing his muscles after brain surgery went viral. This "Zaching" pose showed the young man's strength and defiance against cancer. Zaching became a symbol of hope and courage for anyone struggling with this devastating disease. 

Over a thousand people attended the University of Maryland student's memorial service held on March 21 at the Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City. I couldn't help but notice that it was raining that morning, as if the weather was mimicking our community's tears. Then, suddenly, the rain stopped and the sun came out. Symbolic of Lederer, a ray of sunshine broke through the clouds to bring hope to his friends and family. His inspiration is a legacy to our community.  Thank you, Zach — and rest easy. 

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