Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 14, 1996 Form

On United Way:
Toddler, United
Way Take On

Mike Field
Staff Writer
"July 19, 1995. I'll never forget the date. It was the worst day in my life."

Like many parents of children with cancer, Michele Trieb remembers with vivid clarity the day her then-2-year-old daughter, Melissa, was first diagnosed. Doctors discovered a tumor on her left kidney and left adrenal gland that led to a diagnosis of neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer. They recommended an aggressive course of treatment beginning with chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, a subsequent operation to remove it, then radiation therapy to kill all remaining cancer cells and a stem cell transplant to rejuvenate her bone marrow.

For Trieb, a senior programmer analyst in the Department of Sociology on the Homewood campus, the year following diagnosis was an unending ordeal of tests, treatments and waiting. In December she left work on family leave. She was not to return until August. Her husband, a software contractor, also left work to help care for their very sick daughter. Once or twice, it appeared Melissa--her parents call her Missy--would not win her battle.

It was, recalls Trieb, "a horrible ordeal," yet through it all, certain rays of hope managed to penetrate the darkness. Friends and family rallied to their side. Members of the Sociology Department held a bake sale and raffle that raised more than $1,500 to help the family survive while both parents were not working. And at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, recalls Trieb, "the entire staff was so wonderful, it's hard to describe."

The Triebs were also aided by the Maryland division of the American Cancer Society, a United Way agency that receives part of its annual operating budget through contributions made to the United Way.

"The American Cancer Society performs many functions relating to cancer research, prevention, treatment and public education," said marketing and communications director Susan Bauman. "We also try to directly assist families facing cancer through a variety of programs designed to offer financial and emotional support."

During the time the Triebs were not working, the American Cancer Society was able to offer limited financial services to help with costs associated with transporting Melissa to and from treatment.

"They reimbursed travel expenses and parking fees, which was helpful," Trieb said. "We were constantly toting Melissa back and forth to and from the hospital, so we were very grateful for the support of the American Cancer Society."

"The United Way is a big help with our work," Bauman said of her agency's participation in the annual drive. "The money we receive enables us to provide a range of services in addition to helping to fund research that will one day lead to the conquering of these diseases."

Pledge materials are now being distributed to Hopkins faculty and staff to encourage them to join the annual university United Way campaign. Contributions toward the $630,000 goal go to help support 300 deserving health and human services agencies in Central Maryland, of which the American Cancer Society is but one example. But for Michele Trieb, it is an example that helped make a difference.

"So many people have been so helpful through this whole ordeal," Trieb said. "I wish I could thank every one of them personally for their help."

The biggest thank you of all may be in the smile on Melissa's face.

Now a rambunctious 3-year-old with energy to spare, Michele reports her daughter's hair has begun to grow back now that the worst of the treatments are past. "We're still not out of the woods, but right now she's just doing fantastic," Trieb said. Every two months she takes Melissa back to the hospital for diagnostic testing, something that will "go on for years, God willing."

"She has adjusted very well, and she loves going back to the clinic to see all her friends," Trieb said. "And since she essentially missed her terrible twos, she is now getting into as much trouble as she possibly can. It's wonderful."

Pledges from university and hospital employees have reached 24.5% of the goal. The university's pledges total $152,070. The hospital pledges total $64,124, for a combined total of $216,194.

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