Merlinda Chelette wasn’t expected to still be here, much less planning a fundraising party at the Dallas Country Club.
But four years after a stage IV kidney cancer diagnosis, she is serving as co-chair for Rock the Cure for Kidney Cancer, a new event organizers hope will become an annual affair.
“For some reason God has allowed me to live longer than the average kidney cancer patient,” said Chelette, who has had two back surgeries, a kidney removed, and three rounds of high-dose radiation since her diagnosis in August 2012.
The four-year survival rate for those diagnosed with stage IV kidney cancer — meaning the disease has spread to other parts of the body — is only 10 percent, according to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. The five-year survival rate is 8 percent.
But researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center are working to improve those rates, and all proceeds from Rock the Cure on Feb. 25 will go toward that effort.
The Kidney Cancer Program, formalized in 2013, involves more than 20 physicians and 40-plus other scientists, according to utsouthwestern.edu.
Chelette, of Arlington, serves on the Patient Council Board at UT Southwestern and volunteers weekly at Simmons.
Wanting to do more to increase kidney cancer awareness and raise research dollars, she used an online support group at smartpatients.com to connect with kidney cancer patient Ralph Knapp, of Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Knapp and his wife, Brenda, raised more than $300,000 to fund a clinical trial at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and UT Southwestern and founded the nonprofit Kidney Cancer Coalition, according to the coalition’s website beatkc.org.
The coalition sponsored its first Rock the Cure event last year in Virginia Beach, raising more than $100,000 for cancer research.
The Dallas event will include dinner, dancing, and an auction. The Big Daddy Band will perform and Dallas’ Aaron Aryanpur, 2012’s Funniest Comic in Texas, will emcee.
Aryanpur, who lost his father to cancer last year, is filling in for comedian Larry Garza, of San Antonio. Garza had to withdraw because of complications related to his own battle with kidney cancer, Chelette said.
“Many of the people involved with this event have some relation to kidney cancer,” she said.
Outdoorsman Joe Bird, husband of Rock the Cure co-chair Anita Bird, of Hawkins, is a stage IV kidney cancer survivor.
On beatkc.org, Chelette describes how the first hint of her illness emerged as persistent lower back pain.
“Thinking that I had pulled a muscle while working as an ER nurse, I ignored this pain,” she said. But as the pain increased, she sought care and learned she had a tumor on her right kidney and the cancer had spread to her second lumbar vertebra.
“As my husband and I drove home with the news of cancer, I looked at my wonderful husband of 24 years realizing all our dreams of growing old together had vanished,” she said. “My future looked bleak and my dreams were shattered.”
Still a cancer patient, her future remains uncertain.
Chelette takes an oral chemotherapy drug aimed at stopping the spread of the disease by preventing new blood vessels from going to the cancer cells.
She relies on her faith and hopes fundraisers like Rock the Cure will speed progress toward a cure.
“I don’t know if it will benefit me, but hopefully the people who come after me,” Chelette said. “That’s what I want to try to do before I go home.”