The First Annual Survivor’s Scholarship was awarded to Marissa Ierna, a student at the University of North Florida. Marissa was chosen, not only for moving past her medical challenges, but also because of her efforts in helping others with cancer.
The scholarship, offered by Chalik & Chalik Law Offices, is meant to help those whose lives have been seriously impacted by a debilitating disease.
While still in high school, Marissa was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. A small tumor was detected by her doctor when she went in for an insect bite. The bite didn’t seem to be healing, and it turned out she had a tumor growing around the soleus muscle of her right calf. The oncologist recommended surgery to remove both the tumor and the underlying muscle – a procedure which would have left Marissa with a limp and difficult in everyday tasks like driving. This was particularly bad news because her natural athleticism had placed her on three different sports teams, and she’d worked her way up to running the half-marathon. If she underwent the surgery, she wouldn’t be able to run again.
Marissa made the tough choice to undergo a year of chemotherapy instead of surgery, and it worked out well for her. She reports that a year after her high school graduation, she was cancer free. This was in July of 2013, and Marissa is now in college, working toward her degree in communications.
Along the way, she’s managed to raise more than $12,000 for the oncology unit at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, and she’s been recognized by the Association of Fundarising Professionals, winning the 2014 Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award. Marissa has also placed on the Dean’s list at the University of North Florida.
“We were very pleased to hear from Marissa,” said Debi Chalik, a partner at the firm. “Our objective was to find those everyday heroes we knew were out there – those who’ve overcome one of the most difficult challenges life can throw at you. Marissa didn’t just survive, she’s now thriving.”
The message of hope, and continuing past the diagnosis, is one that resonates with Mrs. Chalik, who has had two family members stricken with cancer. Chalik & Chalik Law Offices focuses on injury cases, some of which are due to medical negligence, and both partners – Debi and her husband Jason – see their share of medical tragedies.
“Marissa’s story is one of hope, in an area where hope can be in short supply,” said Mrs. Chalik. “We expect her to continue to be an inspiration to others as she moves forward.”