By EMMALEE C. TORISK
Ed Salus couldn’t believe it: His otherwise healthy 12-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with chordoma, a rare form of cancer that had manifested itself in her cervical vertebrae, the neck region of her spine.
The odds that Marissa Salus would contract chordoma in her lifetime were less than one in a million.
“It just floored me,” Ed said. “Her mother [Anne Marie Salus] and I told her, ‘No matter what, we’re your mom and dad, and we’re going to be there every step of the way, and we’re going to fight this with you.’ Wanting to make sure that I’m strong for her is what keeps me going.”
In early May, Marissa underwent a combined 15 hours worth of surgery that required the removal and reconstruction of two vertebrae. As of Tuesday, there’s no residual tumor.
However, Marissa isn’t “out of the woods yet,” Anne Marie said. She’ll be leaving shortly for the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine in Philadephia where she’ll undergo proton-beam therapy five days a week for six to nine weeks.
“For most kids, summertime [means] vacation — not having to travel back and forth to Philadelphia for cancer treatments,” Anne Marie said.
But Marissa’s spirits remain high because of the strong support system that she has, Ed said.
Shortly after hearing about Marissa’s diagnosis, Ed’s neighbors began to organize a benefit dinner to support the family, as did Anne Marie’s co-workers at Boardman Medical Supply. The dinners are planned for Saturday and June 29.
Kristy Trumble, who lives across the street, had known the Salus family for only a few months before learning about their plight. The Saluses, whom she called “an amazing family,” were the first people she met after moving to the area from Texas.
“It was instinct. You do what they deserve, what they need done to help them,” Trumble said. “Who wouldn’t do something for a family like that?”
Trumble said she’s hoping for a good turnout at Saturday’s dinner. It’ll be something to get Marissa’s mind off everything that’s been going on.
“If you see her, you’re like, ‘This kid is amazing, absolutely amazing,’” Trumble said.
She added that Gia Russa has donated pasta, and Walmart and Sam’s Club have donated beverages.
Marissa said she’s looking forward to the dinners and already has picked out a yellow dress to wear for Saturday’s event.
“It’s been really busy,” Marissa said, referring to her life in the past month and a half. “I’m just really excited about all the people that are going to show up to the dinner.”
Ed said he’s touched by the support from his neighbors and from everyone else who has come together to help his family.
Anne Marie echoed his gratitude, adding that she encourages people to come out to the dinners and support a worthwhile cause.
“I would hope that no parent ever has to encounter this ever with a child,” she said. “It’s good that Marissa knows that people care for her and are praying for her and want her to get well.”