Family’s memorial foundation fights pediatric brain tumors
CANFIELD — Taking a tragic life experience and turning it into a positive agent for change is something Keith and Michelle Edenfield know all about.
The Edenfields’ lives were shattered when their joyful, energetic and brilliant 4-year-old daughter Melina, who her mother said was never sick, was diagnosed in May 2020 with a pediatric brain tumor.
Melina lost her battle with the disease 32 days later.
“It was the most aggressive brain tumor the doctors had ever seen,” her mother, Michelle, said.
In memory of their daughter, her parents created the Melina Michelle Edenfield Foundation, which raises money for research into the cause and treatment of cancerous brain tumors. It is dedicated to helping other families avoid the tragedy of losing a child by raising awareness and money to help find a cure for pediatric brain tumors.
Michelle said she is astonished and troubled that treatment for pediatric brain tumors has remained the same over the last five decades. She reports that the type of pediatric brain tumor that Melina suffered from was the same kind of tumor that took the life of Ohio native and astronaut Neil Armstrong’s daughter.
“There has been no advance in treatment in 50 years!” she said.
The Melina Michelle Edenfield Foundation joined a pediatric brain tumor collaborative, becoming one of 17 foundational partners that fund clinical trials to find a cure for pediatric brain tumors.
“Nationally, over 300 children a year are diagnosed with diffuse midline glioma (the type of brain tumor that affected Melina),” Michelle said. “The money we raise through our fundraisers goes directly toward these clinical trials; it directly funds research.”
“Research is exactly what the medical community needs,” said Dr. Erin Wright, pediatric neuro-oncologist at Akron Children’s Hospital, who treated Melina.
Wright has spent the last three years at Akron Children’s treating children with cancerous brain tumors.
“There has been a lot of research over the last couple of decades and we’re still trying to find better and more effective treatment,” Wright said.
Brain tumors, including diffuse midline glioma, which was the type of brain tumor Melina suffered from, are the leading cause of mortality in pediatric cancer cases. Researchers are working hard to discover the causes of the cancer, she said
Treatment for brain tumors varies and includes surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, depending on each individual case, Wright said.
The general incidence of brain tumors remains the same over the past decades, with 4,000 children diagnosed every year in the United States. Wright said she sees 30 cases of pediatric brain tumors yearly at Akron Children’s Hospital.
Michelle Edenfield has learned a lot about pediatric cancers because of her daughter’s fight with a brain tumor and discovered that only 4 percent of national funding goes to all pediatric cancers, with less than 1 percent going toward pediatric brain tumors.
Keith and Michelle Edenfield, as well as the people who enable their fundraisers to become a reality, are doing all that they can to change those statistics with the creation and work of the foundation, which involves the support of family, friends, and members of the community.
To raise money for their foundation, Keith and Michelle have planned a “Choose Joy Event,” which will take place July 30 on the green in Canfield.
“Everything a little kid can dream of will be there — bounce houses, face painting, princess visits, a photo booth, food, lemonade and raffle baskets,” Michelle said.
Everything is free, except raffle tickets, she said. Donations will be accepted.
The same event last year raised $20,000, she said. The foundation has raised $450,000 over the last 16 months with the support of local businesses and community members who organized independent fundraising efforts for the foundation.
The reason the July 30 event is called “Choose Joy” is because that is exactly what their daughter did during her illness, Michelle said.
After the tumor was found in her brain stem, “Melina declined physically but not mentally; it did not affect her thought processes. She knew she was dying, but she chose joy every day of her life,” Michelle said. “If she can, so can I. I owe it to her.
“Melina was a gift.”
The Melina Michelle Edenfield Foundation has had a variety of fundraisers and Michelle points out that “the support we’ve received is unreal.” A recent “Evening of Joy” held March 19 was sold out. A benefit softball tournament scheduled for this summer also is sold out.
“I can’t control terrible things from happening. I can’t control my circumstances,” Michelle said. “The only thing that I can do is choose how to respond to them.”