The lives of 7-year-old Emma Mertens and her family changed forever one weekend near the end of January. Emma was having a normal day playing with family on Saturday, but on Sunday she started getting a bad headache and developed flu-like symptoms. When her parents took her to the hospital on Wednesday because she wasn't getting better, they discovered that she had a brain tumor.
Specifically, it was an inoperable brain tumor known as a DIPG (diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma). The tumor was putting pressure on her brain and not allowing her spinal fluid to flow properly.
Emma's mother, Tammy Mertens, wrote about the experience on Emma's CaringBridge page:
"We were greeted by an enormous team of experts and a CT scan showed the tumor was blocking flow of her spinal fluid causing it to pool at the top of her brain. She had some swelling as well. She was rushed to the OR to put in a drain"
Emma has since been through several surgeries and begun radiation treatment.
Her family have kept all of Emma's many well-wishers up to date via CaringBridge. Her father Geoffrey commented on how Emma's progress through treatment almost makes them forget that she has a form of cancer that nobody has ever survived:
"Our Oncologist went over our timeline and we were slapped in the face with reality again after what seemed to be a week of "normal" around the house. Seeing Emma progress so much lately makes it easy to forget that no one has ever survived DIPG. The average is only 9 months post diagnosis. These days are going by too fast!"
One thing that has always brought Emma joy and comfort is dogs. Upon learning of this, there has been an outpouring of love from dogs and their owners throughout the world
Emma has since received over 50,000 letters from dogs around the world, all wishing her well! She has received visits from therapy dogs while going through treatment as well.
The Mertens family has a GoFundMe page to help pay for medical and living expenses so they can focus on helping Emma. If you can't donate but have a canine companion, you can make Emma's life a little more special by sending a photo and message from you and your dog.
Messages can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or, if you prefer snail mail, you can send a letter or card to her P.O. Box:
P.O. Box 230
Hartland, WI 53029
Many people on Twitter were more than happy to spread the word.
Several dogs and their families also sent Tweets using the #TeamEmma hashtag.
Kelly Zimmerman, the Mertens' friend and neighbor who is serving as moderator for their GoFundMe page, told Good Morning America that Emma loves receiving the letters and messages:
"The thing that brings Emma joy is seeing dogs, interacting them. It's a devastating diagnosis but seeing her smile in present day and seeing those moments has carried the hope for the family."
Emma is a fighter and neither she nor her family have given up hope. Geoff Mertens said:
"We're doing everything we can to beat this thing. We know that we have a very steep road ahead of us. We aren't going to stop fighting until we can find a cure for this.