COOS BAY — Jerry Merritt wasn’t going to go down without a fight. The 48-year-old North Bend resident armed with his faith, the support of his friends and family and his positive attitude said he wasn’t going let the diagnosis of stage four esophageal cancer claim his life.
“They told me to fill out my bucket list and to go be happy because I wasn’t going to be around much longer,” he said. “I decided right there that I was not going down this way. I was going to maintain my positivity and fight.”
Jerry Merritt was named this year's Relay for Life of Coos County's 2019 "Spirit of Hope" award recipient.
Merritt, an officer with the Coquille Tribal Police Department, was named this year’s “Spirit of Hope” award recipient at the 25th Relay for Life of Coos County annual fundraiser. Merritt, a husband and father, said he has now completed his chemotherapy and radiation treatment and will be having surgery next month.
“It was a fast growing tumor…it looked like it had spread and long story short we got everything tested and it had not spread as far as they initially thought,” said Merritt. “I dropped down to a stage three.”
While the experience has been a roller coaster ride of emotions, the amount of support he said he’s received from friends, family, community members and his fellow law enforcement officers has been phenomenal.
“I’m a happy guy and I’m going to continue to make people smile and laugh,” said Merritt. “You have to have a good attitude and a good support team. If you have those then anything is possible and the good Lord has blessed me.”
So far, the annual event, which is a national fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, has collected over $60,000 for cancer research, education, prevention and patient support. This year, more than 70 people from around Coos County and about 10 teams participated.
People walk around Mingus Pound past hundreds of luminaria Saturday during the 2019 Relay For Life in Coos Bay.
Kim Davidson, the volunteer lead for the event, said in celebration of its 25th year in Coos County organizers wanted to do things a bit differently and for the first time ever featured a live music festival, which took place in Mingus Park, to help raise funds.
“We were really focused on getting the community back together,” said Davidson. “Being in the park there is a different feel. It’s more exciting, relaxing and the weather is perfect.”
On Saturday, the event featured live music with performances by T-Cells, Aurora and Toyz as well as a number of food vendors, a beer garden and its traditional recognition of survivors and caregivers. It also featured its “Path of Stories” and a “Face Your Hope” segment which called on long-term cancer survivors to connect with newly diagnosed cancer patients to give them hope in their battle.
Friday night, hundreds of community members participated in the annual luminaria ceremony at the Coos Bay Boardwalk, where they were given the opportunity to decorate and dedicate a luminaria bag to someone who has lost their life to cancer, is currently battling or is a survivor.
A number of volunteers from its committee, staff from the American Cancer Society as well as the local Down N’ Dirty truck club helped transfer more than 600 luminaria bags from the boardwalk to Mingus Park.
“It was amazing and beautiful to see so many people come together for the luminaria ceremony,” said Davidson. “I first got involved when my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer and when it touches you that close you’ve just got to do something.”
For about 20 years now Davidson has been a part of the fundraiser, which she said she actually stumbled upon by accident. The organization she said has been very special to her and has helped her form connections and relationships with community members she said she wouldn’t have met otherwise.
Aurora plays Saturday during the Rocking the Cure! Music Fest presented by Relay For Life Coos County at Mingus Park.
“Some of these people I never knew before,” said Davidson. “They’ve become family and when you get into a jam they are right there to help.
"Fighting cancer and getting the message out there for research, education and advocacy isn’t just a one day, one year thing. It’s a 24/7, 365 days fight and it takes everyone doing their part.”