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Hope for the holidays: Cancer-stricken Moorhead woman finds support in an unexpected place

Jamie Mercier at her Moorhead home with her children, Sadie, 12, left, and Shelby, 9. The 36-year-old single mom from Moorhead has terminal melanoma cancer and in April was given six months to live, a prognosis she has since surpassed. David Samson / The Forum

MOORHEAD - Two weeks ago, Jamie Mercier was flipping through a phone book looking for a chiropractor to relieve some lower back pain.

Today, she's astonished by the kindness of strangers.

Mercier's unexpected surprise came after a visit to the HealthSource Clinic in Fargo, where she sought relief from back pain caused by a tumor near her stomach.

The 36-year-old single mom from Moorhead has terminal melanoma cancer and in April was given six months to live, a prognosis she has since surpassed.

Doctors told Mercier that without chemotherapy, her best possible scenario is that she will live for another month and a half - or, up to around Christmas.

She explained her situation during the consultation with Dr. Chad Zimmerman at the HealthSource Clinic; about how this could be her last holiday season with her three children, ages 9, 12 and 16. She talked about how she wants to provide her children with three "hope chests" filled with items to remind them of her when she is gone, like future birthday cards so they'll still be able to get a card from their mother.

"This was one of the biggest things I wanted to get done soon, because I don't know how much time I have," Mercier said.

But at the time of her visit, Mercier had only two chests.

Zimmerman was moved by the woman's situation, and by the realization that this would likely be Mercier's last holiday season with her children.

"Honestly, I sit and think about how I will be enjoying Christmas this year because I get to spend it with family," Zimmerman said. "I think about Jamie, knowing this may be her last, and she has a tough fight simply to get to Christmas this year."

After hearing about her situation, Zimmerman was also concerned about what Mercier's children would be left with after their mother is gone. Because of her cancer, Mercier is unable to work, and she said Social Security covers only the cost of her rent.

So the chiropractor decided that he needed to start spreading the word of Mercier's story to try to provide for her children.

Two weeks ago, his clinic started raising funds and donations for Mercier's family. He also contacted other HealthSource clinics across the country, trying to get them involved.

"We're trying to do what we can for this family, to allow these kids an opportunity in life," Zimmerman said.

They're also trying to help Mercier with her final wishes.

Earlier this week, one of Zimmerman's patients donated a third chest to Mercier. Inside, Zimmerman included letters and notes of encouragement to Jamie from his staff and other HealthSource clinics - a "hope chest full of hope," Zimmerman said.

One of the letters to Mercier, from a HealthSource clinic in South Carolina, reads: "You have been told to expect the worst, yet here you are still, doing what you do best, being you and being a terrific parent to your children."

There wasn't a dry eye in the office when the staff presented Mercier with the third chest.

Mercier was speechless when Zimmerman offered to help, and has been "blown away" by what he's done since then.

"He is amazing," she said. "That's the only thing I can say. He made me cry."

Zimmerman can't pinpoint why Mercier's story moved him to act, but he said he was certain he needed to do something.

"Sometimes, we should try to keep in mind that life isn't about one's self, but it's about trying to do something good for others," he said. "That's a recurring tenet that keeps playing over and over in my head."

Courtney Bifferding, a chiropractic assistant at HealthSource, said Zimmerman's actions fit very much in line with the kind of a person he is.

"When he sees that somebody needs help, he'll be the first person to help," she said. "He's very giving and thoughtful for people, and if there's anything he can do for that person, he will do it."

Bifferding said she's developed a friendship with Mercier through the woman's visits to the clinic. She calls Mercier an "inspiration."

"She's somebody who's not going to give up," Bifferding said. "She's somebody who can be a good example for people who are going through something like that."

On the last night of her original six-month prognosis, Mercier was crabby, impatient and on edge. It was also her brother's birthday; but in the back of her head she was worried, thinking about her own future. If the doctors were right, she might not live through the night.

The next morning, after surpassing the prognosis, Mercier, with her daughters by her side, said, "We made it. We're doing this together. It's not just me."

Now, with every new day a blessing, and thanks to the generosity of a man she only just met, Mercier has a few more people on her side.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535