• Cancer Patient Stories

    Emma’s gift

When offered a choice between a trip to the doctor or a shopping day at the American Girl Store, eight-year-old Emma chose the doctor — hands down. An extraordinary choice, but then, Emma is an extraordinary girl.

Emma and Dr. Svetomir Markovic
Emma and Dr. Svetomir Markovic

This wasn’t to be a typical doctor’s visit. Emma came to Mayo Clinic to surprise Svetomir Markovic, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine, oncology, and Charles F. Mathy Professor in Melanoma. In her hand she held a check for more than $1,000. Money she’d raised for Mayo Clinic melanoma research in his honor.

Emma’s reason for the gift is simple. “It’s because he takes good care of people,” she says. She knows first hand the care of Dr. Markovic. He was her father’s oncologist. Sadly, Emma’s father, David, lost his battle to melanoma on August 28, 2009.

So this year, as Emma's family of Langdon, North Dakota was preparing to participate in their local American Cancer Society’s 2010 Relay for Life, it was Emma’s job to design t-shirts for their team — Team Scrappy. Emma's mother explains that her husband, David earned the nickname “Scrappy” in high school when he wrestled.

“He was a fighter,” she says, “And I watched how hard he fought melanoma, so it was an appropriate nickname for him and the perfect name for our team.”

Although Emma says that she never quite “got” the Scrappy team name, it really didn’t matter because it didn’t interfere with the t-shirt design: a red star for Dad, and #1, "because Dad was #1," she smiles, and the word BELIEVE across the front.

As she designed the t-shirt, Emma got the idea of selling them to raise money for melanoma research at Mayo Clinic, “to help find some answers for people with melanoma,” she says.

Emma wrote a thank you letter that accompanied each t-shirt explaining the project and where she was donating the money. “I miss my daddy very much and think about him all the time,” she wrote. “All the money I raise is going to be given to the Mayo Clinic in honor of my daddy’s doctor, Dr. Markovic.”

Her initial goal was to raise $500, and she more than doubled it.

“This entire story brought tears to my eyes,” says Dr. Markovic. “This is a wonderful family who has had to deal with so much. Some months it seemed they spent more time in Rochester than at home. I’ve known them for a long time.”

“Our favorite topic, once we ‘dealt with cancer,’ was to talk about our children,” says Dr. Markovic. “Our children are of similar age and they always had good parenting tips for me, and so I was overwhelmed when I heard that little Emma had done such a wonderful thing and raised money to help me fix cancer. With help like that, how could we ever lose?”

Even at this young age Emma seems to grasp the importance of caring even if cure is not always possible. She’s honored the caring at Mayo through her gift. More importantly, she’s taken up the torch to support the care of people with the disease and its study. She never misses an opportunity to inform others about melanoma and the dangers of the sun. “Learn to wear a hat,” is one of her mantras.

Her enthusiasm is contagious and her salesmanship . . . well, let me put it this way, she dropped off a check for Dr. Markovic and picked up a t-shirt order from him with sleight of hand a magician would envy.

Having accomplished that, Emma and her cousin, Grace set off to summer camp. With a skip in her step and a smile on her face, she left Dr. Markovic saying she’d be back next year with double the proceedings of this year.

Emma's story was written by Dianne M. Axen, communications consultant in the Department of Develoment, Mayo Clinic in Minnesota

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