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A dose of HOPE

Cannabis community comes together to help girl, 4, fight rare cancer -


On a recent sunny day, sisters Leah, 4, and Nora Merklin, 2, were awarded membership into a special club: the Mix ‘n’ Match Creamery Forever Club. What this means is that both girls will get free ice cream forever, said Eric West, owner of the Oak Grove ice cream shop.

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Ava, 8, Luke, 5, and Olivia, 8, watch Colin Chasey work his magic on milk chocolate ice cream with Oreo bits at Mix 'n' Match Creamery.When West opened his shop on April 16, he started with a “goal to bring joy to people within the community and internationally,” by pledging a percentage of his profits to help children in need.

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Enjoying free ice cream with marshmallows are Norah, 2, far left, and Leah Merklin, 4, while Mix 'n' Match Creamery owner Eric West, center, and Bethany Merklin, the girls mother, look on.When his friend Jody Schreffler, an Oak Grove resident, told him about Leah being diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, he realized he had an opportunity to help a family practically in his shop’s backyard.

“I’m honored to have an opportunity to make the girls and their parents more joyful,” West said.

Leah was diagnosed in April 2013. DIPG is an extremely rare type of brain tumor primarily affecting children. According to the DIPG registry, the cancer accounts for 10 to 15 percent of all brain tumors in children, with about 100 to 150 new diagnoses per year in the United States and about 300 per year in all of North America and Europe.

There is no cure, and fewer than 10 percent of children with DIPG survive two years from diagnosis.

“It’s a mean one. The tumor becomes an interwoven part of the brain stem and affects breathing, balance and walking,” said Bethany Merklin, Leah’s mother.

“Our doctor told us that chemo and radiation will not cure DIPG, so we had decided on no treatment at all, until God threw something in our laps,” she added.

That something was cannabis oil, and it has made a dramatic difference in Leah’s condition.

Cannabis and cancer

Merklin and her husband, Erik, obtain the cannabis oil legally through the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program. The oil must be ingested, so they sandwich it between Cheerios and Leah eats the substance three times a day.

The side effects?

“She is hungry and she sleeps better,” Merklin said, noting that those are both good things.

When Leah was first diagnosed, she was given from six months to a year to live, so her parents made sure she received her Make-A-Wish trip to Disneyland right away.

When they came home from California, they found out about cannabis oil from a group of parents on Facebook, and soon everywhere they looked, they found research about the oil helping with DIPG.

“The cannabis oil causes cancer cells to die in a cleaner way,” Merklin said.

Before the oil treatments, “Leah couldn’t walk without falling, and her eyes crossed. Now, she is able to go to school without me, she can walk, and some days her eyes are not crossed,” Merklin said.

“She has passed her one-year mark and her MRI in January showed that the tumor’s growth was minuscule,” she said.

“She is healthy; we live day by day and believe she is going to survive,” Merklin said.

She added, “We are just excited to shine a light on an alternative form of treatment for cancer. Leah is surprising doctors and is alive far past where they anticipated her being — she is our little hero.

“She has endured so much, and is fighting without even knowing it. Cannabis oil has given us our baby, and I thank God every day that, for whatever reason, He showed us mercy and gave us this incredible medicine.”

Fundraising

It is a terrible irony that Schreffler, who told West about Leah, also has a relative affected by the same rare cancer. But for her, the news is not as good because cannabis oil is illegal in Australia, where her niece lives.

In addition, both women noted that children’s cancers are the lowest funded cancer research.

When adults get cancer, like breast cancer, there are well-funded organizations that back them up and help them, and adult cancer survivors can speak out for the cause.

“But Leah can’t do that, so someone else needs to be the voice for children’s cancer,” Schreffler said.

With that in mind, Merklin and Schreffler are trying to organize a summer fundraiser to help defray medical expenses for Leah and her family.

“Last summer, the cannabis community came together to help us, and there was a fundraiser in Oak Grove. The support has been overwhelming; you forget how good people are,” Merklin said, noting that Leah has a GoFundMe account set up and a Facebook page, so people can support her that way.

Ice cream and a free show

It may sound impossible, but Eric West, the owner of Oak Grove’s Mix ‘n’ Match Creamery & Cafe, can mix up 7 million ice cream flavor combinations; just don’t ask him to list them all.

But West wanted to make sure he wasn’t engaging in false advertising about how many flavors he can produce, so he asked a customer who is a former math and physics teacher to figure it out — and the arithmetic penciled out.

And that’s not all that’s unique about Mix ‘n’ Match. When you order one of those 7 million combos, “we make the ice cream right in front of you, and you get a free show,” West said.

He describes the process of making the frozen treat as “where science and deliciousness meet,” because he uses a blast of liquid nitrogen, kept at minus 320 degrees, to freeze the cream so fast that “no large ice crystals form, so the ice cream is smooth and creamy.”

And customers get to watch the magic happen. When the torch is turned on, steamy clouds of vapor materialize, and the end result is ice cream.

You want Almond Roca and bacon? You got it. How about dark chocolate with peanut butter, salted caramels and Butterfinger? No problem.

And don’t even get West started on Twix, Kit Kat, real espresso, brownies or mint with M&M’s. It’s all possible.

As for customer reactions, well, West said “people are blown away and enjoy the show.”

But for West, the business is much more — a portion of his profits go to help children’s causes.

“Our future goal is to make this a franchise and expand to more stores that are all committed to give back to the community and sustain change in a positive way,” West said.

“The more ice cream we sell, the more joy we can spread.”

Mix ‘n’ Match Creamery & Cafe is at 2144 S.E. Oak Grove Blvd., Milwaukie. It is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The cafe sells pastries and hot and cold drinks, as well as ice cream. It will be open on July 4. Call 503-786-8784 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .




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