CANFIELD — In the 32 short days between her terminal diagnosis and her passing, 4-year-old Melina Edenfield taught her family and her community what it truly means to “choose joy,” even in the face of tragedy.
Sassy, fearless and too smart for her own good are a handful of the characteristics of Melina, the youngest of the three Edenfield daughters–Emilea, Klara and the baby, Melina. At two years old, she taught herself to swim without floaties, and at three years old, she taught herself how to ride her bike without training wheels.
“That’s just who she was. She didn’t want to wear floaties because nobody else was, so she wasn’t going to either,” Melina’s mom Michelle Edenfield said. “She was just big, everything she did was big.”
On May 22, 2020, Melina was diagnosed with diffuse midline gliomas–a fatal pediatric brain tumor– after having flu-like symptoms for a few days. Despite Melina’s competitive spirit and the family having the means, doctors told the Edenfield family that there was nothing they could do to save little Melina’s life.
“For as competitive as Melina was, even if they would have given her a 1% chance, she would have fought, but there was just nothing to fight. We had the means and the ability and there was nothing we could do,” Edenfield said.
Melina’s illness quickly stole her physicality from her, but her larger than life personality was still there. When she was in the hospital getting a shunt put in, her doctor and her physician’s assistant came in to check on her wearing street clothes after just arriving at the hospital.
“When they came back in the afternoon, they were wearing their surgical gear. When the doctor asked Melina if she was ready to go home, she held up her little hand and said, ‘How was your surgery?’ And I will never forget that in my life,” Edenfield said. “The PA started to cry and the doctor just looked at me and said, ‘How does a four-year-old have empathy?’ And I said ‘because that’s Melina.'”
Melina suddenly went from a healthy 4-year-old who was running around daily with her ten friends in their neighborhood to being in palliative and hospice care. To her friends, she went home after swimming one day and never came back out to play.
In the week before Melina’s death, her dad, Keith Edenfield, and Michelle’s dad had the idea to start a foundation. DMG research receives less than 1% of funding even though out of all cancers, it’s the most fatal according to Edenfield. Edenfield asked Melina if she wanted them to help the doctors to help other kids like her, and Melina squeezed her hand as hard as she could, which was her way of saying yes. With Melina’s encouragement, the Melina Michelle Edenfield Foundation was created.
On June 24, 2020, Melina passed away. Her tragic passing sent a wave of grief through her close-knit community, especially the ten friends she left behind. Despite their grief, Melina’s optimism and can-do attitude encouraged them to “choose joy,” which was the inspiration behind the event that started last year in the Edenfield’s front yard in their Canfield neighborhood. In an effort to honor their friend and process their own grief, the kids with the help of their parents set up shop in the yard and threw an event to honor her and raise money for DMG research. The kids accepted donations for awareness bracelets in cheetah print, or as Melina would say, “Cheeto” print, popsicles, chapstick, and lemonade shakes and were able to raise $6,000.
This year, the event will move to the Canfield Green thanks to an outpouring of support from the local community. Tomorrow from 11:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. Melina’s best friends will be on the Green to celebrate Melina and accept donations. There will be a confetti bounce house, photo booth, face painting, therapy dogs, princesses and superheroes, and a raffle for items such as a 12-foot trampoline, a TV, a tree swing and more.
Edenfield said that the event has grown to match Melina’s personality and her motto of “it’s never enough.” All activities and raffle tickets are donation based.
In the year since her passing, the Melina Michelle Edenfield Foundation has raised $300,000 to privately fund clinical trials to find a cure for DMG, taking Edenfield one step closer to her goal of having her daughter and her life be the cure.
“I believe my daughter is going to be the cure for this. At the end of the day, if I know in my heart that there are 500 people over a lifetime, or 1,000, or 10,000, that woke up and chose to do something different because of Melina, then she’s had a greater impact on this world than I ever will.”
More information on the event can be found at www.thechoosejoyevent.com.