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  • Cancer Survivor Shares Comfort and Hope at the Quarry Cafe

Published on June 12, 2013

Cancer Survivor Shares Comfort and Hope at the Quarry Cafe


 SIOUX FALLS (June 1, 2013) - A rich cup of coffee, a steaming bowl of soup, a warm cinnamon roll, and a smile that says, “I’ve been there.” These are among ingredients that go into the comfort that Mary Merrill hopes to serve up each day at the Quarry Cafe.

The Quarry Cafe, at the Prairie Center on the campus of Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center, is often frequented by cancer patients and their families receiving care at the Avera Cancer Institute.

As a four-year survivor of stage 3 ovarian cancer, Mary understands the fear, pain, fatigue, nausea, hair loss, uncertainty and also the hope that cancer patients experience. This was a key reason why she wanted the Quarry Cafe to be her main post at Avera McKennan, even though during her 25 years at Avera she’s worked in home health, and at other food service sites, including the cafeteria and main lobby coffee bar.

“Coming to work in the morning is always a good thing,” Mary says. “I love the customers, and I have a passion for coffee.”

Mary suspected something was different when she went in for her annual exam in the spring of 2009, but she didn’t dream that she was about to be diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer. When a suspicious mass was detected, she immediately had a hysterectomy. “It was so sudden that I didn’t even have time to think about it.”

Chemotherapy followed. “Chemo was tough, especially the first three treatments. I never once thought about not surviving this. I just kept going. When I felt good, I was up and about,” Mary said.

Mary, who was raised in Sioux Falls from the age of 6, had plenty of family surrounding her for support, including her parents, brother, her adult children Sara and Cody, and six grandchildren.

“My family was in more pain than I was,” she said. Mary credits her parents and brother for taking care of her when she was quite ill, and her son-in-law for making her laugh. “He bought me this pink T-shirt that said, ‘git ‘er done.’ When I went to treatment, I put that shirt on,” she said.

People she didn’t even know would stop her in the grocery store and say they were praying for her. “Cancer is a terrible disease, but it brings out a lot of kindness in other people. You become bonded with every single person who has ever been diagnosed.” Her faith also helped her overcome her circumstances. “I have a tremendous faith in God. I just talk to him a lot. I always have. But when you go through something like cancer, you talk to him a lot more. Cancer is quite a journey.”

Throughout her treatment, Mary took a leave of absence from work, but she couldn’t wait to return. When the cancer facility was constructed in 2010, Mary believed that the new cafe was where she belonged.

“As a cancer survivor, I always know I’m going to connect with some people,” Mary says. “There are wonderful stories, and there are sad stories. I listen first, and often get a certain sense that they want to talk about what they’re going through. If people feel comfortable enough with me, I may interject a little of my story. Hopefully, it’s a hopeful story for them.”