We want to introduce you to Mercedes Renee Eldridge. Out of her struggles, healing, and obedience she created and fosters a community dedicated to encouraging and supporting cancer survivors.
Tell us a little about yourself before your diagnosis. Well, I was living a typical 24-year-old life. I attended church but did not really walk with God. I had a strong family life. My family possessed a strong faith. But I was torn between the world and God’s word. I attended school and planned to get a degree. It was a pretty normal life. I had a circle of friends, church friends, and my family. At 24 I received a diagnosis of Leukemia. It shocked me to the core. I had never heard of anyone having cancer at my age. How long did the shock last? Well, about the time I received the diagnosis, God spoke to me. He said, “Whatever you go through, I will be there. This was a really powerful moment. It changed my outlook for the better. How did this help you move forward? It helped me move from treatment to treatment. Through the chemo, a coma, radiation, and blood transfusions. All of it. That sounds like a long, difficult process. Tell us how treatments impacted you and your lifestyle. Well, I felt isolated. With chemotherapy, I lost my hair, which, quite honestly embarrassed me. It took a toll on my self-esteem. I found myself avoiding others. I didn’t want to see friends; I didn't want other people to see me as “sick”. Depression impacted my ability to connect when friends reached out. My community became my family, who continued to support me, my church family, who continued praying for me, and a few close friends. I knew my church family surrounded me with prayer. But I withdrew. In hindsight, would you do the same things? Looking back, I would encourage others to keep doing life, to stay in the community. There is power in living life the best you can during a cancer fight. So, after chemotherapy, what happened next? A lot really. I received radiation treatment and then went on to replace my bone marrow. The bone marrow process required finding a donor and trusting in God at each step. The day we found and met my donor was an emotional day. Unfortunately, with zero immune system function, recovery became difficult. Without notice the medical professionals placed me in an induced coma for 30 days, to reduce the risk of oxygen levels dropping any further. Wow. So you had no idea they put you in a coma? What happened when you came out? How did that feel? I lost 30 pounds. I experienced extreme muscle atrophy. My body didn't remember how to do anything. I didn’t have any memories, only slight hazy memories of a dream. In the days that followed my mind didn’t connect. I had to relearn everything. The struggles were not over. But I remembered that God was always with me. So I kept focusing on the future. What other struggles did you encounter? What kind of support did you have? I had to deal with my own doubt and frustration. So many times during chemo and radiation treatment, I wondered “Why is this happening to me?” I healed enough to leave the hospital, but not enough to go home. I had to move to an in-patient recovery facility. We struggled through the challenges of finding a facility that catered to a young woman, something that was not a hospice facility. Somewhere I would fit in. It was a terrible struggle. We stayed in prayer. And while my placement wasn’t perfect, God allowed my body to heal in such a manner that my stay was shortened considerably from what it could have been. How long did your rehabilitation take? It took about two years to feel normal. I relearned everything. Between occupational therapy and physical therapy, I learned how to do things for myself. I learned first to use a wheelchair, and after time finally to walk and run on my own. I was and am continually amazed at how the body heals itself. I knew I wanted to go back to work even part-time. I realized I wanted to help others going through similar experiences. I wanted to connect and help others. Throughout this time my family and I remained spiritually connected to my church. My community. Their prayers and belief helped me. My healing is truly a miracle and I want others to know there is hope. The Power of Prayer is powerful. God hears us. I wanted to be that community for others. You maintained a posture of worship, and it allowed you to receive the Lord, allowed you to gain daily strength from His presence. What an amazing truth to hold on to. I grasped the scripture Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me…” To me, this meant literally, all things: Move a fork to my mouth, hold on to an expo marker, get dressed, walk, work. All things. How else did your life changed? I just kept wanting to do something. I’d pray and wait. I began creating care kits, for anyone recently diagnosed or going through cancer treatment. It didn't matter if they were believers or not. I wanted to share the hope and the wisdom that God was with them, loved them, and would hear their prayers as He did for me! Tell us more about the care kits. These care kits include a cute pink baseball hat, hand sanitizer, tissue chapstick, and other goodies. Things to help women go through treatment. I called them my Survivor Babe kits! And word got around, others reached out, and would ask for kits. Soon, others heard what I was doing, and would donate resources or funding so that I could continue supporting others. That’s amazing! You’ve become a bit of a support group all on your own. Well, that was the next step! You see, attending survivor groups was challenging for me due to the age difference between myself and most other cancer survivors, typically older adults. And I wanted to create a community where fighters and survivors grow together… not just a support group, but more. So I built a Facebook group where we can share, encourage and do life together. What an amazing testimony to God’s goodness and strength. He took your struggles and used it for a bigger purpose. While I would never want to say God caused cancer, I know He used it to change my perspective. He used it as a wake-up call. I needed to change how I was living my life. He took me from hopeless without Christ to hopeful. And God hadn’t finished His work in me. God brings connections through friends, friends of friends. In fact, it’s how I met my husband. Through a friend of a friend, he saw the Survivor Babes posts and loved what I was doing. We started texting, then met for tea, then started dating. When we married, I became a mom to two beautiful, young girls. God brought me a family. God truly can restore, and bring new life when we trust in him! What would you say to others who are facing a battle today? Trust his timing. Trust God to speak to us. Trust that God is our protector and provider. And He will never leave you. If you are fighting cancer, want to encourage someone with cancer, or want to support the Survivor Babes community, you can check out Mercedes’ Facebook group for Survivor Babes at www.facebook.com/survivorbabes or Instagram page Instagram.com/survivorbabes1.