Oxford girl’s cancer journey leads to Rose Parade appearance

Mary Perkins (seated) chose her friend Nina Friedline to ride on the Rose Parade float with her. They hold a sketch of the tentative design for the float. CONTRIBUTED
Mary Perkins (seated) chose her friend Nina Friedline to ride on the Rose Parade float with her. They hold a sketch of the tentative design for the float. CONTRIBUTED

Locals watching the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day will catch a glimpse of Talawanda Middle School student Mary Perkins, a cancer survivor who will ride on a float in the Pasadena, Calif., parade.

Perkins was nominated to be a part of the popular parade earlier this year by the oncology staff at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center due to her positive attitude while battling cancer.

Northwestern Mutual is highlighting the experiences of children at the company-sponsored summer camps with their float themed “Letting Kids be Kids.”

MORE: Oxford named ‘Age-Friendly Community’ by AARP

Perkins will ride on the float with her friend Nina Friedline, 12. The float will have a summer camp theme and the two will be seated in one of two canoes that will actually move simulating a race.

Perkins, 14, has been to NjoyItAll Camp four times, once with Friedline three years ago. She said those camp experiences have been bright spots in her cancer. Having cancer battle.

“There are some things I would have never been able to do without (having cancer) — the Rose Parade, being able to meet some amazing people,” she said.

Her father John Perkins, a Talawanda High School graduate, said the camp has been a positive for the entire family.

MORE: Tax credits pave way for more than 1,400 jobs in Southwest Ohio

“There are a lot of hard memories for her,” he said. “Camp has been a bright spot.”

The eighth-grader’s cancer saga started when she was 2½ years old and a tumor the size of a baseball was discovered on the right side of her brain. That led to a series of surgeries and 18 months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

“We spent a lot of time at Children’s for two years,” said her mother Kim Perkins. “We had 150 days there the first year.”

Perkins had to relearn how to walk because she lost most of the function on her left side.

She then had to deal with seizures and a growth was discovered in her ear, which could have affected her balance. The family left for Boston for treatment of that problem which proved to be benign but did require a long recovery.

“I remember my dad asking me, did you like Boston? I said, ‘Not through a hospital window,’ ” she said.

MORE: Have an idea for Hamilton’s next mural? Submit it by Jan. 19

In October, she had yet another surgery. This one on her leg, leaving her in a cast, which she hopes will be gone by New Year’s Day.

Perkins has now had 15 surgeries in her young life, prompting both a regret and a joke for the always-smiling optimistic young lady.

“My surgeries are older than me,” she said. “I don’t think I should have more surgeries than years.”

Northwestern Mutual sent a video team to Oxford last month and filmed Perkins and Friedline in a variety of activities at Miami University’s Western Lodge. The company held similar sessions with the other two float participants and are producing short videos that will be released this week on their website. People are invited to view the videos and vote on them, with the winner’s summer camp receiving a $20,000 donation.

“Every kid deserves to experience laughter, adventure and fun,” said Eric Christophersen, president of the Northwestern Mutual Foundation in a statement on the company’s website. “This year’s float is our way of recognizing and thanking the individuals and families who have inspired us and others in this fight.”

MORE: Scam involving iTunes gift cards costs Oxford woman $1,400

The trip promises to be a memorable one for Perkins, amid a lifetime of less-than-pleasant memories.

“I’m excited,” she said. “I’ll be waving.”