MIDDLEBURG HEIGHTS, Ohio – Athena Mericsko says her name symbolizes strength, but it took just one word to shake her to her core – cancer.
"It took me by surprise," Mericsko told WJW. "I was training for a marathon."
Diagnosed with Leukemia in 2012, Mericsko says she was taking things day by day. Her rigorous treatment included multiple blood transfusions, 48 arsenic treatments and three rounds of chemotherapy.
"We tried to keep very positive try to keep very hopeful about everything," said Mericsko. "We were just trying to take it one step at a time."
The doctor who remained by her side is the director of the Leukemia Program at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Mikkael Sekeres.
"I always joke, 'Gee, you should name the baby after me,'" said Dr. Sekeres. To his knowledge, he said, no one had ever taken him seriously until Mericsko became pregnant after a yearslong journey to regain her health.
Her son Henry, now 4 months old, has two middle names – one honors a beloved family member and the other is Mikkael, after the doctor who helped make his life possible.
"There is this overwhelming sense of responsibility all of a sudden, that I really had to live up to something," said Dr. Sekeres with a laugh. "To earn this baby having his name the same as mine."
Sekeres is not just her doctor but also a friend outside of the hospital, who, Mericsko says, will forever be woven into the fabric of her family. She told WJW she continues to give thanks for all he helped her accomplish.
"It's definitely a life that my spouse and I are very grateful for," said Mericsko. "We definitely are sure to give thanks every day for it. We don't take any days for granted. And we really feel that we have lucked out."
This December marks six years since Mericsko's cancer went into remission.