COLUMBIA — The normal finds of a rummage sale were organized neatly on rows of fold-out tables: a George Foreman grill, purses and costume jewelry, old exercise machines. What's different were the green ribbons that fluttered on the green shirts of those there, matching the green bracelets that had the word “Sharin” stitched across.
Sharin Muskrat, 23, is a Columbia native and a student in MU's pharmacology program who was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma at the end of June. Her friends organized a two-day rummage sale to help Muskrat offset the high costs of medical treatment; the green ribbons symbolize awareness for lymphoma.
Kevin Gatzke, who has known Muskrat for five years after meeting through the pharmacy school, said the rummage sale was supposed to be a small event, maybe with a barbecue among friends afterward.
Yet a huge outpouring of support caused the event to quickly grow so large that Muskrat and friends moved the event to the Missouri National Guard Armory auditorium.
Muskrat was amazed at how many people came out to help her.
“People have crawled out of the woodwork, and everyone is so generous and so sweet,” Muskrat said.
“At first I thought it would be only my stuff and Sharin’s,” said Carrie Psara, one of Muskrat’s close friends who helped organize the event. “It blossomed into what you see.”
Word of mouth, mass e-mails and social networking sites all caused the event to “spider web,” said Psara. She attributes some of the success to the pharmacy school, which she described as a “close-knit family."
Driving all the way from Kansas City, Steve Stoner, a clinical professor at UMKC's pharmacy school, wanted to show his support for Muskrat. Stoner is a cancer survivor himself, beating non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“With anyone that’s had cancer, there is a common bond you share," Stoner said. "You know what they are going through.”
Stoner said a positive attitude and support from friends and classmates should help Muskrat focus on her health and not the cost of treatment.
Before the rummage sale had even started, when her friends were still organizing the items for sale, Muskrat said the group had raised close to $2,500. That alone will cover her deductible until December, she said.
Despite her fatigue from the chemotherapy, Muskrat moved about the rummage sale Saturday, actively engaging everyone.
“Look,” said Psara, holding a slip of paper from the bank account she set up under Carin’ for Sharin. It was only noon, and the group had already made $4,262.50.
Muskrat has needed the support because she, like many students in the U.S., is under-insured. Muskrat hesitated to even go to the doctor at first because she thought her symptoms were only allergies.
It got to the point where she couldn’t exercise for a month. And then she could barely walk.
“I thought I had asthma,” Muskrat said. “But when I couldn’t even walk—I knew something was wrong.”
Muskrat made a doctor’s appointment, and the doctor gave her an inhaler and free samples of allergy medication. But in case it was something worse, Muskrat knew she needed to get her own health insurance.
Two weeks after using a government program that helped get her coverage reinstated, Muskrat went back to the doctor. After getting X-rays, the doctor told her she didn’t have allergies at all. She had lymph enlargement. A week later a CAT scan showed a mass in her chest.
The insurance Muskrat has will only cover 80 percent of her medical bills, and she said that each chemotherapy treatment is around $8,000 dollars.
“This is the silver medal, as far as expensive goes,” Muskrat said, explaining that her treatment is one of the best.
Her friends decided to help Muskrat pay for the treatment by planning the rummage sale and hope to host more benefits like a sand volleyball tournament, a play and concerts. It seemed only natural because Muskrat has always been there for them, they said.
By the end of the two-day event Saturday evening, the group said it had raised $13,540, all of it from donated items, cash donations and generous purchases.
After the success of the rummage sale, Muskrat has a new worry — how she's going to pay back everyone who came out to help her.
“I’m such an independent person, I’m upset that I can’t bake enough cookies,” Muskrat said with a smile.
People from all over, including her third grade teacher, friends from elementary school and friends from college have all shown their support in one way or another, Muskrat said.
“How do I repay this?” Muskrat asked. “I have to pay it forward. With so much support, I have no choice.”