In 1998 Malerie Moulder, now 15, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and was told she may never be able to talk, walk or eat independently. Moulder a freshman at Mountain View High School participates in the junior varsity football cheerleader practice in Lawrenceville last month. (Staff Photos: Brendan Sullivan)
LAWRENCEVILLE — The doctors never called it a tumor.
The pressure, they said, on Malerie Moulder’s brain stem could change her life.
She might not ever walk, talk or eat by mouth again, the doctors warned.
And that tumor, inside and attached to the brain stem, caused total paralysis on the left side of her body, vocal cord paresis and a two-month hospital stay.
Malerie never crawled, and didn’t walk independently until she was 5 years old.
Because the tumor was on the brain stem, the worst possible place, doctors who performed the surgery on Malerie when she was 8 months old could only shave 85 percent of the tumor off of the brain stem.
Somehow, the remaining 15 percent of the tumor went away, which doctors couldn’t explain, her mother said. And this school year, Malerie reached two important milestones in a lifetime of beating the odds.
She rode a regular school bus for the first time, and as a 15-year-old freshman joined the junior varsity football cheerleading squad at Mountain View High School, her home school.
“Lots of prayers, lots of miracles,” Malerie’s mother, Marla Moulder, said. “We’ve met many families along the way that haven’t been as fortunate. Many people in the beginning wanted to limit her, it was all about what she’ll never be able to do. Of course, she’s overcome much of that.”
Recently, doctors informed the family that she would need MRIs only every three years.
“Needless to say the doctors are shocked and amazed at the progress she’s made,” her mother said.
When Maria Sharrett received an email from Marla Moulder, she was so excited, Sharrett skipped down a hallway to the coaches’ office. Marla wanted to know if Mountain View had ever had a special education student ask to participate in cheerleading.
“I was just thrilled because my passion is in special ed, and our teachers are passionate about that,” said Sharrett, Mountain View’s special education department chair.
Marla Moulder said that’s not a typical reaction.
“Usually they’re very hesitant and it’s a ‘We’ll see,’” Marla Moulder said. “Certainly not a reaction of skipping down the hall. It’s usually of ‘We’ve never had that before and I don’t know.’ Once you give her extensive medical history, there’s even more hesitation from people we have to meet with.”
Sharrett said she was excited because cheerleading gave Malerie something that special needs students rarely get: an opportunity.
“I think they miss out on a lot of things and due to their disability, there aren’t many options for them,” she said. “Mountain View has started more options for these students.”
Because not every special education program is in each school, Malerie was shuttled around the county before she landed at Mountain View. She attended The Buice Center, Harbins Elementary, Fort Daniel Elementary, Duncan Creek Elementary, Freeman’s Mill Elementary and Jones Middle.
As a new school, Sharrett said Mountain View has tried to borrow ideas from other schools and offer them to their students, along with programs like Special Olympics and being selected to a homecoming court.
Malerie’s involvement with cheerleading is positive in both social and therapeutic ways, and Sharrett said being involved has “changed her life.”
Her coach, Julie Woodson, and teammates said Malerie doesn’t expect to be treated any differently than the other girls. The other girls looked at Malerie and thought to themselves that if she can do some of these stunts, they should have no complaints about 100-degree heat or anything else, Woodson said. And the coach said she was pleasantly surprised Malerie could do what she did at tryouts.
“They welcomed her, and from then on, I think it was the unknown that scared them rather than what was actually going on with Malerie,” Woodson said. “Now she’s just one of the girls. I think that they have been a comfort to her, but she’s also been a comfort to the other girls as well.”
As she bounced around a recent practice with other cheerleaders, the social bug, as her father calls her, showed why she loves being around people. Seeing everybody, Malerie said, is her favorite part of cheerleading. And she loves telling everyone she meets that she’s a cheerleader for Mountain View, her mother said.
She’s one of the girls on a team of mainly freshmen and sophomores. Her coach said you wouldn’t necessarily know she was different. But because she had seven shunt revisions from 2008 to 2011 and currently has a shunt on the right side of her head, Malerie is limited with team stunts.
“I like Malerie being there because she’s really nice and upbeat and always positive about it,” said ninth-grade teammate Clara Sulek.
When she graduates from Mountain View, Malerie has often said she plans to work in real estate alongside her father, and even joked that she would take the job of the person who works at the front desk of the Keller Williams office.
Her father, Mike, said God had a plan for Malerie all along, while doctors had to go by percentages and histories of other brain tumor survivors. Yet he prefers to call her a thriver.
“I never had the thinking that Malerie would not do great things,” he said. “There’s no ‘I can’t’ in this world, so she will do anything she puts her mind to. I don’t say survivor; she’s a thriver. She’s taken her diagnosis and beat the odds, and is still beating them.”
From brain tumor to high school cheerleader
Malerie Moulder was diagnosed with a brain tumor and was told she may never be able to talk, walk or eat independently. Moulder, a freshman at Mountain View High School, is now on the junior varsity football cheerleading squad.