The DREADMILL! It’s the one piece of machinery I’ve come to despise. Many of these belted running decks have banned me for life due to the extreme amount of profanity that often spews from my mouth while I stomp on them. When the alarm went off at 5:00 am on my last day in Atlanta I cringed at the fact that I was going to the fitness center to face my arch nemesis. I did pack the headlamp but after scoping out the area, a run without daylight was not safe. Once I was done I’d have class then get to go home to Amanda. That was enough motivation for me to make my way downstairs.
I entered the near empty gym where back in the corner stood the quadruplets. Four identical, PVC sheeted, motorized rolling decks with arms and 13 inch screened faces staring at me and probably wondering, “Who’s this douchebag”? I stared back then said, ok which one of you sons of beaches wanna dance with me for 7 miles? I chose far left because it had a window view. I forgot my headphones and needed some scenery to help me get through what I thought would be a long, boring, profanity laced run. I was wrong!
Fifteen minutes into my run and while the TV picture jumped up and down with each step, a young lady from my leadership program entered the room. After two full days, she was one I recognized but had not officially met. She hopped on one of the quadruplets two doors down. I said hello and she greeted me with a warm smile and said hello back. She then commented, so you’re a runner? I responded yes which sparked a conversation that would last the rest of the run and beyond. I’d like to share her amazing story with you.
Her name is Melissa Lizcano, a Columbian native who arrived in the US in 2001 as a student dissertating on the guerrilla conflict in Columbia and its impact on neighboring countries. She found love, married then divorced, and stayed in the US to study. Melissa has always been a runner stating, “I love to run because it makes me feel free. There are no limitations to it. All I need is a pair of sneakers! Running clears up my mind and cheers me up.”
In 2012 Melissa’s life was turned upside down. She was involved in a car accident and suffered some injuries that required many visits to the chiropractor. Months later there was still no relief. The pain had worsened and included symptoms like, bloating, constant cramps, and fatigue. Thinking there was more to it she had her OBGYN run some tests. Then her worst nightmare…the answer to months of pain was a diagnosis of stage IIIB Endometrial Cancer (the stage in which the cancer has spread beyond the uterus and to the vagina).
“I am 32, how am I going to tell my parents?” was Melissa’s first reaction. She has a very close-knit family. Due to the rapid spreading doctors needed to work quickly. Multiple surgeries and chemotherapy would be required. Her parents, still living in Columbia would alternate traveling to the US to be present for their daughter’s surgeries and chemo treatments. Melissa said, “It was a very stressful time for them. Cancer affects all aspects of your life: emotionally and financially.” She said she would not have made it if it were not for her family.
The chemo definitely affected Melissa. “I had peripheral neuropathy. I could not feel my feet at a time. Suddenly I would feel a sharp pain in my legs and then it would be difficult to walk. There were only few instances when I cried about my condition: 1) I realized I would lose all my hair 2) I lost my eyelashes (I looked myself in the mirror and saw Fester Adams) 3) I thought I was not going to be able to run again due to muscles aches in my legs caused by chemo.”
Melissa’s mom knew how much running means to her daughter. “She made me walk after every surgery. It did not matter how much I complained about pain. She would bring my tennis shoes, put them on and walk with me for as long as I could, even if it was for a block or two.” She now tries to run 3 miles/day stating, “I know I lack consistency. To be a great runner that is all you need, actually this applies for everything in life!” Her favorite running pal is her neighbor’s dog Simba who she said is full of energy!
When asked what advice she has for other women, she responded, “LISTEN to your body. Be stubborn about your health. Do not miss a OBGYN appointment. If you feel pain and it does not go away, don’t let it pass. Ask questions to your physician (Why, what, when, where?) ALWAYS get a second opinion.”
Melissa is approaching 4 years cancer free. The experience has changed her outlook on life. “I do not take life for granted. I ask myself every day the most simple question: Am I happy? Sometimes I forget I was sick, though, most of the time, before I start my run, I remember my mom bringing my tennis shoes to me, and I think: “Thank you mom! And thank God I can still run!! Let’s go, let’s hit the road.”
I feel so blessed to have met this incredibly awesome and brave woman. I will not forget her infectious smile and most amazing attitude. Thank you Melissa for sharing such an emotional and inspirational story. I’ll add that the treadmill and I got along just fine that day!
To learn more about Endometrial Cancer through the American Cancer Society Click Here