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Strength in Sharing Your Story

Strength in Sharing Your Story

Most people know me by my smile, I take a million selfies (my ruck club actually calls them melfies) and my smile shines bright no matter if I’m running a few miles or rucking up a mountain in the middle of the night with a 20lb ruck on my back and an 80lb sandbag on my shoulders.

I believe that the things that are meant to truly test us, to really challenge our strength and fortitude completely blindside us so we are unprepared and when you hear the words “you have cancer” you can actually feel the wind get knocked out of you so hard that you have to hold on to something to steady yourself.

That’s exactly what happened to me when my smile was put to the ultimate test on January 14, 2022 which is the date that I was diagnosed with Stage 0 DCIS breast cancer in my left breast (unfortunately moved up to early Stage 1 microinvasive and DCIS breast cancer after a second .4mm tumor was found during my surgery in March of 2022).

I questioned every aspect of my life because statistically, me having cancer is not a thing: I’ve been vegan for 8 years, I’m an extreme endurance athlete who trains 3-4 hours every single day and I have no history of any cancers on either side of my family. But as it turns out, the statistics don’t matter because, like it or not, I had cancer and this was now going to be part of my journey.

My doctors made it very clear that I was not going to die but I would require surgeries, treatments that were still TBD and so many unknown variables that would have me on a roller coaster for what still seems like an eternity.

When I was first diagnosed I had a choice, I could go through all of this on my own feeling sorry for myself with my anxiety at threat level 4,000 or I could use this opportunity that was handed to me on a shiny silver platter to learn how to love myself and be completely vulnerable by asking for help getting through this as I put my entire story out to the world through social media.

I will never regret the decision that I made to share my story, especially after finding out that I needed to go through 12 weeks of chemotherapy before I started radiation.

Somehow in telling the world what I was going through and that I was scared, I found my strength. The amount of love and support I still receive every day is overwhelming, sometimes these messages bring me to tears. It is impossible to feel sorry for yourself when you are surrounded by so much love.

So I took that and I ran with it…literally and I did not stop.

I started working with an amazing nutritionist who put me on a healthy macro vegan diet full of bright vegetables with vitamins and antioxidants. I kept working out; strength training, running, walking, swimming, spin, yoga, anything my doctors would let me do. My chemo port was a few inches away from my ruck strap so I rucked every chance I could, my mom even wrapped my left ruck strap in pool noodle so it wouldn’t irritate where I had my surgeries. I ran 2 of my 3 legs in a Ragnar relay going from San Diego to Huntington Beach the weekend after my second treatment. I decided to start the 75 Hard program 19 days before I started chemotherapy (for those that know, this program is no joke) and I finished it.

Because of my lifestyle the side effects of my chemo treatments were almost non-existent. My white blood cell count stayed high, anemia was never an issue, I was nauseous for maybe 10 minutes total for the entire 12 weeks of treatment. My oncologist told me that she tells people about me because I refuse to let cancer or chemo stop me.

For the first time I see how mentally strong I really am.

While, obviously I have had to take a lot of events off of my calendar, I still have the two big ones at the end of the year that have been the focus of my training. One is the Devils Den Ultra 30 hour trail run, where I will attempt to run my first 100 miler. The second is the GoRuck Marine Recon HTB in San Clemente, which is 3 military style ruck events put together in one weekend (a heavy - 24ish hours, a tough 12ish hours and a basic 4ish hours). This one is my redemption event as I had only finished the heavy portion of it in my first attempt back in 2020.

Being able to continue training for these two events has given me something to focus on besides being a cancer/chemo patient.

However, along the way I have learned how incredible my body is, what it is capable of and how I refuse to back down from a fight. I have learned not to bully myself because there is a war going on inside of me and, yes, I put on 25lbs because I’m healing from multiple surgeries and so much water retention from chemo. I’ve learned to be flexible because maybe I need a nap or I did 45 minutes of yoga instead of some extreme intense cardio workout. Every step of the way, I’ve learned how to listen and give my body what it needs.

I have also learned to slow down, to look up at the sky more, put my feet in the ocean every opportunity I get and take deeper breaths when I’m in the mountains. As I continue to navigate through the unknown, I am truly grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow so my smile is as bright as ever.

“I am thankful for my struggle because without it I would have never found my strength.” - Alex Elle

If you’d like to follow my journey, you can find it on my insta page (@melissarrrrgh).