May 1, 2007
Tifton -- Teenagers often feel invincible, super-human, and even unstoppable. But a teenager found out the hard way that life isn't fair, and can be mean and cruel occasionally.
Sometimes the uplifting songs of life seem written for other people who live in other places, and that doesn't matter to Melissa Baxter.
"I love music. That's what I'm good at and what I love," says Melissa as she practices for the upcoming Tift County High School Spring Choral Show.
Rarely do you meet a more impressive teenager. "You can do anything you want," says Melissa matter of factly, with solidness and conviction in her voice.
She has the life-experience to back up her belief. Her life appeared doomed even before she got her driver's license.
"I had one of the rarest forms of cancer," says Melissa. Ovarian cancer at 15, with a tumor larger than a regulation football, and the survival odds were definitely against her. "Maybe a 15% chance I would live," says Melissa.
At the oncology center where she received treatment, "Fifteen year-olds shouldn't have to be here," she walked to the treatment room where she received life-saving drugs, as her friends enjoyed their summer vacations.
"Instead I was cooped up in this room," says Melissa.
"She wasn't depressed like you'd expect people to be like really down," says Lindsey Roberts, Melissa's best friend.
Melissa had 24 chemotherapies, with all the side effects of nausea, hair falling out, but amazingly she doesn't feel bitter about the experience, even though she has bad days.
"I'm going to think about what made me stronger and cancer is one of them," says Melissa.
Stronger? A personal benefit of having cancer? "I know a lot more than the average 17-year-old," says Melissa.
She knows a lot more than many adults. "All the petty things a lot of people worry about, I just really try to shake it off. What is it going to mean 20 years from now," asks Melissa.
Her friends noticed she didn't react like cancer patients often do. Frequently, cancer often changes people for better or worse.
"I said I wasn't going to let cancer take over my life and it didn't. Your life is what matters," says Melissa.
It matters to her that cancer survivors need more than drugs.
"If others see you triumph over something, it gives then a sense of hope that they can do anything, too," says Melissa.
She enjoyed associating with her fellow survivors at last weekend's Relay for Life; many of them were old enough to be her grandparents.
"Neat to be a part of a group of survivors," says Melissa.
She purposely scheduled herself to walk at two o'clock in the morning on a Saturday.
"Cancer never sleeps," says Melissa showing others the darkness of cancer doesn't have to say dark forever.
Melissa says at times she feels angry about having cancer at such a young age, but the anger doesn't last long.