Updated: July 16, 2020 06:10 PM
Created: July 16, 2020 04:43 PM
(WHEC) — She's 37. Melissa Sciortino has not yet seen her 40th birthday and doctors have told her they can do no more. It's news that would devastate most of us, but Melissa will not give up because she has so much to live for, her daughter, Isabella.
I met Melissa and her daughter in a beautiful park on a sunny afternoon. They were reading a book called Dream Big Princess. It’s a little book with big life lessons read by a mommy battling a beast far bigger than she. They are a team of two working as one, waiting for a miracle.
"I can't change the fact that I have metastatic cancer," Melissa said matter-of-factly. Her cancer journey began six years ago.
"I was 31, healthy, and literally about to give birth in a few weeks," she recalled.
The young new mother learned she had an aggressive form of thyroid cancer. She has endured years of radiation and surgeries and now faces a tough reality.
"I have exhausted the liquid radiation methods, and it should have killed everything. So the fact that it didn't mean that it is resistant to that type of treatment," Melissa said.
The cancer is now stage 4 having spread to her lymph nodes and lungs. Doctors have tried every treatment currently available.
"So that is why clinical trials would be my next step with the hopes that it would slow the growth,” she said.
That's why the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life is so important to her and cancer patients across the world. It raises money for vital research which could be her key to cure.
"The American Cancer Society is the largest non-governmental funder of cancer research,” said Chris Falzarano of the Greater Rochester Chapter of the American Cancer Society.
And their role is huge. For example, the American Cancer Society funded the research that led to life-saving drugs for breast cancer patients that have now become the standard of care.
"But in addition to research, the American Cancer Society provides comprehensive support and programs like our hope lodge which we are standing in front of at our Rochester Hope Lodge,” Falzarano said.
It provides free lodging for cancer patients coming to Rochester for treatment, providing 6,200 nights of housing just last year.
ACS also provides free rides to treatment for patients as well as support groups like Reach to Recovery. And all of it takes funding. That's why events like Relay for Life are so important.
Typically it's a 12-hour event where teams of participants take turns walking laps throughout the night because cancer doesn't sleep, so neither can we.
"Obviously this year is a little bit different. Events had to go virtual given the current pandemic," Falzarano said.
But cancer didn't disappear because of the COVID crisis. And so, for patients like Melissa, the work continues.
"There are times when I could just break down; however, I can't because I have my daughter to still raise,” Melissa said.
In fact, the 6-year-old's name Isabella Vita is taken from the Italian phrase, bella vita, which means beautiful life. Isabella is indeed a child whose beautiful life inspires her mother to fight for her own.
"Having my daughter there is really what I think helps push me to the finish line," Melissa said.
You have the chance to help make sure Melissa and those like her celebrate many, many more birthdays. Join the Relay for Life event taking place Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Just click here to sign up.
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