By Avra Sullivan
In January of 2012, a slight tingling in her toes led to weakness in her legs. Within a few weeks, Melissa was unable to walk. Due to the amount of radiation used to treat her cancer, Melissa had developed Transverse Myelitis, a very rare and painful neurological disorder where the body attacks its own spinal cord. She is now paralyzed from the chest down.
Melissa longs to work and live independently; just to walk her dogs would be a thrill. Those around her say that Melissa always was the first to help anyone in need. She helped take care of her family and has a close relationship with her three siblings. “I’ve just always been the backbone of my family, and I’ve always been fine with that. I just don’t give it a second thought.” She also did volunteer work, such as making meals for the homeless, something she is passionate about but can no longer do.
In her current apartment, Melissa must be carried down three flights of stairs, an ordeal that is dangerous for both her and her helpers. This makes it difficult for Melissa to leave her apartment except for appointments with doctors and for physical therapy. It is a lonely and somewhat isolated life for someone who very much wants to live her dreams, one of which is continuing her education. She has been accepted into the Anne Arundel County Nursing Program, but is unable to attend due to finances and limited mobility.
Melissa’s friends and family have rallied to support her emotionally and financially, raising money to help pay her daily living expenses. Melissa does not qualify for any state or federal assistance. She is unable to work, which has led to a heavy financial burden. Her family created a fundraising website to raise money for a more suitable apartment where Melissa can re-gain some of her independence. They also hope to get her a special exercise bike to stimulate the nerves in her legs and strengthen her muscles in hopes that she will re-gain some use of her legs.
Melissa’s legs may be paralyzed but her spirit is not. She is excited and optimistic and doing well with her new physical therapy sessions, which help her physically and mentally. She has dreams and plans for the future and a strong resolve to make those happen. When talking to her, you do not hear defeat. She is confident and courageous as she looks towards the future and reflects on her incredible journey thus far. “What my future holds is why I worry. I am trying to have more faith and less fear, but it is hard. It is where I am right now.”
Melissa will be the beneficiary of this year’s Shore Update Stop in the Name of Love contest. A group of local singles is vying for top male and female singles; every $1 they raise earns one vote. On March 14th the Shore Update will host a Stop in the Name of Love Stop Light Party at Mears Point with drinks, food specials and raffles. You can buy votes online or at the Stop Light Party, where the top male and female singles will be announced. All proceeds from this event will go to “Make Melissa Smile.” You can learn more about Melissa, her fight and how you can help on the Make Melissa Smile Facebook page. Donations of any amount can also be made online at www.gofundme.com/16sg64.