My Struggle: Melissa Puryear


Melissa Puryear

Melissa Puryear, Reporter

I decided to return to Bakersfield College to finish my journalism degree in the summer of 2015. I had only a year to use my GI benefits from having served in the Army, before they expired, and at the insistence of a former college advisor, I returned to college to finish what I had started years ago. I was confident about my future, and knew that I was passionate about news and writing. I could see myself doing this for the rest of my life. I didn’t realize at the time that that it would mean 55 years from now. My life was defined by only a few months and a few years at best, depending upon the choices that I made within those next few weeks to save it.

I received the news by phone. It was in June 2016. I was sitting in my Argumentation and Rhetoric Class on campus when I received the call. So I stepped out of the classroom. My doctor said, “The tests came back positive for breast cancer. We need to schedule an operation as soon as we can.”

It was pretty devastating to hear the word cancer. I felt betrayed by my body. What do you do when you have been diagnosed? You think of all of the worst pictures in your mind. I did. I thought about dying. Maybe because the doctor didn’t detail the exact the stage I was in, but that I needed to go to surgery as soon as they could schedule it.

I began to look at all of the hard work I had done as a student at BC since the previous fall. I was angry that I had put all of those hours and months in. I was angry for the countless millions of people who get the same diagnosis as me. I blamed God because I could. I blamed myself. Maybe it was because I didn’t eat well enough. I drank too much coffee and soda. That’s a challenge to face something devastating without blaming yourself for the reason it happened. It’s also false, something I would find out in my road to recovery.

The doctors wanted to schedule an operation. They were talking about mastectomy. I wanted to wait until graduation, which would be in the fall of 2018, but they said that my cancer was too aggressive to ignore. If I waited until even the following summer, in all likelihood I would be a cancer statistic, not a cancer survivor.

It was a long road that I walked down that month. I had a lot of planning to do. I had to plan to live. I had to plan to die. I had to plan for surgery, recovery and in the midst of all of that, I had to plan to also succeed, in order to remain on track for graduation. It was a tough summer and a tough winter that I would face.

The surgery was scheduled one week prior to the beginning of the fall semester. A few days after major surgery I was walking into my public speaking class and felt that everyone must know that I was not well, and maybe they could see evidence of my drain tubes. It was not a beautiful experience. I felt incomplete, powerless, less of a woman, my femininity was gone, and I did not know if what I had worked for would be lost, if I would be lost in all of this. But I persisted anyway.

Although I was in and out of the hospital in emergency room after emergency room for complications, and rushed into emergency surgery after my last final exam for public speaking, I had maintained As.

I went through six months of recovery and by June 2017, I was walking over a mile a day to and from campus to get my cardiovascular system conditioned again. I had more fight in me to live and to thrive. I am now a journalist at the Renegade Rip. I will be part of the editorial staff next semester, pursuing a summer internship next summer and graduating in the fall of next year.

After everything that I have gone through as a student, as a cancer survivor, I know that I’m much stronger. I realize that success is in the day-to-day things, the climbing over obstacles and the stick-to-it spirit I have, even if I don’t know what tomorrow will look like. I can choose to give up or keep going. I am willing to have bad days, that are beyond my control, and then I just let it go. I am willing to fight for life because life is a pretty noble thing to fight for and win.