Get Pink: OU professor defies odds despite breast-cancer diagnosis

Melissa Medina won't let her breast cancer diagnosis stop her from doing what she loves — running and teaching. (Photo provided)

Melissa Medina didn't just win the Susan G. Koman survivors' race at Race For the Cure this year — she's finished first for four consecutive years.

A positive attitude has carried her through the finish line and beyond.

"When they told me you have cancer, it really came as quite a shock," said Medina.

It was a shocking diagnosis for a woman, who appeared to be the picture of health.

"I had gotten mammograms every year, and I felt completely fine," Medina said. "I was training for a marathon. I felt fantastic."

It was four years ago. The active mom of two learned she had stage three DCIS breast cancer. One of her first questions to her doctor was whether she could keep working full time and if she could continue running.

"[The doctor] said, 'How much?' And I said, 'Well I'm training for a marathon.'" Medina recalls.

"She said, 'You'll be lucky if you can run a mile.'"

Two days after her first round of chemo, Medina won her first survivors' race. She then went on to complete her half marathon all while undergoing cancer treatment. She also continued teaching at OU's College of Pharmacy, only taking a day off for chemo once every three weeks.

"It would take me a long time to get ready in the morning, like brush my hair," said Medina. "But then all my hair fell out, and I didn't have any eye lashes, and I didn't have any hair. So it was really easy to take a shower, I got ready really quickly."

You could say reframing negatives into positives is Medina's superpower. She even turned those long, lonely days at chemo into actual parties with friends who were asking how they could help.

"It really did help a lot," Medina said. "People would sign up with times to come sit with me at chemo, bring snacks, and we'd tell stories.

"It was such a blessing to be with those people and just celebrate."

In what doctors can only explain as bad luck, Medina has had to face down cancer a second time. She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2016. She knows her experience is unique and not for everyone, but she wants others to see it's possible to take on cancer without slowing down or getting discouraged..

"If you can think positively, stay active, and hopefully have a great outcome, or at least enjoy yourself along the way," said Medina. "It doesn't have to all be bad."

Medina's cancer was spotted thanks to her annual mammogram. She encourages other women not to put it off.

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