An ISU and Sigma Kappa alumna was the honorary survivor at Relay For Life at Lied Recreation Center this weekend.
Melanie Thwing went through cancer just after graduating from Iowa State in May 2011.
Thwing was a senior at Iowa State when she started noticing abnormal changes in her body. Her face started gaining a little weight right after Winter Break. Then she noticed her face had started to swell.
“Two weeks before graduation, I just blew up. I gained 90 pounds in probably close to two weeks. I knew something was wrong,” Thwing said.
The same day she drove back home after graduation, Thwing went to the emergency room. Thwing went through four doctors before she was diagnosed June 16, 2011, with adrenocortical carcinoma, stage four with a 9 percent chance of responding to treatment.
“I made the phone calls I needed to make. My best friend was in Italy so it was very difficult to get a hold of her. My poor mother was just not having it. I think she could have been more upset than I was,” Thwing said. “I went into work and I quit. ... I picked myself back up. What else are you going to do?’
Thwing started treatment June 22, 2011, and finished Nov. 23, 2011. It was a challenging six months. Loosing her hair was one thing that really made her start to feel self-conscious, Thwing said.
“It was July 2. One of my best friends from home was getting married, and I was in her wedding. I went to take a shower in the morning. I kept washing my hair and was like ‘why is so much hair coming off?’ It was horrible,” Thwing said. “I went to the wedding and came home and probably cried the hardest that night that I had ever cried.”
Thwing became cancer-free in May 2012.
“Even then when you do process it, it’s not a feeling that you're cancer-free. It’s a feeling of what's next and not in a good way. You know there's always that possibility that it will come back,” Thwing said. “I don’t think you ever go back to the state of feeling you had before — the feeling of being invincible. You always have that chip on your shoulder that you know something could happen.”
Thwing said cancer changed her life for the better.
“I think it's made me more optimistic. I see how caring people are on a day-to-day basis. I don’t think I'd be able to see that if I hadn’t had this life experience,” Thwing said. “I know it sounds corny to say ‘I'm glad I had cancer,’ but I really am. It helped me reprioritize and get closer to who I wanted to be closer to.”
Thwing’s Sigma Kappa sorority sisters were present at Relay For Life on Friday, March 9, 2013, wearing ‘Team Melanie” shirts.
“It's great to see our sorority come together for one of our sisters whether she's still an active member or an alumna,” said Caitlin Salem, senior member of Sigma Kappa.
Salem was a freshman when she met Thwing. She heard the news of Thwing’s diagnosis in summer 2011.
“Seeing someone really close to you go through something like that is scary. It's scary being on the outside so I can't even imagine what it was like for her actually going through it,” Salem said.
Thwing said the ISU community was incredibly supportive through her journey.
“I'm a Sigma Kappa, yes, but the help that I had received when I was diagnosed was not just limited to them,” Thwing said.
Thwing’s friends from other greek chapters, ISU alumni, former professors and her boss reached out to her during her battle with cancer.
“I'm here not necessarily with my family, but I'm with my family,” Thwing said.