Defying the Odds With Melanoma


I have defied the odds more than once, but right now I will tell you about my lymphedema. In 1991, I had major cancer surgery. A malignant melanoma was removed from my right thigh and my lymph nodes were removed. My life was changed forever.

Malignant melanoma can be deadly. I almost died from it. The oncologist said, "This is major cancer surgery. It will change your life. You will be bedridden for the rest of your life. You will never work again. You will never have children." In other words, I was sentenced to life in bed. At the time, research stated that I had a 95 percent chance of dying within five years. I thought I would never see my 30th birthday.

The first year after the surgery was hell, torture and downright depressing. I went from being an athlete, gymnastics coach, fitness trainer and business owner to being stuck in bed. I really was bedridden. With each limitation, there was sadness. The one that bothered me the most was the change in my ability to coach gymnastics. I was so upset that I could not coach effectively anymore, and I realized that I must change my coaching style, so that is what I did. My gymnasts progressed much faster after I assigned more drills and conditioning exercises. All of my success as a coach happened after major cancer surgery.

I have been able to maintain my lymphedema for 25 years because I understand the condition, and I have extensive knowledge of health and exercise. There are many things that must be considered daily. The thing that most people do not understand is that I must be careful with germs and insects. I wash my hands often, make sure my food is prepared properly and make sure I do not step on anything that would cause infection; I never walk barefoot.

The best exercise for my lymphedema is swimming because I am horizontal, my leg is in motion and it is non-impact. Other effective exercises for me are riding a bike and using the elliptical machine. Walking and running cause swelling because they are high impact. It's best to keep the body in motion without any impact. Lymphedema is annoying, painful and just plain sucks at times. I am unreliable. I never schedule anything in the early part of the day in case I must wait for my leg to drain.

I have accomplished a great amount since the surgery. I have been able to live an almost normal life. My career has gone far beyond where I expected. I have published several gymnastics and fitness books, training programs and articles. My career might not have been so amazing if I was never forced to change my coaching style. Lymphedema has become my best friend and worst enemy. I think of it all day long, make sure it does not get out of hand and take care of it when there are complications. So many years later, I reached my 50th birthday! It's a birthday I never thought I would live to see! I am independent, I have a great career, and I can take care of my beautiful greyhound.

I wrote a book about my story called “Sentenced to Life in Bed.” My bio is at

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