How a Valley mom helped her young daughter fight ovarian cancer
It’s hard to be a single parent, and if you throw a life-threatening illness into the mix, the long days and nights of worry and stress can be enough to drive a person mad.
Melanie Byrum knows how that feels. Her youngest of three children, daughter Alanie, was born with a congenital heart defect. Alanie survived two open heart surgeries when she was small.
She suffered a stroke during the second surgery, and it left her with some short-term memory loss and weakness in the left arm.
Melanie believed things looked up for her family, but in 2003 Alanie suddenly took ill. It wasn’t her heart. It was cancer.
“She just woke up one morning hurting,” Melanie said. “We thought it was appendicitis.”
Melanie said doctors performed a CT scan and saw how enlarged Alanie’s ovary was. Emergency surgery was performed, but Alanie would have to undergo chemotherapy.
Melanie and her daughter traveled to Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville, where Alanie was hospitalized for six days during each course of treatment.
“They made her so sick,” Melanie said.
Alanie, now 17, recently sat on a couch beside her mother and giggled like a typical teenager. “I puked in her hair!”
Melanie shot her daughter “that look,” but Alanie couldn’t wipe away the sneaky grin.
“The worst part was watching her go through everything and knowing she was that sick and not being able to do anything,” Melanie said.
Today, things are finally better for Alanie Byrum. The once precocious third grader is a precocious teenager — to her mother’s joy. Full of life and laughter, she has a quick wit and an answer for everything.
“She’s a typical teenager,” her mother quipped jokingly at her daughter. “She wants to do what she wants to do.”
Melanie said that was a good thing. It wasn’t that long ago she wasn’t sure her daughter would make it this far.
Now Alanie is in school, her hair has grown back — to her delight. She has a boyfriend, and she’s participating in all the activities a beautiful girl her age should be part of.
Alanie had some worries after she finished treatment and was given a clean bill of health. Two of her school friends were diagnosed with cancer. She wondered if she brought it on.
“After I got sick, I started to think all my friends were getting cancer,” she said.
Alanie said she and her friends now take part in Relay for Life. It means a lot to them — not just because they’ve been touched by cancer.
“It lets people know I’m better now and I’m as tough as they are,” she said.
Alanie was chosen as the Herald Angel for 2004, and the community stepped in to help. A record 384 donations were given to The Daily Herald that year, and the family received more than $10,000.
Melanie said the outpouring from the community was overwhelming.
“Everybody was really, really good to us,” she said. “When she was a Herald Angel, we were able to pay the bills, and I didn’t have to worry about working. I could stay with her.”
Alanie needed the emotional support from her mom. She said she appreciates all the help that was given to her family while she was a Herald Angel.
“I thought I was going to die,” said Alanie. “I was scared. All I wanted was my mama.”
She added her grandmother was also there for her.
Life for the Byrums is much better now. Melanie faced a bout of depression during and after Alanie’s sickness, but is doing much better.
She fulfilled her dream of going to cosmetology school and recently began working at one of the Roanoke Valley’s newest hair salons, Eclips, on the Avenue.
The family is also in a new home that’s more accommodating.
Melanie is also in a committed relationship with a former schoolmate.
When asked if she learned anything or if this experience had changed her, Melanie thought for a moment, “You can plan your life, but you never know what’s going to happen. I guess I’ve learned to take it as it comes and to deal with things day by day.”
She added, “I realize being with the kids and family are more important than material things — more important than a new car and things like that.”
Melanie said though this was a hard road to travel and that at times things were frightening, and sometimes she didn’t know how she and her family would get through it, the love and generosity they received made a difference. “Things are looking better,” she said, then smiled.