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University of Missouri

Passion for Life

MU alumna and cancer survivor takes Relay For Life experience full circle.

In 2004, Melanie Dickens Oberkrom walked in her first Relay for Life, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. She never thought she would one day participate as a cancer survivor, especially not as a 21‐year‐old.

Melanie Dickens Oberkrom, far right, and her family walked the track at Stankowski Field in Oberkrom’s first Relay for Life as a survivor in April 2006.

Melanie Dickens Oberkrom, far right, and her family walked the track at Stankowski Field in Oberkrom’s first Relay for Life as a survivor in April 2006.

Oberkrom was a junior human development and family studies major in January 2006 when she was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that generally doesn’t respond to chemotherapy or radiation. She returned to her hometown of St. Louis to have a tumor, one‐third of her stomach and part of her esophagus removed. She received six weeks of radiation and 15 weeks of chemo, traveling back to Columbia every two weeks to attend class, work as a preschool teacher at Jump Start and try to be a normal college student again.

But it wasn’t easy. There were times Oberkrom didn’t think she had it in her to beat cancer.

Before I came to Mizzou, I didn’t know who I was,” she says. “I wouldn’t have considered myself a strong person. I was just going through the motions of life, having a good time.”

To help give her strength, Oberkrom’s family and friends created a Relay for Life team, and in April 2006, Melzie’s Warriors raised funds and walked the track at Stankowski Field in her honor.

Oberkrom walked in the Survivor Lap April 2013 at the Relay for Life of Pensacola Beach (Fla.). She is a Relay for Life Specialist in Jacksonville, Fla.

Oberkrom walked in the Survivor Lap April 2013 at the Relay for Life of Pensacola Beach (Fla.). She is a Relay for Life Specialist in Jacksonville, Fla.

It was an emotional night. Hearing her name — In honor of Melanie — she remembers wondering if her treatment would work or if the next year it would be In memory of Melanie.

Almost one year after diagnosis, Oberkrom received a clean scan, and it gave her a new outlook on life. She’s been in remission since.

It was like, ‘What are you doing? You’ve been alive for 21 years, and what do you have to show for it?’ ” she remembers thinking. “I gained a strength I never knew I had. And it made me realize my true passion.”

Today, Oberkrom, BS HES ’08, is a Relay for Life Specialist for two counties in the Jacksonville, Fla., area. She recruits volunteers, organizes fundraisers and shares her survivor story.

This is where I’m meant to be,” Oberkrom says. “Knowing that I’m giving back to an organization that has helped me, my heart has never been so full.”

As Oberkrom prepares for two Relay for Life events in Florida, Mizzou students are raising their final dollars. Relay for Life of Mizzou kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday, April 25 on Carnahan Quad.