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Nov 20, 2012 12:18 AM by Shannon Davis

Mairissa Peoples, cancer survivor

Nearly six years ago Mairissa Peoples was diagnosed with cancer in her pelvis. Today she is cancer-free, but her last surgery left her paralyzed from the knee down in her right leg.

"I remind myself daily that patience is a virtue," Peoples said. "If you would've asked me five years ago where I thought I would be when I was 22, not anywhere close to where I'm at right now."

Complications started in 2007 when Peoples began experiencing severe back pain.

"If you saw her walk, it was an extremely odd limp," said Barb Peoples, Mairissa's mother.

In October of 2007, Mairissa had her first MRI scan which revealed a cantaloupe size tumor on her pelvis.

"Once we found out that it was malignant that's really when life changed," said Don Peoples, Mairissa's father. "It was a difficult moment and probably looking back one of the most difficult things I've had to do in my life."

Mairissa immediately packed and moved to Seattle with her mother to begin treatment. After her first round of chemotherapy, Mairissa was allowed to return home in November to attend a school dance on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

"At that point in my mind not a whole lot had changed," Peoples said. "I think I was still kind of in shock."

She arrived at a friend's house to take pictures in her dress when reality suddenly caught up to her.

"You know I had only been gone two or three weeks, but I had missed out on so much," Peoples said. "My life was put on complete hold and their lives were still going."

She woke up on Thanksgiving morning of 2007 to find all her hair had fallen out.

"That makes it real," Mairissa said. "You know you're the bald girl walking around. You're sick. You have cancer."

Mairissa and her mother would spend three weeks at a time or more away from the family.

"I think you have a different appreciation for each other because you never know what's going to happen and how long you have together," Barb said.

Several physicians suggested amputating Mairissa's leg and most of her hip. She would never walk again.

"I was determined to try every possible avenue before I had to go through something like that," Mairissa said.

Mairissa endured more chemotherapy, a total hip replacement, radiation, more surgery and trial drugs over the next five years.

"My goals of getting a good grade or making it to a certain point in a season became goals of making it to be alive in a few months."

She was declared cancer-free three times during her treatment.

"I've tried everything," Mairissa said. "I've already done this twice. I know a lot of people that didn't even make it through it once. What's going to happen to me? You know how many more times can I do this?"

Mairissa had the unique experience of living in a Ronald McDonald House. She quickly made and lost friends.

"We all lived together, we all did treatment," Mairissa said. "We all some days we doing great and some days we weren't. And when your friends are dying, facing extremely, extremely hard circumstance and I'm still here, I've got to believe that there's a reason for that."

Mairissa's most recent surgery destroyed her sciatic nerve. She is paralyzed from the knee down in her right leg. She attends physical therapy every week.

"It's hard." Mairissa said. "You see small, small improvements, but they're improvements none the less."

Injuries from her five-year illness have yet to hold her back. She is student at Montana Tech studying accounting. It is not an easy task for her to get to class, but she will always be there.

"What's five minutes to you is about 15 minutes to me so it's been a challenge," Mairissa said.

She drives herself between classes and plans on taking the elevator. Occasionally, she is forced to take the stairs with her crutches.

"It's something very important to me so if it takes me twenty minutes to get up the stairs and get to class and it makes me 20 minutes late then that's OK because I'm there," Mairissa said.

"Each time she reached a mile stone in her life it was a joyous thing because we never knew she'd make it to her senior year," Barb said. "Then we never knew if she'd make it to senior prom. We never knew if she'd graduate from high school. We never knew she would go to college."

In her spare time Mairissa coaches her younger sister's basketball team. Family is her rock, she said.

"It's hard to not keep fighting when you know that there's so many people that love me and would do anything to take it away or to do what they could to make it better for me," Mairissa said.

Mairissa's family can honestly say her positive energy never fails.

"Her toughness and her spirit and the way she's attacked her challenges are really inspiring," Don said.

"We are very proud of her and amazed at the person that she is and has become and the lessons that she's taught her siblings about life and it's true meaning," Barb said.

If you would have asked Mairissa five years ago where she would be today it's not here, but she's OK with that.

"The relationships that it's built for me and the mindset and appreciation that I've gotten from it make me a much better person than I was or would've been without it," Mairissa said.

Mairissa will travel to Seattle on Tuesday, Oct. 27 for a routine scan and a minor surgery.

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