It’s the one word that no one wants to hear. It sucks the air out of any room and zaps any joy that might be present. Cancer. The word Melissa Gasaway and her family heard on January 14, 2020. However, Melissa and her family could have never guessed the journey they were about to embark on and what the Lord would do to see them through.
An Unexpected Journey
Melissa was born and raised a Texas girl, and while she may have resided in the Bible Belt, she wasn’t a Christian, yet.
“I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, so it’s really neat to see how the Lord was drawing me even then,” she said. “I always wanted to go to all the Vacation Bible Schools so my parents who didn’t go to church would take me and drop me off. They’d drop me off and pick me up from Sunday School. Now, I don’t have a lot of recollection of what I learned during those years, but it’s just very neat to think back on how even then the Lord was drawing me [near].”
At 16 years old, her parents divorced, and she moved to Mansfield, Texas. It was there in a locker room before track practice one afternoon that a friend led her to the Lord. She recalls it being a very special time because the Lord had provided her with a very strong church family. They were very strong believers and men and women of faith.
Melissa met Warren Gasaway not long after that and they got married. Twenty-seven years later they have three children, Tyler, Ethan and Elise. Warren works for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention as a Student Ministry Specialist after years of ministry and Melissa is a Literacy Specialist at Arch Ford Education Service Cooperative. A typical, ordinary family as she would say.
As a family, they never really had major health issues. However, that all changed when Melissa was diagnosed with a rare sarcoma.
“It was just really unexpected and like a halt in the road for us,” she said.
Suddenly, after years of being the ones that would minister to people and encourage people. They started to see those people return the favor in prayer, love and encouragement as they began the journey through her first surgery.
“It was really scary, I’m not even going to lie,” she said.
It was in one of those moments that Melissa said, after hearing the word cancer, that she decided that she was ready to fight this, do whatever it took and move on. So, when the conversation of a second surgery being needed took place, things got even scarier.
Their daughter Elise, the youngest, was still at home at the time in high school. She remembers wanting to be as transparent as possible with Elise about everything going on with her diagnosis and treatment.
“I wanted her to see what God was doing, and how God was taking care of us and what that looks like,” she said.
But Melissa was still scared.
“I think back to January 14, it’s a day I’ll always remember, that night after the doctor’s appointment, we were able to walk out of there, but that night it just hit us how much we needed the Lord,” she said. “I think back to that verse in Psalm 27, ‘I would’ve despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord and the land of the living.’ That verse just really spoke to us. That we just had that hope in Him.”
A Natural Healing
Melissa had the second surgery and was told the next 18-24 months would be crucial to her healing and seeing if anything tried to come back.
“Right after my second surgery is when the world shut down for COVID,” she said. “And it was such a hard time, but it was a time that the Lord just gave me to rest. Warren was kind of exercising during that time and when I could finally limp around well enough to join him, we’d go to the track in our hometown, and he’d run while I walked. Before long, little by little, we were limping and running together. And the Lord just used that to heal me.”
Over the months, as Melissa regained her strength, the track became her place to really talk to God.
“That was when I would cry out to Him the most. There were many tears as I ran, many pleads with God on ‘why is this happening?’ And just a really sweet time, looking back,” she said.
The goal of running was never to do anything past just getting her strength back. However, a year after her second surgery, one night Warren and she sat down to watch Chip Gaines’s documentary called ‘Courage to Run.’ Melissa felt like that story really connected with hers.
“I’m sure Warren almost fell out of his chair that night when I said, ‘I want to run in that marathon.’ And he said, ‘We have never run in a 5k, Melissa.’ And I was just like, ‘Well I want to run in that!’”
So, the two began running in a 5k here and there and then a few 10ks and half marathons until finally they made it to the race she wanted to do—The Silos District Marathon in Waco, Texas in April of 2022.
Melissa and her middle child, Ethan, would run the full marathon, while Warren would run the 5k and Elise would cheer them all on from the sides.
An Ultimate Surprise
Before they left for the race, Melissa was contacted by the coordinators at Magnolia and the race. They were inspired by her journey to get to Waco, which they had read on her registration forms, and wanted to interview her for social media pieces to use in the future.
They met at an old church on the Silos ground to chat and do the interview and then it was race time.
During the race itself, Melissa said she spent a lot of time reflecting about where they had been and where God had brought them.
“[I was] just thinking back to how we had to hope and believe. It was really neat that the race was immediately out of my window where the doctor had said that ‘We have to get through this.’ He said 24 months and the race was at 26 months. It was kind of a celebration of where the Lord had taken us and how faithful He had been,” she said.
At some point in the race, Ethan had pulled away and she assumed he had finished. She had also noticed that some cameras had been following her ever so slightly. As she approached the finish line, she saw her son waiting for her.
“I saw him at the top of the bridge and as I got closer, I said to him, ‘Okay what was your time?’ because I thought he had finished and then came back for me. But he said, ‘I didn’t cross. I’ve been standing here waiting for you. You got me into this, and we’re going to finish together.’”
The pair crossed the finish line, where Warren and her daughter were waiting to embrace her. Melissa had said she thought it was weird that they were standing there, since normally family and friends are not allowed in that area of the race, but after running 26 miles she was a bit out of it.
They placed the medal over her head as a camera man showed back up and and a woman behind her called her name. The woman said, “We were just very inspired by your journey through running and what brought you here and we have a check and some gifts for you.”
Melissa was overwhelmed with the kind and gracious gesture, and it was the perfect ending to an already incredible weekend.
“We have at home, on our wall, the verse out of 2 Samuel that says, ‘Who am I, O Lord, and what is my house that you have brought us this far.’ You look back and feel very humbled that here we are today, getting to share the story, a very scary story that could’ve not been, but He allowed it. It’s very humbling and inspiring to see men and women that are just ordinary just moving forward the Gospel of Christ.”
If you’d like to hear more of Melissa’s story, catch her on the Inspire On The Go with Andrea Lennon podcast on June 13.