After one year of chemotherapy, it seemed the treatment had eradicated the cancer and Melissa began to hope for another taste of “normal” life. But then her body began to reject the lungs entirely, and her doctors returned her name to the transplant list.
“At 16 I got another lung transplant. I was able to get a license, get a car, graduate high school … I had a life again,” she said. “Within a year though, my body went into rejection again. At the rate it was going, my doctors said there really wasn’t anything they could do. They said I had about a year left to live. That was in 2007. I was at peace with that. From a young age, I had accepted Christ and I had a wonderful support system in my friends and family. So I made a bucket list.”
On that list was “ travel overseas on a mission trip.”
Her Internet search for “mission trips in Europe” ended at orphanoutreach.org. “The minute I saw Orphan Outreach’s site, I felt this peace. I said, ‘Okay, Lord. This is it.’” Melissa was the last person Orphan Outreach accepted for internship positions that summer. Although naturally concerned about her health, Melissa was ready to set out with her teammates (three other young women) to St. Petersburg, Russia.
“We were there for a month and we got to stay at the orphanages for a week to two weeks. We had to be very flexible,” she said, adding that anyone considering a mission trip should expect plans to change at a moment’s notice. “We did crafts and activities with children of all different ages,” she continued, “and we also worked with the babies that just get dropped off at the hospitals.” Melissa’s team also spent time with the teenagers who age out of the system. “The [orphan graduates] are a lot more guarded,” she said, “but we had a laid-back afternoon with them, cooking and teaching them how to make tacos. The experience I got from that trip I got to take back home.”
At 4′11″, Melissa Boyett appears young for a 22-year-old college student and part-time nanny. Recently she accepted a position of youth leader at a church in a troubled neighborhood in her hometown of Jacksonville, Florida.
“This is my mission field,” she said. “I’m going to school for psychology, so I was praying for a mission field where I could use those skills and my experience in Russia. Kids here are the same as kids in Russia—they are going to have the same kind of issues. I’m using a lot of Vacation Bible School materials on Sunday mornings with the kids here that we used in St. Petersburg.”
Tackling these duties does require effort as Melissa’s body is in “chronic rejection” of the lungs from the second transplant. No one has ever received a third double-lung transplant. A couple of years have gone by since the doctor’s told her she had one year to live, and her family remains strong and supportive—even though one of her two brothers also suffers from cystic fibrosis.
“I feel like I am just biding my time,” she said. “Who knows what medical science will come up with. Obviously some days are harder than others—I don’t have an immune system because of the anti-rejection medication, so if I catch a cold, I have to get IV antibiotics or be hospitalized—but I think you can’t wallow in self-pity. You just get stuck. I’ve never been one to really worry. I think God has just given me an inner strength to deal with it.”
Melissa is dealing with her terminal diagnosis by living each day fully. “I went sky-diving for my 21st birthday,” she said, laughing. “I know, it sounds crazy!” In October she will travel to New Mexico for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the world’s largest such festival. Once she rises in the air via hot air balloon and floats over the mountains of the city that boasts 310 days of sunshine per year, Melissa will officially check off one item on her list … and soon be on to the next.