Against the Odds

Alumna’s positive attitude helped her win the fight for her life

Stacy (Hawes) Melle ’91 is feeling very grateful these days. She loves her job as the director of worldwide pay-per-view marketing at Universal Studios, and she is a newlywed and a new homeowner, too. Melle is also grateful for lots of little things, like being able to ride a bike or climb a flight of stairs.

She’s grateful that she can make plans.

For most of her life, making plans didn’t seem like a good idea for Melle, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis ( CF) when she was 2 years old. Because her parents did not want to frighten her, they explained that the disease was a kind of “chronic bronchitis” that she would always have to deal with.

“My illness didn’t seem to be a threat,” says Melle, and so she wasn’t worried about it.

Throughout her childhood, she says, “I don’t remember a day when I was not taking pills, but I thought that all kids took pills.”

When she was 14, she happened to look at her medical chart while she was in the hospital: “then I knew what I had and what it meant,” she says.

What the disease means to most people is death by age 18.

“I felt that I might have high school and that was it,” says Melle.

Marriage and a career seemed like impossible dreams. But she didn’t pout (her parents wouldn’t let her, she claims). Instead, she says, “I decided to live life as fully as I could …. l wanted to make sure I wasn’t forgotten. I wanted people to remember that I was on this planet and that I made some positive contributions.”

One thing she did not want from anyone was pity. So, as she puts it, she kept her illness “close to the vest.”

When she was a student at Santa Clara, it was sometimes difficult to hide: she had so little energy that the short walk from Swig to St. Joseph’s Hall would wear her out. If she had a class on the other side of campus, she would drive to it, passing herself off to curious classmates as “too lazy” to walk. And she spent nearly every vacation in the hospital. Her close friends knew about her illness, and some professors found out, too, when she had to miss class.

For the most part, everyone was supportive.

“Father Soukup [of the communications department] even visited me in hospital,” she says.

For years, Melle participated in every CF research study conducted at Stanford University.

“I was their guinea pig,” she laughs.

When it was decided she needed a double lung transplant, she carried a beeper for 18 months, waiting for the call.

“I even took it into the shower with me,” she confesses. “Every time that beeper went off, my heart dropped into my shoes.”

She finally got the call and had successful surgery in February 1998.

Since the transplant, Melle has had some health difficulties, but overall is doing very well.

“I never realized how absolutely exhausted I was when I was sick,” she says. “It is so nice, now, not to have to pretend that I am well.”

Melle often asks herself why she was able to survive when many others with CF do not.

“I think so much of it has to do with your attitude,” she says. Melle credits her parents for
setting a good example. “I am so grateful to them for the way that they raised me,” she says. “They wanted me to live a normal life, and they let me live it.”

The experience has intensified her determination to make her mark.

She was recently named a “Woman to Watch,” an award given to a promising industry newcomer by the Southern California chapter of Women in Cable and Telecommunications (wict.org). She now serves on the group’s board of directors and works to help advance the careers of women in her industry.

In her free time, Melle is an active volunteer and fund-raiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation ( cff.org).

And Melle has a message for the world: “be an organ donor.” She is living proof of what an amazing gift it is.

“I am so grateful,” she says. “I am in a place in my life where I never expected to be.”

post-image Image courtesy Stacy Melle
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