Western Nevada College's Melanie Pfeiffer is known for her fight and determination on the softball field.
Now, the sophomore player potentially faces her biggest fight - for her life.
On April 20, Pfeiffer was diagnosed with melanoma, an often lethal form of skin cancer.
So now, at the time of year when most students' thoughts turn toward free-spirited fun and decompression, Melanie's mind is suddenly focused on her own mortality and the inescapable reality of surgery this Friday.
It's a lot for anybody to deal with, let alone a sophomore in college, but Pfeiffer has high hopes that she will beat the odds. And, when she speaks about the tough hand she's been dealt, her voice doesn't quiver. It's as though she's just received the swing-away sign from the third-base coach and is sitting on a hanging curveball.
"There is nothing anybody can do," Pfeiffer said in a phone conversation earlier this week. "I just want to push forward. I'm ready to tackle anything I have to. I just have to fight through it."
That's Melanie Pfeiffer: True grit in the face of any and all obstacles.
"She's a fighter," said Rosie Contri, WNC assistant coach. "It's a horrible thing to happen to anybody. She will fight this. She has a great support system of family and friends."
Melanoma often begins in a mole (skin melanoma). Pfeiffer cancer started with a mole on her right arm, and she and her coaches noticed it about nine months ago.
The National Cancer Institute estimated that more than 76,000 new melanoma cases and 9,180 deaths from the cancer will occur this year. According to the American Melanoma Foundation, one American dies of melanoma almost every hour.
Pfeiffer, whose medical coverage stopped when she was 18, at first didn't believe the mole was that big of a deal when she noticed it nine months ago, and she couldn't afford to have it checked out.
"When I got back from Christmas break, Bethany (Henry-Herman, volunteer assistant coach) said it didn't look good and that I should get it checked out. It costs too much to get it checked," Pfeiffer said. "She asked me if she got an appointment, would I go, and I told her, of course, I would.
"We went in that morning (April 20) and the doctor cut out the mole and it took three stitches."
Despite the procedure, Pfeiffer still played for the Wildcats in the Region 18 tournament. She said that she wasn't going to miss that for any reason. And Pfeiffer steadfastly maintains that she will play softball somewhere next season.
Pfeiffer was told that she had to go through a body scan to see whether there were any indication that the cancer had spread. She had the scan on May 24.
"It was more shocking than anything else," Pfeiffer said. "All of us expected the best, and it wasn't this. I'm not really in any pain, but it's been emotionally draining. I assume I will be (in pain) after surgery."
WNC head coach Leah Wentworth has been amazed by how well her player has handled things.
"She's taking it real well," Wentworth said. "She has been taking it better than those around her. That's the type of person she is. I don't think she even feels it.
"I didn't go with the team on the last two trips (because of my pregnancy), but I think it's good she has softball to help take her mind off of it. I think her energy is something else. She is such a great kid. She works hard and has a great heart."
Friday's surgery involves cutting approximately 2 inches on either side of where the original mole was. After that, doctors will take out the lymphnode under her right armpit and biopsy it. Pfeiffer said that if the cancer hasn't spread, she'll undergo radiation treatments and hopefully be fine after that. If it has spread to other parts of her body, chemotherapy will be involved.
Pfeiffer and Contri just returned from a recruiting trip to Western Oregon, and Pfeiffer said that the University of Texas-Permian Basin also was interested.
I was going to call Texas-Permian Basin and let them know what's going on," Pfeiffer said. "I want to be upfront and honest with them."