Running for her Life – Pharmacy Student Races Against Melanoma

Second year pharmacy student Emily Breitsprecher runs. Sometimes she is running toward a goal and sometimes away from a problem, but she is always running. Diagnosed with asthma in her freshman year of high school, Breitsprecher was frequently hospitalized for the breathing disorder. Physicians cautioned against physical activity. Breitsprecher balked at the idea and decided that, like her father, she wanted to be a runner.

The first time around the track, she suffered an asthma attack. Gradually, day-by-day, she increased her time and distance until she was running like her dad. Breitsprecher was not just running a few laps, she was running miles and, in the past 4 years, has competed in 14 half marathons and five marathons.

Her dad was running too – toward addiction. Her father’s lifetime of running contributed to a herniated disc and the opioids prescribed from a spinal fusion started his problems. “He didn’t heal well from his surgery,” says Breitsprecher. “He was constantly in pain and over-used his medication. He became totally dependent on narcotics and it tore our family apart.” Her need to educate herself on these medications and how they worked sparked Breitsprecher’s interest in pharmacy as a career choice. “I want to make sure patients are well educated about their medications, know how to take them, and feel comfortable reaching out to their community pharmacist. Despite everything, my dad is still my inspiration in pharmacy school.”

Breitsprecher’s love of running isn’t the only thing she shares with her father. Both have battled metastatic melanoma. “When I was young, my dad had multiple surgeries and interferon treatments. Luckily, he beat it, but my mother became obsessed with skin safety. She didn’t want to raise five children alone.” Her mother’s obsession may have saved Breitsprecher’s life. Growing up, she always wore sunscreen and never used tanning beds, but she always vigilant. “With all the precautions, I thought I was invincible,” she says. “When I found a strange mole on my stomach during winter break last year and I started my research.”

What she found is that melanoma is the most common and deadliest form of cancer for young adults from 25–30 years old. On the Melanoma Foundation of New England’s website, she schooled herself in the ABCs of skin cancer: A for asymmetry, B for border, C for color, D for diameter, and E for elevation. Scared, she picked up the phone and called a number on the website. “The counselor helped me to find a dermatologist in my area and told me to get a biopsy – now.” Two painful surgeries later, Breitsprecher still considers herself lucky. “I can’t complain. My melanoma was caught early. I am lucky that all I have left are scars.”

Through it all, Breitsprecher keeps running. On April 18, she will run the Boston Marathon with a team supporting the Melanoma Foundation of New England. Breitsprecher feels she is literally running for her life. “In January, Leanne, a 28-year-old member of our team lost her battle. This is my most important race yet. I’m running for Leanne, I’m running for my dad, and I’m running for the life I have today because of treatment.”

Note: Breitsprecher has raised 24 percent of her fundraising goal. Those wishing to help can donate through her crowdfunding page.