In 1997, after months of back pain, Diane Tuttle was diagnosed with a rare cancer—adult soft-tissue sarcoma. She underwent surgery and chemotherapy at UW Hospital, but the cancer recurred and she died in September 1998 at age 51.
Her daughter, Melissa Tuttle (now Melissa Carr) was living in Atlanta at the time, having recently graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison with a degree in atmospheric and oceanic sciences and was working at the Weather Channel. She was visiting her family in Fort Atkinson for her grandfather’s funeral when her mom got the diagnosis. Melissa was able to be there during her mom’s surgery. And when the end was near, she was able to be there during the final two weeks of her mom’s life.
Melissa lived in Atlanta for 11-and-a-half-years and she met her husband there. After having her first child, she decided to move the family back to Wisconsin. “I wanted to see my family more, especially after having a child,” she says.
Melissa is now a stay-at-home mother of two. She took up running as a way to get back in shape after her second child was born and currently leads a women’s running group and serves as ambassador director for the Madison Half Marathon & 5K.
Being a mom has made Melissa miss her mom more than ever. “She was a preschool teacher and director of a preschool in our town,” she says. “I think about her an extra amount now that I have kids. It’s sad that she never got to meet my kids, and it’s hard not having her here for me to ask questions about parenthood and child development and get her perspective as a mom and an educator.”
Diane was active in her community and instilled that community spirit in Melissa. Last year, when Melissa learned about The Ride, a bicycle fundraiser for cancer research at the University of Wisconsin, she wanted to get involved and support the institution that treated her mom.
The Ride was also appealing because Melissa had recently gotten her first road bike as a way of staying in shape after being sidelined by a running injury.
“Getting the road bike reminded me how much I love cycling,” she says. “I used to bike all the time. I have fond memories of biking with my family. I remember my first bike and subsequent bikes. I got around UW campus by bike when I lived there. It all came together: I have to do this event.”
The Ride was scheduled for the day after a sprint triathlon she was registered for, so she decided to ride the 15-mile route. “As I rode, I kept thinking, ‘It’s 15 miles. Yes, it’s the day after a triathlon, but it is nothing compared to what cancer patients go through,’” she says.
Melissa was one of The Ride’s top fundraisers in 2016, bringing in nearly $3,000. “The amount of money I raised is a testament to how amazing my mom was,” Melissa says. “Some of the money came from my friends who never knew her. Some came from people who knew her—friends and family and people from my hometown. It was a great way to honor her memory and raise money for the Carbone Cancer Center. And I loved that I was able to tell everyone that all the money is staying here.”
Melissa will participate again this year, hoping to raise more money than she did last year.
“The researchers and doctors at Carbone are doing amazing things, and it’s a wonderful facility, but they can’t make new discoveries without funding. The Ride helps fund this work. Whether it’s a treatment that’s less painful or less invasive or shorter or raises the chance of surviving a certain type of cancer—that’s a win for somebody’s son, daughter, wife, husband—somebody’s somebody. Anything we can do to make cancer treatment better in any way with this money and the amazing people at Carbone would make me happy.”
To donate to Melissa visit her fundraising page.