Beyond the Byline: Godspeed, Melanie Mizenko
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“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company … a church … a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude … I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me, and 90 percent how I react to it. And so it is with you … we are in charge of our attitudes.” — Charles Swindoll
WILKES-BARRE — I once knew a monkey who wore a Hawaiian shirt and rode a bicycle. He once told me, “Attitude is everything.”
That darn monkey must have known Melanie Susan Mizenko.
Melanie worked at the Times Leader. She loved her job. She had found her dream job.
Melanie would have loved to be able to cover the next royal wedding, set for May 19, 2018, at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.
Melanie won’t be available, though. She died Sunday at the age of 26.
Mel was a courageous person. She wrote several columns that candidly detailed her battle with cancer — a battle she couldn’t win, but that never stopped her from fighting.
And all the while she was fighting, struggling with a disease that would eventually claim her life,Melanie smiled. Even when her doctor suggested she prepare a bucket list and start doing the things she’s always wanted to do, Melanie smiled. She would never allow her disease to hold her hostage — she would live her life as she saw fit and she would choose smiling over frowning. She would always prefer to laugh than cry.
If attitude counts for anything — and my monkey friend said it always does — Melanie beat her cancer. It may have taken her from this life, but it never defeated her. Melanie always gave it her best shot and she never wasted any time doing anything other than fighting and smiling that infectious smile.
For the last few years, Melanie’s life was constantly filled with uncertainty — would the treatment work, what does the future hold, how long did she have? Courage and attitude always drove Melanie’s bus.
Melanie’s attitude was amazing to witness — she came to work every day, anxious to dive into whatever stories she was working on and seeing them through to the end. When you watched her, talked to her, listened to her, you knew you were dealing with a very special young lady.
Aimee Dilger, a photographer here, said Mel was “a strong, brave girl with an infectious smile.” Aimee loved going on assignments with Mel — always a fun adventure.
“Every time you would think things sucked in your life, you would look at Mel and say wow, look at her — she’s always smiling and so happy,” Aimee said of Melanie.
Aimee visited with Melanie recently and Mel said this, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Aimee said she could sense Mel knew the end was near. She talked of looking forward to seeing her dad in heaven.
“She was ready to go,” Aimee said. “And through it all, she cared about everybody else. She asked me what my kids were getting for Christmas. At a time when she should be concerned about herself, she was thinking about everybody else.”
Chris Bohinski, a local entertainment journalist, is Melanie’s best friend. They met in high school at Holy Redeemer.
Chris said he will miss Melanie every day — her love of life, her courageous attitude, her inspiring example, especially in recent days when reality began to set in.
Chris said Melanie inspired many people, and she never allowed herself to be affected by the devastating disease she had. Melanie chose to smile and to be happy. She loved to make others happy as well.
Chris said cancer never conquered Melanie — she conquered it.
“She was able to make it a part of her, using it as a way to challenge herself to be a stronger, better person,” Chris said. “She never had less than a positive attitude. She was such a force of love and hope, and I will always remember how she didn’t allow her circumstances in a very unfair world to affect her love of life.”
Like all who knew Melanie, Chris is heartbroken.
”I’ve lost my best friend,” he said.
Chris said Melanie will be with him for every future step along his life journey.
“She will be my Christmas angel forever,” he said.
One day in the newsroom, we were talking about traditions and a delicacy was mentioned — “monkey meat” — ground up baloney or ham with pickles and stuff that would make a delicious sandwich when served with soup back in the day. Melanie knew of this delicacy, but others in the newsroom never had the pleasure.
The next day, Melanie came in with a container filled with monkey meat — enough for all to enjoy. That was Melanie. She stayed up late to make monkey meat for her co-workers. Typical.
Just look at the words used to describe Melanie — courageous, inspirational, fun, strong, determined, positive, fighter, friend, caring, compassionate, maker of monkey meat.
We will miss Melanie. We will remember Melanie. We will honor her by trying to emulate her.
As she rests in peace, may how she lived be as infectious as her smile and may she stay in our hearts forever.
Her attitude really was everything. And her monkey meat was the best.