Local advocate Melissa Bishop spent the last few moments of her life asking for others to pay it forward.
“I want everybody to do one good thing for somebody else every day,” Bishop told her family and friends multiple times at Gettysburg Hospital.
She passed away May 27, following a strong fight with lung cancer.
Since her passing, the family has been swarmed with messages and stories about Bishop throughout social media.
Bishop’s daughter Courtney Burns thought she knew everything about her mother since they talked every day, but she received many messages from people, who shared how Bishop saved their lives.
“I think I was living with an angel or gosh darn close,” Burns said. “God is calling her home. He already used her in so many ways than I could ever imagine.”
Bishop was the epitome of a community activist from her involvement in local animal groups to becoming “a true warrior against lung cancer” in less than a year, her loved ones recently shared.
The 51-year-old, who never smoked a cigarette, had a chronic cough for several years but didn’t think anything of it. That was until she coughed up blood.
In July, Bishop was told she only had five years to live after getting diagnosed with chronic interstitial lung disease with pulmonary fibrosis.
A tougher diagnosis was handed in November. She had stage four lung cancer.
The American Lung Association reports a woman gets a lung cancer diagnosis in the U.S. every five minutes. Only 18 percent “of lung cancer cases among women are diagnosed early when the disease is most curable,” according to the lung association.
Bishop was given two options: to live a year with chemotherapy or eight months without treatment.
“No one was giving her a fighting chance,” Burns said. “The only thing she wanted was a voice, and the ability to help others with that voice.”
Burns accompanied Bishop to New York to speak at an event for an organization called CancerCare. The organization brought another lung cancer patient who had good health insurance to show the differences in their experiences, according to family members.
Bishop had to go through numerous doctors, while the other patient was able to get it “figured out and on track,” Burns said.
When Bishop went to John Hopkins for treatment, “it wasn’t the personal care she felt she should have,” her husband Larry said.
Bishop underwent the last of her second round of chemotherapy treatment the Wednesday before she passed away, according to Larry.
“The first round was the wrong treatment,” Larry said, noting it caused the cancer to spread from her lungs to her kidneys and throughout.
Following her first treatment, she was convinced she was in the clear and ready to hear “super good news” from the doctor, according to Larry.
“After her first round of chemo, it was just bad news after bad news,” Larry said.
The second round was called “a cocktail of chemo’s” aimed to target all those areas and be more aggressive, Larry said.
Bishop went into the hospital two days later after catching pneumonia.
The family “thought for sure” she was coming home the day after Memorial Day.
“She took a turn for the worst” at night on May 26, Larry said.
The next morning, Larry received a call from a nurse telling him they had a difficult time keeping his wife’s oxygen level up.
At 6:35 a.m., Bishop posted “I love you all” on Facebook.
They were supposed to consult the doctor about the second round of chemo later that week but were able to get him to share the results of the scan that same day.
“It didn’t work, did it?” Larry recalled Bishop asking the doctor.
He told her “it got worse.”
“I think that took the air out of her sails,” Larry said.
The hospital brought her the biggest oxygen machine they had to support her lungs.
“I think her lungs gave up. I think the strong chemo caused her to give up the fight because of her lungs,” Burns said.
Bishop was the type of person to stop her vehicle for a turtle trying to cross the road. She did this on the same day she was sick and throwing up from her last chemo treatment.
Bishop told family members a truck went out of its way to run it over, Larry said.
“She was more upset about the turtle that didn’t make it,” added Larry.
The Bishop home was known for always having “some type of wild animal” living there, family members said, with smiles.
Larry recalled it becoming a normal occurrence for baby squirrels to be the closet.
Burns remembered helping Bishop feed the baby squirrels by bottle every couple of hours. Burns said Bishop worked under a licensed rehabilitator and released animals back into the wild.
There would be all kinds of animals from possums and rabbits to lots of birds, according to Burns.
Bishop’s son Cody shared a time she picked him up from school with a hawk wrapped in a blanket.
“Don’t touch the hawk. It will bite you,” Bishop told Cody, he said.
Bishop’s passion for animals extended even to exotic ones. She spent more than two decades as a volunteer at East Coast Exotic Animal Rescue in Fairfield.
Through that work, she grew close to the organization’s owner, Suzanne Murray.
Murray and Bishop took at least 10 trips to Aruba together, getting involved in the dog rescues there. Bishop’s dogs Cleo and Scrappy were rescued from Aruba, according to Larry.
Murray does not think she could return to Aruba after Bishop passed away.
“I still text her every morning and every night,” Murray said.
Every day, Murray watches the same video just to hear Bishop’s laugh.
In the video, Bishop had fish nibbling on her toes underwater in Aruba, causing her to giggle.
“I have to listen to that every day,” Murray said.
Bishop’s diagnosis pushed her to fight for her life and others.
She became a top advocate for the American Lung Association in the brief time after being diagnosed.
In March, Bishop was recognized with the Ceylon Leitzel Leadership Award from the American Lung Association because of her commitment to the organization’s mission, according to Janise Bankard, development director at the American Lung Association, based in Camp Hill.
“In the short time I had the pleasure of being a friend of hers, she fought like hell,” Bankard said. “She did everything she could to raise awareness. She wanted people to know you don’t have to smoke to have lung cancer.”
Bankard shared how “lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in women,” based on American Lung Association statistics.
Bankard called Bishop “a fighter” and “a force.”
Bishop’s experience with lung cancer teaches people “to not give up and to continue to fight,” Bankard said.
“We are making progress every day to fight for freedom from lung disease,” Bankard added.
Bishop’s memorial service is June 15 at 11 a.m. at Freedom Valley Church in Gettysburg.
For more information about Bishop’s story, check out lung.org/our-initiatives/lung-force/lung-force-heroes/stories/melissa-b.html.