CNCINNATI -- Melissa Rupert was given a fight she neither wanted, nor asked for. But once diagnosed with breast cancer, Rupert came out swinging and determined to win.
Rupert, of Liberty Township, Ohio, is the winner of the Reds' honorary bat girl contest, which recognizes baseball fans who have been affected by breast cancer and who demonstrate a commitment to eradicating the disease. She was recognized on the field during pregame ceremonies before the Reds' 2-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night.
"I have never won anything like this before. I was pretty happy," Rupert said.
More importantly, Rupert is well on her way to beating cancer. She had surgery to remove her tumor last Tuesday.
"I am cancer free as of today," Rupert said with a smile. "The last step on the road is just radiation and we'll be able to get rid of this thing for good."
Only 35 years old, Rupert and her husband, Jason, have an almost 1-year-old son, Noah. A few months ago came the unexpected.
"It was pretty shocking. I was kind of just hanging out and felt a bump," Rupert explained while wearing a white Reds cap. "I wasn't real concerned about it because I was still breastfeeding my son at the time."
Rupert went to her obstetrician, who told her it was nothing. Although she felt relieved at the time, she wasn't satisfied she dodged trouble.
"At home that night, I just had this feeling in my gut that it was something more," she said.
After seeking a second opinion and getting an ultrasound, Rupert learned she did, in fact, have breast cancer.
"I'm really glad I advocated for myself," Rupert said. "Since then, I've gone through chemotherapy -- for about two months.
"I've got a son who is not quite 1. We just celebrated my first Mother's Day on Sunday. There is nothing that means more to me than him and my family. As shocking as it was, there was just nothing to do but move forward. I told my mom and my family there is no way but up and through."
The Honorary Bat Girl program was introduced by Major League Baseball in 2009 to raise additional awareness and support for the annual "Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer" initiative celebrated on Mother's Day. It is an initiative supported by MLB's charitable partners, Stand Up To Cancer and Susan G. Komen.
Rupert's cousin, Aundrea Robinson, nominated her with an essay.
"My cousin nominated me and I didn't know even know she was doing it," Rupert said. "I had written that article for myself and she ended up taking it and running with it, which was a real surprise. Then when I won, I didn't really know what to do."
Part of Rupert's article said this:
"I remind myself every day that I am not a statistic. I am me. My outcome will be my outcome. My story is mine and I am not a number. So here I am. A new mom, a business owner and an avid volunteer. I don't have time to think about the 'what if's.' There is no alternative. I'm in it to win it."
Rupert didn't have a large family history of breast cancer. Only one of her grandmothers had ever been diagnosed, when she was in her late 50's. Like many cancer survivors, being free of the disease doesn't mean she can be fully comfortable or worry-free again.
The disease will be in the back of her mind, but that won't stop Rupert from living and enjoying her baby and family.
"We caught it early, that's the biggest thing. Breast cancer is curable," Rupert said. "Catching it and advocating for yourself and doing all the right things makes my prognosis really, really good."