By Jenny Song
No Ordinary Life
Connie Mielich didn’t get the “normal” life she wanted, but this four-time cancer survivor wouldn’t trade her life for any other
By Jenny Song
Growing up in a small Pennsylvania town, all the young Connie Walter ever wanted was to lead an ordinary life: to blend in with the crowd, to go about unnoticed. But when she was 14, her father died of lung cancer and her mother suffered a nervous breakdown. With her older brother married and out of the house, Walter was left to care for her mother and herself. She got a job just so she would have money for school lunches. Then, during her senior year of high school, she got pregnant. It was 1969, and Walter lived in a rural community controlled by conservative locals; it was unheard of for a pregnant teenager to finish high school.
But she had promised her father before he died that she would graduate, and she knew she would never pass a GED exam. So for the first time in her life, Walter stood up against the crowd—the acting principal of her high school, to be exact.
Four months pregnant and showing, Walter marched into the principal’s office, saying, “Hi, my name is Connie and I just got married and it’s now Hamilton. And I’m pregnant and I’m graduating with my class in June.”
Now 57 and remarried, Connie Mielich reflects back on that moment and says she learned an important lesson: When you find yourself backed into a corner, come out fighting. “To say that she has a stubborn streak is an understatement,” says her husband, Tony, whom she married 28 years ago, two years after her first marriage ended. That feisty nature is what kept her going through a difficult marriage to her first husband, a relationship in which she suffered physical and mental abuse; through the amputation of her right leg at the hip, at age 20, after she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare pediatric cancer; and through life as a single mother—her ex-husband left her, at age 27—raising two young children on her own.
By looking at Mielich’s sweet, smiling face, you would never guess that she has lived through so much hardship. A four-time cancer survivor—she has had two recurrences of osteosarcoma since her first diagnosis in 1972, and was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in 1994—Mielich doesn’t display a hint of bitterness or anger in her voice. Rather, she laughs at the absurdity of her experiences and sees each trial and tribulation as an opportunity to learn a life lesson. Like when her family doctor misdiagnosed her osteosarcoma as ordinary knee pain, without taking an X-ray, and sent her to get whirlpool treatments that she later learned may have accelerated the cancer. Friends told her to file a malpractice suit, but she refused. “Doctors aren’t God, they’re human, which means they can make mistakes,” she says.
Don’t get her wrong, it’s not like nothing fazes her, says her husband, Tony. “She’ll have her crying moments, and then she gets over it,” he says. “I fell in love with her because she’s not a quitter.”