A barrel racer for Texas Tech Rodeo worked hard to overcome a major obstacle, which ultimately transformed her life.

Melissa McHann, a junior microbiology major from Bozeman, Montana, was diagnosed with Optic Pathway Glioma when she was 12 years old. Optic Pathway Glioma is a brain tumor that made her blind in her right eye.

From the age of 13 to 16 years old, McHann underwent 52 infusions of chemotherapy. McHann said she had so much radiation in her body, it was interfering with the MRI scan.

After chemotherapy, the tumor returned and it was bigger, McHann said. However, in her battle with cancer, one thing has helped her consistently.

“I have a very strong faith, and I believe you can either live through cancer or you can die with it,” McHann said. “I chose to live. I chose that I wasn’t going to surrender to cancer, and I decided to do what I love despite everything.”

In addition to her faith, McHann said there is something else that keeps her going.

McHann has a special relationship with her horse Tejas. When they first met, McHann said, she was riding him for another person.

When Tejas went for sale, McHann’s mother wanted to buy him, but McHann opposed because she did not think Tejas had the heart to make a barrel horse, McHann said. But, Tejas proved her wrong.

“Tejas has the most heart out of any horse I have ever known,” McHann said. “He has come back from illness and career-ending injuries, and he still gives me 110 percent every time I send him down the alley.”

Now, McHann and her horse have been inseparable for five years. McHann said one of her stipulations of going to treatment at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center was if Tejas could come with her.

McHann keeps the horse in a pasture behind a friend’s house. McHann said she gets to ride him every day in the pasture and continues to compete with him.

Because of her blindness, McHann does not have depth perception. When competing, McHann said, this is one of the major challenges she has to face. Yet, McHann continues to compete.

Brent Hodges, Tech Rodeo coach, said it is a joy to have McHann involved in the rodeo program. She is determined, puts in a lot of work and manages her time well.

“Melissa (McHann) competes really well, and in the last rodeo, she made the top 15 in her area,” Hodges said. “She also has a fun personality and a great attitude towards her cancer. We always keep Melissa in our prayers.”

Christopher McHann, Melissa McHann’s brother, is close to his sister.

Christopher McHann said he admires his sister’s determination and motivation to get everything done. Melissa McHann is good at time management, balancing her schoolwork and riding her horse every day, he said.

“Melissa (McHann) consistently tries to help in any way she can and keeps her academics up-to-par, being in the Honors College as well,” he said.

Melissa McHann and her brother, in fact, share an apartment. Christopher McHann said he is proud of what his sister has accomplished.  

“It is amazing where she is right now, especially when you see what she has overcome in the past,” Christopher McHann said. “She is definitely a special human being who is going to do great things in the world.”

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