A death sentence is one of several things Melissa Renzi has in common with thousands of terminally ill patients.

Melissa lives day-to-day knowing her heart could stop without warning, if her body becomes too malnourished from her diseases. She suffers from gastroparesis and secondary mitochondrial disease—both incurable.

At 46 years old, Melissa lives with her husband, Jim Renzi, in their home in Rhode Island. She checks things off her ever-growing bucket list, like posing for 1950s-inspired pin-up shots. She colors and paints when able, makes awareness videos, watches movies, snuggles with her “furbies” (two cats, Sherbies and Puss, and emotional support dog, Sia) and does whatever she can to make others smile. Being there for others takes Melissa away from thinking about her constant pain.

Melissa relies on three and a half liters of oxygen at all times. She can no longer do much without her walker or wheelchair and describes herself as being tired “like a limp noodle.” She was diagnosed with gastroparesis in 2012. The condition prevents her stomach from emptying properly, according to Mayo Clinic. One night in 2012, she woke up to a stabbing pain in her left side and nonstop vomiting. This is when her life began to change.

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