I met Melissa last year, while going through chemo myself, at a photo shoot with Click for Hope featuring a few products from Melissa’s online shop, Hope25. She’s a tremendous contributor to the cancer community & is a true inspiration. I’m so honored & excited to share her story of perseverance with you!
Melissa’s story begins, well with an itch. That’s right, an itch in her left breast while driving. So many physicians & studies show that most breast cancer isn’t painful & doesn’t itch… I must tell you, from reading stories to share that people have sent me, I’m honestly blown away at the number of women who first noticed their breast cancer with an itch, shooting or burning pain, or both.
Melissa assumed the itch was nothing, but had noticed a lump in that area that wasn’t present on the other side. She felt it again moments later. Deep down she felt that something was wrong & she just couldn’t shake the feeling… A couple of weeks later she remembered the lump & asked her husband to feel it. She lied in bed & cried that night in fear, she felt silly, it had to be nothing, right? They prayed about it & went to sleep. She made an appointment with the doctor & pushed it up when she began experiencing shooting pains in her breast.
Her physician assumed it was a benign cyst since Melissa was just 25 years old. She very casually told Melissa she could, “get it checked out anyway…” The following day she had an ultrasound, during which the tech asked if Melissa had benefits at work, it was then she knew something was terribly wrong. They had her follow with a mammogram the next day followed by a biopsy taken on a Friday. On Monday morning, she was called into the doctor’s office where she was told she had breast cancer.
Melissa was diagnosed with Stage 2 DCIS (Ductal carcinoma in situ) – Triple Negative at the shocking age of 25. She & her husband were devastated by the news. Melissa’s dad came to the appointment when they learned of her diagnosis as well. They tried to comfort Melissa & prayed for her. The following day she spent in tears, as she learned the full gravity of the situation from her surgeon & oncologist. She learned she would lose her hair & also that treatment could affect her ability to have children one day. A side effect most women often don’t realize until faced with treatment themselves. The week was filled with tests & doctors every, single, day… it was the hardest week of Melissa’s life, so many uncertainties ahead.
She opted to go through IVF treatment first, to improve the odds of having a child when the timing is right. A week following the egg retrieval for IVF, Melissa had her port installed & later that week she began chemo. She took part in a clinical trial of parb inhibitors while undergoing another trial drug called carbo along with some more standard breast cancer chemotherapies, taxol & AC. A month following chemo she had a lumpectomy & three lymph nodes removed. Once she recovered from surgery she underwent 33 rounds of radiation.
Treatment was hard on Melissa, she experienced a lot of nausea & fatigue. At one point, she wasn’t able to make it up the two flights of stairs to her own apartment without stopping to catch her breath a couple of times. Even simple things like taking a shower were extremely tiring.
As if dealing with her own cancer & treatment weren’t trying enough. Melissa’s dad was diagnosed with liver cancer shortly following her own diagnosis. It was much harder to see her father’s struggle with cancer than to deal with her own. She lost hope for a while & soon after, he passed away. Melissa was broken & so incredibly sad; it was a dark time in her life.
Even through the loss of her father, they prayed & listened to Christian music. She slowly realized that God was with her the entire time, providing her the peace she needed to just, be. She’s still incredibly sad & dealing with the void is difficult. Cancer took her father from her, for that she will always be sad. But Melissa knows that her dad loved Jesus & he would want her to see how God has blessed her with healing, peace & an amazing family.
Melissa is happily in remission now, but says cancer, it’s treatment & losing her father have been a huge learning process. She tries to enjoy every moment & truly cherishes time with her family. Most side effects have faded with time, but fear is something she continues to battle constantly. Every new pain brings fear of returning cancer. But she also realizes that she’s stronger than she knows. She has hope again & believes she experienced cancer for a reason, she chooses not waste the experience.
Soon after her diagnosis, Melissa started a store specifically for cancer fighters & is focusing on that currently. She sells modern t-shirts & necklaces & likes to give back by donating to Metavivor or by gifting necklaces to others fighting cancer. She also hopes to help others through her social media pages, letting fighters & survivors know they’re not alone in the battles they’ve faced. There’s comfort in knowing you’re not alone.
Update on Melissa June 30, 2017: Melissa’s cancer has unfortunately metastasized to her brain, liver, kidneys & lungs. She underwent brain surgery on June 20th & they were able to successfully remove the largest tumor (5cm). She’ll be starting whole brain radiation & chemo in the upcoming weeks. She’s had to temporarily close her shop, Hope 25 & is need of our support & prayers. Some of Melissa’s Survivor Sisters started a gofundme for Melissa & her husband, Joe, to help as much as possible as they take on the battle of their lives.
Check out Melissa’s store, Hope25.com
Follow Melissa on Instagram
See Melissa’s blog appropriately titled, Breast Cancer at 25
Click for Hope is another amazing organization, run by Jazi who is such a wonderful person & also a gifted photographer sharing stories of amazing people facing many different types of struggles. I encourage you to check out both, Hope25 & Click for Hope