At age 32 Melissa tested positive for the BRCA gene. She wasn’t surprised, as there was a history of breast cancer in her family. Melissa always tries to see the silver lining in even the most challenging situations. In this case, she and her oncologist agreed that knowledge was power; her BRCA gene status would now become the road map to her health. She was closely observed and was diligent about making sure she got her mammograms, MRI’s and clinical exams on a regular basis.
When Melissa was 42, she made her annual mammogram appointment. This was an unusual one for her because the clinician discovered a very small (but suspicious) lump right away. They weren’t sure what it was, so they did a quick biopsy. Benign. “Phew,” she thought.
Shortly after this initial diagnosis, the doctor then came in and said “I think I see a shadow." Within minutes Melissa found herself in a room with a doctor and two nurses, undergoing yet another biopsy. Her head was spinning and she couldn’t process what was happening, everything was moving so quickly. Ultimately, she was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Luckily Melissa got an appointment the very next day with a top breast surgeon, and was given her treatment options. Again, her head was spinning and her world was moving so fast, she questioned “How is this happening?”
“I have cancer, like “the cancer?” Melissa thought.
“You will need chemotherapy” the doctor said.
“Not like the chemo when your hair falls out?” Melissa asked.
“Yes. Your hair will fall out”
Two weeks later, Melissa had a family holiday planned in Punta Cana, Republica Dominicana. Her doctor advised her to still go. “Have fun, forget about life for a while and when you get back, you’ll begin your treatment,” He suggested. The trip was difficult for Melissa. It was hard to smile and laugh and share good times with her two girls, then 7 &11 years old, without thinking about the aggressive surgery and chemotherapy that she’d be faced with when she got home. In the back of her mind, Melissa thought, “I’m going to go back to Punta Cana one day cancer free….and enjoy every damned second of it."
Upon returning from vacation, the treatment began. Inevitably her hair started to thin, and one day at a family dinner, she put her hand through her hair and a clump of hair came out.
Her youngest daughter had always wanted to be a hair stylist, so Melissa grabbed a buzzer and called her daughter Erica into her room. “You want to be hairstylist, right? Take this buzzer, and buzz this!!”
Erica did as instructed and buzzed her mamas hair. They laughed and cried together. “She made it OK for me. My girls were my angels going through cancer”
Melissa scoured the internet to try and learn how to tie a scarf, or apply makeup when you have no eyebrows and eyelashes. As a fashion and beauty publicist, the way she looked was very important to her and part of her job. “Attending a press event with a scarf wrapped around my head??? Not happening.” she thought to herself. So after one of the most de-feminizing chapters of her life, Melissa launched Cancer Fashionista ( http://www.cancerfashionista.com) a go-to resource for beauty, fashion, and self-care to help women feel their best through throughout their breast cancer journey and beyond.
Almost four years cancer free, here is Melissa with her two angels back in Punta Cana, with a full head of hair and a big smile.