Courageous Breast Cancer Survivor, Melissa, Inspires Hope and Awareness during Breast Cancer Awareness Month

31 October 2023
Wesley Breast ClinicThe Wesley Hospital staff member assisting older lady walking on crutches.

In honour of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we are privileged to introduce you to Melissa, a remarkable 58-year-old mother of three and grandmother of four who has faced and conquered breast cancer not once, but twice. Her story is one of resilience, optimism, and the power of unwavering support.

Melissa's battle with breast cancer began in 2007 when she was diagnosed at the age of 41. She discovered a lump on her breast and took swift action by seeking care at the Wesley Breast Clinic.

The diagnosis was a tough blow, but she was in the capable hands of Oncologist Dr David Grimes and Breast and Endocrine Surgeon Professor Ian Bennett.

Notably, Professor Bennett had previously cared for Melissa's mother, who tragically succumbed to Ovarian Cancer at the age of 57.

Melissa's treatment at The Wesley Hospital involved a lumpectomy followed by a gruelling regimen of 30 rounds of radiation and 6 rounds of chemotherapy.

She described this period as mentally and physically challenging, but her determination never wavered. In an effort to maintain her spirits, she planned a family holiday to Italy to look forward to once her treatment was completed.

During this time, Melissa's three children, aged 10, 8, and 5, were a source of unwavering support who even shaved their hair off after she lost hers to chemotherapy.

As a teacher, Melissa decided to continue working despite the side effects of chemotherapy, even going so far as to embrace her bald head, which she found liberating.

She was open with her students about her illness and, not long after returning to work, another student's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Melissa was delighted to be able to provide support and guidance to the student, helping to demystify the daunting journey that lay ahead.

Following her successful treatment, Melissa remained diligent in her annual mammograms and ultrasounds.

Unfortunately, in September 2022, an unusual mass was detected during an ultrasound at the Wesley Breast Clinic. The diagnosis was confirmed through a biopsy, and Melissa vividly recalls the incredible support provided by the clinic staff as they delivered the heartbreaking news. Once again, she embarked on a journey of treatment to battle the cancer.

Melissa faced her second bout of breast cancer with remarkable optimism, choosing to have a mastectomy performed by Professor Bennett.

She refused to dwell on worst-case scenarios, instead, relying on her and her husband's shared sense of humour and resilience to keep laughing and smiling.

Throughout her cancer journey, Melissa's husband remained a pillar of support, though he initially struggled to cope with her diagnosis in 2007.

Following her mastectomy, Melissa sought solace in music and reached out to friends on Facebook, creating a Spotify playlist to accompany her on the journey to recovery. Her unwavering determination shone through as she got back on her feet, quite literally, walking laps in the hospital ward.

Melissa's path included radiation followed by chemotherapy, but her wound did not heal as expected. She was then referred to the Wesley Hyperbaric Chamber, where 16 treatments eventually led to the wound's perfect healing, allowing her to continue with chemotherapy.

The second round of chemotherapy took a toll on Melissa's body, causing neuropathy in her feet, but she found solace in nature, enjoying time in her backyard surrounded by the beauty of the outdoors.

Melissa expressed immense gratitude for the support she received throughout her journey, particularly from the compassionate and knowledgeable Breast Care Nurse Jan Snowdon.

Her appreciation for the Wesley Hospital holds a special place in her heart, as it was the birthplace of her grandchild, who also spent time in the Special Care Unit.

Today, Melissa relishes her time with her four beloved grandchildren and anticipates retirement, cherishing the opportunity to spend more quality time with her family. Her close-knit friendship group has been a constant source of support for both her and her family.

Melissa's advice to women on a similar journey is simple yet powerful: accept the help that's offered, adapt your life to the challenges, and understand that you don't always have to keep it all together. Her journey is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the importance of community and support in the face of adversity.

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