CONTACT JOAN CONTACT JOAN

Melody E Saleh

Never knew how much those 1980's late night, self-breast exam PSA's would mean to me. At the very young age of 34 I went to my annual doctor visit with a lump in my right breast; yes I found it myself. I was told it was nothing to worry about; it would go away on its own. Three months later (I turned 35 during that time), it became very painful. I called the doctor's office and was told it was probably a cyst that needed to be aspirated so they gave me the name of a radiologist and told me to go get a mammogram/ultrasound and he would be able to drain it for me. This was February 1998. As a single, self-employed, parent, taking time to do something for ME was at the very bottom of my list. It wasn't until mid March, having dinner at a friend's house, it hit home for me. Her daughters had chased a bird from their home that day. My grandmother (RIP) having been raised up north, always said if a bird flies into your home, someone very close to you is going to get very sick and possibly die. I burst out crying and told the first person, other than the medical staff, what I was going through. I called the very next day to make an appointment.... for six weeks later. I went to the office on April 28, 1998 expecting to have a cyst aspirated, I went alone. When the doc asked me if I had anyone with me in the waiting room, I knew. I was diagnosed with Stage II triple-negative breast cancer at 35. I had a beautiful 15-year old daughter but I still wanted more children. Heck, I wanted to see my daughter graduate high school; I wanted to turn 40; I wanted to see her fall in love and marry her Prince Charming. I had so much still to do.

I participated in a study with Mount Sinai Hospital having chemotherapy prior to surgery to see if my tumor shrunk. I'm actually pretty glad I went that route as I got to see/feel my almost 2cm lump shrink down to 7mm. Four rounds of A/C, lumpectomy and radiation, I was celebrating being alive and hosting a "Hat's Off" party in October 1998. I never felt comfortable in wigs so I always wore hats. At my party everybody had to wear a hat except me. Testing the waters earlier that day at lunch, I had a big biker guy say to me, "Hey little lady, takes guts to cut your hair that short. Looks good." Guess I was ready to take off my hat for good.

I hit all the milestones head on; two-years, five-years, I had a BIG 10-year cancer-free celebration in April 2008. We took 36 friends on a five-day cruise; many fellow BC survivors I had the pleasure of meeting along the way. It's funny how on April 29th that year, I felt this huge weight lift off my shoulders. I never knew I was carrying it until that day. WOO HOO... I did it! I kicked Cancer's BUTT!!! Fast forward to July 2008... in the shower, just before I'm going for my annual mammogram, I feel something "off" in my left breast. I wasn't worried about it, but it was definitely not normal for me. My doc had been wonderful always performing an ultrasound and/or magnified mammogram anytime I felt something "off". Everytime it was nothing... until that day. It was suspicious... It was just 3-months since that weight lifted; 3-months of regrouping; 3-months of catching my breath... here we go again. Biopsy confirmed ER+/PR+ invasive breast cancer, Stage I, we caught it early. Didn't even have to think twice about it, my A/AA breasts were gone! I had had enough. After 4-miscarriages & 1-ectopic pregnancy, I knew I would not have anymore children. I would one day, look forward to grandchildren. My silver lining is my beautiful 34-C breasts, If I was going through this again, I was going to get something POSITIVE out of it.

I've celebrated 16-years cancer-free now from my first diagnosis; and 6-years cancer-free from my second diagnosis. Somebody told me, I was #badass.... My new nickname. At least until my granddaughter Alia Eve Smith comes into this world April 2016. Cancer's tough but I'm tougher!

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