Rays of Resilience

She Needed To Survive Breast Cancer For Her Son — And Ended Up Reinventing Herself In The Process

Rays of Resilience: 31 Stories in 31 Days. So many people around the world have been affected by breast cancer, yet no two breast cancer journeys are the same. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re celebrating a new survivor every day. Their resilience is an inspiration to us all.

My name is Melanie.

My son was nine years old at the time of my first diagnosis. A surgeon told me that, regardless of the surgery I selected (lumpectomy or mastectomy), the survival rate after five years was 80%. I immediately translated this into, “I have a one in five chance of dying before my son is fourteen.”

Praise God, my lymph nodes were clear, greatly improving my prognosis. After the lumpectomy, chemo, and radiation, I went on with my life as though nothing had happened.

The cancer returned over nine years later. I cried twice about this diagnosis: first, when a second opinion confirmed that this time I would have to undergo a mastectomy, and later that day for joy that, if one of us had to have cancer, it was not my son but me.

I waited until he was home on spring break from his first year of college to be able to announce the news in person, but he had already sensed it. I told him that if it took me this time at least I knew he could go on without me, and he told me that I wasn’t going anywhere. He was right; again I survived all my treatments with flying colors.

The American Cancer Society boasts of being the “official sponsor of birthdays.” I love that, but I tend to think more in terms of graduations. Since my first diagnosis, I’ve seen my precious son graduate from elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and, in May of 2011, law school.

I followed in his footsteps by entering law school myself in 2009.

After three years of my four-year program, I learned that I have the BRCA gene mutation. I stepped up by having two pre-emptive surgeries between my Summer term and my final Fall semester to remove the at-risk organs. I graduated, passed the bar on my first try (as my son had), and became an attorney in 2013 — two years after he had. I tell people that law school was harder to survive than cancer!

Since then I have been securing justice at the Legal Aid Society of Orange County for seniors without the finances to hire an attorney. I can think of no better way to spend the remaining years that God may grant to me.

I believe that my “cancer adventure” (as I refer to it) occurred so that I could be a blessing to others, by sharing my experiences and the information I’ve acquired to help them avoid or respond to a diagnosis. Since my lumpectomy, I have served the American Cancer Society as a Reach to Recovery Volunteer (calling current patients to explain what ACS can offer them, as well as offering encouragement through my own experience); singing “I Run for Life” at their Relays for Life; and handled Mission Delivery duties at one year’s Relay. While in law school, I designed a tatted (handmade lace) awareness ribbon, and I donated all of the proceeds of the sales to the American Cancer Society — over $800!

How’s that for “fighting like a girl?”

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