by Jessica Melore
How many times does lightning strike? I asked myself as I heard the doctor say the last words I wanted to hear: Cancer. Again.
Should I have been surprised? Nothing in my life had been predictable up to that point. I’d had two other types of cancer before – forms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma – along with a heart attack, heart transplant, and a leg amputation, all by the time I was 25 years old. And now I was diagnosed with endometrial (uterine) cancer, a disease that normally affects women over age 45 – when I was just 34 years old.
After unsuccessful attempts to treat the cancer with hormone therapy, I had a total laparoscopic hysterectomy. My reproductive organs, including my ovaries, were removed. Following surgery, my entire medical team was shocked to learn that microscopic cancer cells were found in one of my ovaries. To ensure the cancer hadn’t spread anywhere else, I’d need six cycles of chemotherapy.
I was so frustrated that the cancer wasn’t behind me, yet I was thankful that we caught it at a stage that was still treatable and manageable.
Faced with being bald a third time in my life, I decided to use the experience to show cancer survivors and families that cancer and hair loss doesn’t have to be scary. In a live Facebook event at my local American Cancer Society, I donated my hair to Free Wigs for Kids; got my hair cut in a few short, funky styles; and got fitted for a wig.
I documented my journey every step of the way – shaving my head; walking in charity fashion shows for Look Good, Feel Better; wearing pink wigs and Wonder Woman gear to chemotherapy; and taking part in fun photo shoots to celebrate the power of being bald.
Time doesn’t stop at diagnosis, and neither should we.
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I made a commitment to try to reach as many people as possible, to show that there is life not only after cancer but also during cancer.
Time doesn’t stop at diagnosis, and neither should we. To me, survivorship begins at diagnosis, not at remission. Because each day we live is a day that cancer didn’t win. It’s important for those still in treatment to know that.
No matter what our prognosis, we all can choose to live valiantly and make the most of whatever time we have. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to help give others hope through my speaking, writing, and advocacy. And if you or someone you know needs a boost or is struggling with cancer or its aftermath, I hope you will reach out to me.
We are all survivors. And I will continue to support and celebrate my fellow cancer warriors every day.
Jessica Melore was a motivational speaker, writer, advocate, and patient ambassador.