Meet Melissa - a true hero! - Westport Moms

How old are your kids and how long have you lived in Westport/the area? We’ve lived in Westport for 7 years now.  My son will soon be 8!

How did you end up where you are now in terms of your job, or whatever passion project it is you might be doing? I am in the beginning phases of developing a presence online where women can connect, become more informed and be inspired by each other while living with and healing from breast cancer.  This stemmed from my own personal struggles with breast cancer over the last three years.  I want to create what I had a hard time finding.  I believe it’s vital to the healing process that we have easier access to information, shared experiences and positive outcomes to help get through this diagnosis. For more details on my personal story, see below.

High level, based on my own experiences, the best advice that I would give to others would be:
  • Get your imaging done, don’t skip a visit.
  • Understand your breast health.
  • Do the personal development work it takes to learn how to listen to your body so you can be prepared for situations in life like this one.
  • Make sure to do your own research so you can be your best advocate.
  • Insist on doing what feels right to you.

What 3 things do you keep on you nightstand? OR What 3 things are in your car at all times? Nightstand: Current book of choice – Right now it’s “How to Starve Cancer (without starving yourself)”, Bedside Lamp (with dimmer), Water, iPhone – although I try to remember to put that else where at night.

Car: my son, water, phone!

What’s your favorite app right now- for you- and for your kids? Marco polo to keep in touch with friends/family and dropbox because it stores all of my memories. Unfortunately for my son, I’m still old fashioned when it comes to letting my son on the phone so he doesn’t have a go-to app, although he did start begging me to let him have a kids youtube account.

What is one food you could not live without? I am a foodie, so it’s hard for me to pick just ONE!  However, I’ll go with AVOCADO!  I eat it every day – at least twice a day.

What are you most excited about in life right now? I am most excited about the connections I’ve made during this process and the ideas that I want to implement that will make a difference in other women’s lives.

What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you? I used to be a singer/actress/dancer – a long, long time ago.  Recently, I’ve been daydreaming about finding some people in town to sing/play with.  Is there School of Rock for adults?

If you weren’t doing what you are today, what do you think your career path might have been? Looking back, I know my dream career would have been singer/songwriter. I am also a true multi-passionate with an insatiable entrepreneurial spirit so there are an overwhelming amount of things that I would love to have pursued.

If you had 24 hours to do whatever you wanted to do, what would it be? Wow, what an amazing scenario to think about, especially after feeling so confined from COVID and my recent surgeries. If I could also have superpowers during this 24-hour period, I’d begin by watching the sunrise in the Florida Keys and end it watching the sunset in San Diego. And in between, I’d spend hours at an outdoor concert with all of my friends and family listening to great music, eating delicious food, and making each other laugh. I would also travel the world and go to some of the magical places on my to visit list. Oh, and I would meditate with the Dalai Lama! I could go on and on – this is really fun to think about!

What is your most marked characteristic? My most marked characteristics are being intuitive and thinking outside the box.

What was your most memorable family vacation and why?  Right after I became aware that I was going to have to have surgery and before the Pandemic hit, we took an amazing trip to Iceland.  It was SO beautiful it took my breath away.  It was the first time we went on an adventure together as a family.  We went to the hot springs, went on a hovercraft, climbed through glacier mountains, rode on Icelandic horses, and drove around in buggies on the snow-covered mountains, it was incredible. Unforgettable! I’d really like to go back again.

What is the best white lie you have told your son? Recently I told him I had a present for him in his room and when he went in he found his Nana hiding in his bed.  We had kept it a secret for a few weeks (we slipped a few times, but luckily he didn’t catch on). It was amazing to see his face when he realized it was her!

Are you a morning person, or a night owl? How does sleep fit into your life right now? Sleep is elusive to me. I’m an insomniac, so I vary between being a morning person and a night owl.

What thing has surprised you most about being in the suburbs? I was surprised that it took me five years to get used to living in the suburb. I really missed living in NYC. At around the 5 year mark, I began to really embrace suburbia and now I really love It. I was also very surprised that every time something needs repair in your home it always seems to cost $5,000.

What is the first thing you do when you walk in the door after a long day? Take my shoes off and hug my son and my husband.

What is one thing you can’t leave home without? That darn phone!

Who in your life was – or is – the greatest inspiration for what you’re doing today? Definitely my husband and my son.  They are my reason for everything.

More of My Story

It’s really important to understand that breast cancer doesn’t always show up the way you think it will.For as much education and awareness as there is about breast cancer, I still naively associated it only with the BRCA gene and feeling a lump in the breast. Now I know that only 5% of women that have breast cancer even test positive for a genetic mutation. That means 95% of women fighting and surviving breast cancer do not have a known genetic mutation.  
I have also learned that there are other important factors in your breast health like breast density and other warning signs of cancer that might only show up on imaging. That’s how my breast cancer story begins. In 2017, I had my first ever mammogram. They found micro-calcifications. Which is an indication that there is potentially atypical activity in the breast. This finding led to more imaging and biopsies and an eventual diagnosis of LCIS (Lobular Carcinoma In Situ). This is one of the most confusing diagnosis that you can possibly get. It is controversial and often not taken seriously enough. My Doctor at the time insisted I did not have cancer and advised me to just watch and wait.
A year and a half later, I transferred to a new breast surgeon to discuss my case. After more imaging and biopsies, I was diagnosed with Pleomorphic LCIS. My Dr. said it was considered Stage 0 cancer and it was recommended that I take more drastic action and have either a large lumpectomy to take out the affected area or a double mastectomy to reduce my risk of developing cancer.
I didn’t know what to do, but I heard a little voice telling me there was cancer in my breast and I needed to get it out. I even had a gut feeling about the specific location. I got other opinions but none of them felt like the right thing to do. After meeting with my breast surgeon again she thought we should try for the lumpectomy first in order to try and preserve my breasts. Her plan was to take out a large enough area that we would get the affected tissue with margins. Once all of it was out, we would have more information to determine our next steps.
I asked her if she could take a biopsy of the other area I was concerned about. She said she wanted to leave me with as much healthy tissue as possible and didn’t want to, but it turned out that the plastic surgeon took out that exact area in order to create symmetry in my reconstruction. They didn’t realize it at the time, but the pathology came back with a 1.5cm tumor in that area. There was also a smaller tumor in the area that was of original concern. I was now diagnosed with Invasive Lobular Carcinoma. A double mastectomy (DMX) was scheduled for 5 weeks later.
All of the biopsies and imaging had missed these two tumors. And the advice I was given to watch and wait prevented me from preventing a cancer diagnosis. I’m not the only one this has happened to. I’ve read countless stories of women that have similar stories.
It’s important that we become educated on more of the breast issues that lead to breast cancer. If we know more, we can do better. 
Lobular cancer often grows along with the tissue in long strands so it doesn’t always form a hard lump that you can feel. Understanding your breast density is also vital. Density is a risk factor in breast cancer. Lobular cancer can be hidden among the dense tissue and not found until it’s much larger. These types of cancers are often found at later stages in dense breasts. That would have easily been the case for me if I would have taken the advice of any of the other doctors I saw.
I’m still healing from my two surgeries. There are other issues that go along with these surgeries that should also get more attention as you’re going through it. That being said, I am getting stronger every day. I credit my breast surgeon, Dr. Jeanne Capasse and my plastic surgeon, Dr. Boris Goldman with saving my life. They listened to and cared for me in a way that none of the other Dr.’s I consulted with even came close to. We are fortunate to have them in our backyard.  If I had gone with anyone else, these tumors would not have been found this early and I don’t know where I’d be.
I credit my recovery to my husband, my family, friends and community that continue to help me feel the love and support it requires to get through this diagnosis.

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