Four years ago Melissa Eeley, 33 at the time, felt a lump in her breast. Since she had just completed breastfeeding her second son, she figured it was a milk retention cyst. Much to her surprise, Melissa was diagnosed with stage 2 B triple positive breast cancer. Her early thirties would go on to be riddled with 20 rounds of chemotherapy, 20 rounds of radiation, targeted therapy through the year, a double mastectomy & diep flap surgery. In the four years since the diagnosis, Melissa still has one remaining surgery. A young mother of two boys, it’s astonishing to think of the journey of new motherhood coupled with such a serious diagnosis.
Without hesitation Melissa says her husband was her rock. His support and love helped her through the throes of new parenthood and the ever changing needs of her body and mental health during such a difficult time: “My husband and I, our relationship is unbelievable. We have been through more than most couples do in 20-30 years.” While the diagnosis certainly affected her husband, it also had surprising effects on her children. Her youngest son Luke, 1.5 years old at the time, had little understanding of the situation, but her oldest, Jacob, 3 at the time, particularly struggled to understand why his mom didn’t have hair. It was only when Melissa connected with a group of other mother’s battling breast cancer and attended a casual brunch that she realized the impact of connecting with those in a similar situation. At the brunch her son said, “Mommy look! None of them have hair like you!” An emotional Melissa remembers the moment as a turning point for her family, whereby their community became paramount in providing the support necessary for the entire family to one day return to a new “normal.”
It was another connection, this time through a Facebook group, that provided the silver lining to her diagnosis. When fellow Runway Model Kelly Cassier wrote in a local town Facebook group looking to connect with other women diagnosed with breast cancer, Melissa and four other women rallied right away. It would kick off a friendship that has changed the women’s worlds: “What I love about this group of women is that though breast cancer has affected us and our family’s so deeply, we also laugh a ton, joke around a lot and use it as fuel for positivity and to bring us joy.”
It’s this group of women that have been there for each other through it all. Their children play together, they have taken trips with another and simply put, they have just been present for it all- the good, the scary and so much more: “Breast cancer really shows you who your friends are. These women have taught me so much about how to be a great woman, mom and friend.” Melissa is quick to note how lucky she has been with not only this amazing group of supportive women and friends, but her husband, family and even her work, whom she said really stepped up to support her during her battle.
Melissa exudes optimism and positivity and when asked how she maintains an upbeat attitude through her grueling breast cancer journey she notes, “breast cancer is awful. You battle with aches, pains, body positivity issues and especially at 33, it’s very hard. However, where people complain about everyday things, I don’t sweat the small stuff and when you have such a big fight ahead of you and you are looking at life or death, that stuff doesn’t matter so much.”