Hi, I am Melissa Berry.
At age 32 I tested positive for the BRCA gene. I wasn’t surprised, as there was a history of breast cancer in my family. I always try to see the silver lining in even the most challenging situations. In this case, my oncologist and I agreed that knowledge was power; my BRCA gene status would now become the road map to my health. I was closely observed and was diligent about making sure I got my mammograms, MRI’s and clinical exams on a regular basis.
When I was 42, I scheduled my annual mammogram appointment. This was an unusual one for me because the clinician discovered a very small (but suspicious) lump right away. They weren’t sure what it was, so they did a quick biopsy. Benign. “Phew,” I thought. Shortly after this initial diagnosis, the doctor then came in and said “I think I see a shadow.” Within minutes I found myself in a room with a doctor and two nurses, undergoing yet another biopsy. My head was spinning and I couldn’t process what was happening, everything was moving so quickly. Ultimately, I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Luckily I got an appointment the very next day with a top breast surgeon, and was given my treatment options.
Meanwhile, we had a family vacation to Punta Cana planned, just two weeks from my diagnosis. My doctor advised me to go. “Have fun, forget about life for a while and when you get back, you’ll begin your treatment, he said. The trip was difficult for me. It was hard to smile and laugh and share good times with my two daughters, then 7 &11 years old, without thinking about the aggressive surgery and chemotherapy that I’d be faced with when I got home. In the back of my mind, I thought, “I’m going to go back to Punta Cana one day cancer free….and enjoy every damned second of it.”
Upon returning from vacation, the treatment began. Inevitably my hair started to thin, and one day at a family dinner, I put my hand through my hair and a clump of hair came out. My youngest daughter, Erica had always wanted to be a hair stylist, so I grabbed a buzzer and called her into the bathroom with me. “You want to be hairstylist, right? Take this buzzer, and buzz this!!” Erica did as instructed and buzzed my hair off. We laughed so hard. She made it OK for me. My girls always were and always will be my angels.
Throughout my treatment, I scoured the internet to try and learn how to tie a scarf, or apply makeup when you have no eyebrows and eyelashes. As a fashion and beauty publicist, the way I looked was very important to me. Attend a press event with a scarf wrapped around my head? Not happening, I thought to myself. So after one of the most de-feminizing chapters of my life, I launched Cancer Fashionista ( http://www.cancerfashionista.com/) a go-to resource for beauty, fashion, and self-care to help women look and feel their best through throughout their breast cancer journey and beyond.