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Get tested: breast cancer survivor urges women to see the signs

Breast cancer survivor and mother of three from Avenir, Vanessa Melenson, hopes her story can be an opportunity to raise awareness and encourage women to get checked. 

On average, 78 women across Canada are diagnosed with breast cancer every day. The stark statistic is the second leading cancer type among women in the country. For one survivor from Avenir, roughly 55 km north of Lac La Biche, detecting the signs early on helped save her life five years ago. 

“I found a little lump on my left breast and went to my the doctor, and right away they didn’t fool around with it, they thought it was serious,” said Vanessa Melenson. 

Melenson, was diagnosed in February 2017 after noticing the small lump in December 2016. Following a biopsy and a two centimetre in diameter tumour was confirmed, she said. 

The mother of three says it was an incredibly frightening experience learning how cancer can metastasis, especially in young people experiencing the horrific disease. 

“The fear was because I was young—I was 36 at the time—the cells were fast-growing… the doctors wanted to act very quick.” 

Almost immediately, Melenson went for surgery to have the tumour removed which was successful. But the fear of how subsequent treatment, the potential outcome of the surgery and recovery would turn out didn’t surpass. 

 “I have three kids, my youngest at the time was only three—it was pretty scary,” she explains of going through the challenging thoughts of what the future would hold for her and her young family. 

“How sick am I going to be? I definitely had to get chemotherapy, but am I going to be able to take care of my kids? Am I going to be here for them?” 

Recovery  

Throughout the journey, in and out of radiation and chemo appointments, Melenson was on the road to recovery. Today, five years into remission and continuing to operate her family’s farm in the Avenir community, the medical reassurance was very supportive she recalls. 

“They reassured me because it was in the early stages that I had really high chance of survival, so that was good.” 

Most of all, the support from her loved ones who helped her get through the challenges, arrive at chemo appointments, radiation, and doctor sessions at local and regional hospitals helped her get through the difficult situation. Especially, her in-laws who travelled to the region to help her continue to work and raise her children through the relentless fatigue the treatments caused, said Melenson. 

“As we found out we told them and they came and stayed with us for six months and helped me take care of the kids and the household…throughout my treatments, but not everybody has that support." 

Getting checked 

With October being Breast Cancer Month, an opportunity to raise awareness for all the Canadians impacted by the disease, Melenson says getting the support is vital—right away. 

“I was scared and I waited, and I strongly suggest not to wait. If you find something get checked because they will take you seriously and they will send you for testing.”