There are some years when you just can’t wait for them to end, so you have a fresh start. For Melina Bischoff, that year was 2015; when she was 47 years old. In February, she was diagnosed with Stage 2 melanoma. In March, after 20 years of marriage, her divorce was finalized. In July, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.
In addition to an aggressive treatment plan, surgery for the melanoma in February took two inches from her right cheek, and breast cancer treatment involved a double mastectomy in August. Once the sentinel nodes and nine lymph nodes were removed during surgery, the16 rounds of chemotherapy, followed by 33 rounds of radiation began.
Both her parents were cancer survivors: her father lived 20 years after being diagnosed in the early 1990s with Stage 4 colon cancer. And her mother is a 79-year-old survivor of two breast cancers. Genetic testing initially was negative, but later, Melina and her mother tested positive for PALB2 gene, which is linked to breast cancer.
Not surprisingly, both of her children were also going through some rough times. Since 2011, when her husband lost his job, and the marriage started falling apart, Melina – formerly a stay-at-home mom, started working. Without much experience, she only got hourly jobs with low salaries, so she had to work three jobs to get by with no child support or alimony. By the time of her diagnosis, Melina’s son Jake was a high school freshman and daughter Jordan was a high school senior.
Both rose to the occasion. Jordan was captain of the high school tennis team, applied and accepted to 4 colleges, and received a local scholarship. Feeling responsibility as her mom’s caretaker, she chose to stay in state. Today, she is finishing up her freshman year at UGA where she is a semester ahead because of high school advanced placement classes, and has maintained her grades so she could continue with the HOPE scholarship. Jake, who has had his heart set on Georgia Tech since elementary school, has over a 4.0 GPA in high school, tutors others, works part time and made the high school golf team.
Having children who needed her gave her a strong sense of purpose and an undeterred positive outlook. She was ready to get with the plan, get it started and beat it. With no immediate family living locally, she had to rely solely on friends, neighbors, and co-workers. They had dinners cooked and delivered for months, transportation to and from doctor appointments and chemo sessions, and assistance with daily household chores (i.e, cleaning services and lawn care). She learned to accept and thank people for the help that came in many forms. And not to be upset when people just asked, “How are you feeling?” She knew they meant well. Marriott International, her employer, was amazing and compassionate. Her office is more than 25 miles away from home. To help keep her healthy (because of a compromised immune system), she was able to work from home throughout her entire treatment plan.
‘I surrounded myself with only POSITIVE energy. I accepted where I was in life, and had no doubt that I would beat this. No time for negativity,” she says. So, not surprisingly, her message to others is “Stay focused. Stay positive. Keep your eye on the prize-- Life! This is NOT a death sentence. Just a detour on your road of life. Most importantly…BELIEVE it.”
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