Georgia's Online Cancer Information Center


Melissa Davenhall

You don’t see many people who are undergoing cancer treatment in Jazzercise classes.  So, petite Melissa Davenhall stood out. She’s been jazzercising since 1980 and she wasn’t going to let chemotherapy stop her.  It’s now 3 ½ years since her ovarian cancer diagnosis, and despite all she’s been through, she’s still dancing.

Her cancer journey started with her self-diagnosis: she thought the “pooch” she was developing was post-menopausal weight gain, and the nausea and fatigue she experienced was a stomach virus. But when violent pain hit, she went to the Emergency Room and an ultrasound showed that one ovary had twisted off and died. With the support of her husband, Tom, they quickly selected and visited a surgeon and arranged for a robotic hysterectomy. Pathology showed there were cancer cells in the ovary, so she was put on a 17-week course of chemotherapy.  She responded well, never lost her appetite, but found herself thrown into a serious bout of depression.

It wasn’t that she didn’t have a positive attitude. She worked with her doctor on their “battle plan” to win this “war” against her cancer; but she had to get out of the mindset that she could do it all.  “Like many women, I take care of everybody else, I think I am strong, that I can do it all. I had get help; to bring in a crew.”

Her first mate was Tom, a metal smith and former Eagle Scout who dove right in to cooking, keeping house, and tracking Melissa’s care. But, it was hard on him too.

Both sought medical help for their mental health issues.  But Melissa’s battle plan had a further setback. Just one month after chemotherapy was completed, while she was still suffering from depression, she had an unrelated injury of her femur and had to have hip replacement surgery.

Today, she feels very lucky.  Her mother died of breast cancer at age 51 and her father of pancreatic cancer at age 75.  Having cancer now, she says, is different, and she is the beneficiary of many of the medical advances that made her cancer journey a recoverable one. She still goes in for regular ultrasounds just to be sure her lymph nodes and tissues are clean. And she still jazzercises…regularly!

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Georgia CORE is a statewide nonprofit that leverages partnerships and innovation to attract more clinical trials, increase research, and promote education and early detection to improve cancer care for Georgians in rural, urban, and suburban communities across the state.