My name: Melissa Berry
Where I live: Closter, NJ
How far out of active treatment?: Six years
I'm a six year Triple Negative Breast Cancer survivor. I had a lot of breast cancer in my family, so at the age of 32 I was tested for the BRCA gene, and BOOM I tested positive for it. Honestly, I pretty much knew that I would. Just a gut feeling.
Rather than be all freaked out about it, I thought to myself, "This is my GPS to my health. Now I'll know what I need to do to avoid getting breast cancer." My oncologist strongly suggested that I remove my ovaries when I turned 39; he suggested that I do it by the age of 40 and I just didn't want that to be my 40th birthday present... menopause, that is. Needless to say, I still got breast cancer. I was diagnosed at the age of 41 and I really, really didn't think I would EVER get breast cancer. I mean, I even sacrificed my ovaries! I was very lucky. It was Stage 1, no node involvement. I feel like I was kissed by this disease. My life was spared somehow. That's why I'm so adamant about mammograms, and just staying on top of your health in general. Knowledge is power.
What does the word 'survivor' or 'survivorship' mean to you?
I struggle with this word for some reason. I prefer "thriver" because it just feels more full of life to me. But I'm not opposed to the word survivor or survivorship. After going through rounds of chemo and several surgeries and all of the crazy stuff in between. Call it whatever you want! You're here and you're strong and alive!
If you had to describe what survivorship feels like in three words, what would they be?
Scary. Hopeful. Grateful.
What's one thing you wished people outside of the cancer community understood about survivorship?
We don't necessarily want to throw a party on the last day of chemo. Or when we hit the 1 year mark. Or the 5 year mark. Or the 10 year mark. Some of us (or at least me) just want to gracefully live our lives and honor each day that we are here in simple ways. Loving our children. Spending time with loved ones and having fun with friends. And shopping. Retail therapy is very healing for me!
What are some things that have helped you during this time?
My family and my friends. And my daughters. They are all like my oxygen.
Biggest survivorship pet peeve?
Well at least you get new boobs. That one drives me crazy.
What, if anything, do you think should be done more in the cancer community in terms of survivorship?
I don't think we can have enough meetup type groups. Informal social gatherings for members of the community to connect. I can't tell you how many women I meet that are married, have lots of friends, etc, but they are so lonely because they don't know other women who are also going through breast cancer treatment.
What's your favorite swear word?
Are you trying to make me curse? In front of my children?
What's your theme song?
She's a Bad Mama Jama
Consider this a free space to say anything you want about this topic. Word vomit, away. No judgement. I want the realest of the real here.
Right after my mastectomy, several mornings in a row, I remember waking up and thinking for a minute that my breast cancer was just a bad dream. It was just a stupid, awful dream. And then I would cry so hard. Harder than I ever cried in my entire life when I realized that this was NOT a bad dream. My hair was gone? My breasts were gone? My ovaries gone? WTF? I felt like I was robbed of my womanhood. Completely stripped of the Melissa that I was born to be. I wish I could tell that sad, fearful girl that everything was going to be ok. Her hair grew back. She got beautiful, reconstructed breasts. And she's just as much a woman as she ever was before.
Connect with Melissa on her website.