My sister, Melissa, is my best friend. I’ve always looked up to her and followed in her footsteps. As the oldest of four (we have two little brothers), she would always be bossing us around at home. I was like her little sidekick who would do whatever she wanted, no matter what. She always let me tag along with her friends and in high school I was always known as “Melissa’s little sister,” not Gina. Growing up, we were inseparable and would say to each other, “what do other girls without sisters do all day?”
On September 2nd, 2016, Melissa was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 31 and had discovered a lump while breastfeeding.
“The doctor told her it was probably nothing, but she had a gut feeling and went back a couple of weeks later to do more testing.”
Melissa decided to advocate for her health, and she found out that she had 100% estrogen receptor positive breast cancer. When Melissa noticed the lump in her breast, we all told her it was nothing. She was persistent that something wasn’t right, but even when we were waiting on the results I didn’t think it was going to be cancer. So when she was diagnosed, we were all in a state of shock and disbelief.
“I always heard about this happening to other people, and older women. Not my family. Not my sister. Not someone who is only 31 years old.”
Melissa went for her surgery about two weeks after being diagnosed, just 10 days before her son Niko’s first birthday. My mom took off work to go stay with her in New York to help with the baby. We all celebrated his first birthday while she had tubes hanging from her chest. Two days later, we found out that Melissa’s cancer had spread to one of her lymph nodes. It was devastating because we knew this meant that she needed further treatment.
After we got this horrible news, the roles that we played for each other as sisters switched. I was on the phone with her every day on my drive home from work. Building her up, giving her advice.
“She was always there to give me advice and help me, and now I had to be strong for her. I didn’t want her to know how scared I was, too.”
This journey has been so hard for all of us, but the worst part was waiting for the doctor visits. It was not knowing the plan of treatment and the fear of the unknown. She went to several doctors who were suggesting very aggressive chemotherapy treatments. She got several opinions and finally she decided to go with a milder form of chemotherapy.
After watching her endure chemotherapy every two weeks for the past few months, I am excited to say she finished her last treatment in February! We are all so excited to see her chemotherapy coming to an end and are hopeful for the future.
“To anyone who is dealing with something similar, know that this is only a temporary part of your life. Imagine yourself beyond the cancer. You will laugh again. You will get through this. This is not what defines your life.”
Melissa during her final chemotherapy session
Watching my sister go through all of this really made me want to do something more. Something that could help other women and prevent them from going through everything Melissa has. She has been so strong through this long and trying process. That’s what inspired me to take on running my first marathon, and do it on Team Bright Pink.
“To all the young women out there who think that it won’t happen to you: assess your risk. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor about your risk. Get checked, be breast self-aware, and let your doctor know if something doesn’t feel right. Don’t wait.”
I was introduced to Bright Pink a few years ago by a friend. After my sister was diagnosed I took advantage of the amazing tools that Bright Pink provides, like AssessYourRisk.org, and educated myself as much as I could. This experience really opened my eyes to how many young women are diagnosed with breast cancer. I think it’s so important that Bright Pink is so focused on educating women about breast and ovarian health at a young age. I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone else. I am so grateful that I still have my confidant, best friend and partner in crime here with me.
Melissa’s strength inspired Gina to run a marathon and help Bright Pink save women’s lives from breast & ovarian cancer. If there’s someone in your life who inspires you to be strong, visit TeamBrightPink.org to find out how you can dedicate your life-saving run in their honor.