By Tia Lynn Ivey
A battle with breast cancer leaves survivors scarred, but strong. That is the story of Melissa Howe, 58, a local Madison woman, who fought and won her battle with breast cancer.
Howe, a long-time manicurist and single mother, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017. “After being an empty nester in January of 2017 I found a lump under my left breast,” remembered Howe.
Howe’s biopsy was done at the old Morgan Memorial Hospital, a place Howe felt comfortable, due to her work with the hospital’s auxiliary group.
“I was involved with the Hospital Auxiliary helping plan the yearly Festival of Friends fundraiser for our hospital,” explained Howe. “I loved being there even though the building was old but the environment was filled with caring people.”
Howe began her treatment journey with a lumpectomy surgery in February 2017.
“I often thought if I’m ever diagnosed with breast cancer I’ll just get new perky ones. But it wasn’t like that. I realized at that point I wanted to keep what was mine. So I chose a lumpectomy,” said Howe.
After a successful surgery, Howe waited an agonizing six-weeks while recovering to find out what the next steps were for her treatment. The news was discouraging.
“I was on pins and needles. The hardest thing through all this process was the wait. The uncertainty was getting the best of me,” said Howe. “So finally the wait was over and my oncologist broke the news that I would have to have chemo along with radiation.”
Howe braced herself for fight ahead.
“After the shock I was ready to move forward,” said Howe.
Howe found herself speechless on how to respond to people inquiring about how she was doing and it was like to go through chemotherapy.
“I had no answer to that question because you just can’t describe it,” said Howe. “I can’t paint a pretty picture because receiving chemo was really hard. And I thought losing my hair would devastate me. Surprisingly it didn’t bother me.”
Howe took great comfort in the care of her loved ones through the difficult treatment and was determined to stay positive.
“One thing I did know, there could be worse situations to be in, and I just took it day by day,” said Howe. “I had love and support from my family and boyfriend, but what was so unbelievable was the outpour of people in our community that were by my side with prayers, cards, visits and a lot thoughtful gestures like taking me to chemo and radiation.”
Once Howe completed chemotherapy, she began a six-week radiation regiment. Howe thought chemotherapy would be the worst part, but radiation proved to be just as big of a mountain to climb.
“After I made it through chemo, I felt like the hard part was over. Radiation would be six weeks and then it would all be over,” remembered Howe. “I’ll be back to normal in no time is what I thought, but it wasn’t that way at all.”
Radiation took a heavy toll on Howe.
“I was so weak and felt flu-like symptoms but I somehow pushed through,” said Howe. Howe attributes her survival and tender care to the close-knit small community of Madison. “I owe that to the love and support I received by my family and friends here in Madison. I would have never been treated that way had I still lived in Gwinnett county,” said Howe.
Howe is still finding her way back to her life before cancer.
“It has been three-and-a-half years since my diagnosis and I’m almost my old self again. So I guess I have a new normal I now embrace,” said Howe.
After overcoming breast cancer, Howe has a new lease on life, grateful for each moment.
“I can’t say that cancer really changed me but it did make me appreciate all the good I have regardless of any struggles I go through in this journey of life,” said Howe.
Howe encourages everyone to make sure they get their yearly mammograms and to do self-exams monthly to be on the lookout for any lumps or growths.
“My breast cancer was at Stage 2. Had I not skipped my mammogram my treatment might have been easier and I might not have had to go through chemo,” said Howe, who hopes people will learn from her story. “ So during October’s Breast Cancer Awareness month, stress to your friends and family that have not gotten regular mammograms to take care of themselves by getting routine exams. You may save their life.”