Small details of the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer are etched indelibly in my mind. My family had spent most of Spring Break anxiously awaiting the results of my biopsy. Waiting for any test result can be nerve-wracking. Waiting for biopsy results made me feel like my future was hanging in the balance. Naturally, the nurse called the moment we left the house for the first time in days. When we got home, I sat in a sunny spot on the back porch, and returned her call. After a brief introduction, she told me that I had breast cancer.

Melanie’s daughter, Alea, was 10 when she was diagnosed. Like most parents, Melanie was concerned about caring for her daughter after being diagnosed with cancer.

I wasn’t completely surprised by the diagnosis because the radiologist who had evaluated my mammogram and ultrasound told me that the mass in my breast didn’t look good. But the possibility of having cancer was very different from the actuality of having cancer. In the moments after the nurse confirmed my diagnosis, time seemed to stand still. All I could think about was my daughter. Would I live long enough to raise her? How could I protect her from this?

After a while, I realized that the nurse was still talking. She told me that my cancer, Triple Negative Breast Cancer, was very aggressive, but it was treatable and curable. Because I was young, and the cancer would not respond to traditional hormone therapies, I would need surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy starting immediately. She said to prepare for a rough year.

I had no idea that my daughter had been listening through the kitchen window as I received the news. When I hung up, she was right there next to me. She knew before I had said a word. At that point, I knew that I could not shield her from the fear and sadness that accompanied a cancer diagnosis. The most I could hope to do was to provide stability and consistency in her daily life, all the while reassuring her that I was going to be okay. She was only 10 years old at the time, far too young to have to worry about her mother’s health.

I spent the rest of that day on the phone with family and friends. By the time I went to bed, I was exhausted and overwhelmed. My head was spinning as all of the information that I had received from the nurse integrated itself into thoughts of my daily responsibilities. Besides caring for my daughter, I was an active volunteer at her school, and I had just started a new job. Which commitments could I keep? Which commitments should I relinquish?

Beating cancer was going to be a full time job. It didn’t take long to realize that I was going to need help.

Melanie Kallas Ricklefs is a mom, wife, daughter, sister, and friend. She is also a breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer in April 2016. She underwent chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, and radiation to find her way back to health. Melanie has always enjoyed working and playing outdoors. You can find her and her family hiking, biking, kayaking, backpacking, and camping throughout the Pacific Northwest. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Forest Biology from the University of Vermont, and a Master of Science in Forest Pathology from Colorado State University.

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