Melissa de Leon-Joseph is known to many as a versatile actress and host of popular TV programs in the early 2000s. In 2005, her life took a dramatic turn.
Melissa discovered a lump in her breast. Her doctor removed the lump, which turned out benign. The following year, a mass was detected again and she was asked to do a needle biopsy. She shrugged the idea. At that time, she was at the peak of her health, career and family life. Four months later, in December 2006, a pronouncement from her physician changed everything. She was diagnosed with stage 2b breast cancer in 2006.
“Siguro if I followed that first doctor, siguro stage 1 or stage 0 lang ako. I felt the world fell on my shoulders. My kids were very little at that time. I couldn’t believe that it was happening to me. I was thinking very much of my children,” Melissa said.
Melissa’s words echoes the sentiment of many Filipinas. To the newly diagnosed, cancer may be feared as a sentence of misery, suffering, or even death.
According to the 2020 World Health Organization (WHO) report, there were 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer and 685 000 deaths globally. As of the end of 2020, there were 7.8 million women alive who were diagnosed with breast cancer in the past 5 years, making it the world’s most prevalent cancer.
In the Philippines, Globocan 2020 report showed that more than 9,900 Filipinos died of breast cancer making it the 3rd leading cause of death due to cancer and the number one leading site of cancer with more than 27,000 new cases.
Acceptance and getting treatment
Melissa saw the wisdom in heeding her doctor’s advice, getting the right information, and moving forward with treatment.
“It is very important to trust your surgeon. Whatever he recommends, you follow. Once you have decided on a doctor, and you know that you can trust him, you really have to submit and listen,” she admitted.
Cancer patients undergo different treatment options. Every patient’s treatment program varies depending on the type of cancer and the patient’s medical history. Depending on the status of the patient, medical oncologists may shift from one type of treatment to another, over the course of a patient’s journey.
Melissa underwent a mastectomy and six sessions of chemotherapy intended for a stage 4 cancer patient because her cancer diagnosis was an aggressive type. In the middle of her treatment, the mass was tested again. She went to three hospitals for biopsy. The results revealed that her cancer was not as aggressive as previously reported and that she wouldn’t have to go through the additional and costly treatment after chemotherapy.
“The biggest challenges for me were not knowing exactly of what is it that I will encounter, and the expenses. I didn’t know that it’s going to be very expensive. I also had to deal with a wrong diagnosis,” she recalled. “There is also the challenge of accepting that I have no more breast. I was able to go through it because my husband was very supportive, and it was ok with him, as long as I am well and ok. He assured me that it doesn’t matter, and it will not make me less of a woman.”
Celebrating life after cancer
“There’s life after cancer. It’s been 15 years. I still believe that the best is yet to come. In this life we are journeying, we must be able to know who we should hang on to. The important thing for me is knowing who our strength is and where we are getting it from. Surviving or conquering this journey is something that I can and will continue to talk about. I don’t think I will be able to get through it well if not because of my spiritual relationship with our Lord,” Melissa expressed.
Melissa thanked her husband, her family, friends and all the people who prayed for her during her fight with cancer.
“I believe in the power of prayer. Whenever I go out with my bandana, somebody would approach me and say, ‘Melissa, I’m praying for you’. This is so wonderful. There are people who are very much concerned. You need that when you’re going through something. Just a message of encouragement is very precious,” she added.
To help other women who are battling with breast cancer and their families, Melissa started Project Pink Cancer Support Group.
“The mission of Project Pink is to be able to provide emotional, spiritual and psychological support to the patients, caregivers and their families. We help them go through the government assistance. We hope to multiply effective cancer treatment. So that stigma that happen to the person will be overcome. Spread the good news that there’s life after cancer,” Melissa explained.
When her cancer treatment ended, Melissa opened a new chapter in her life – a life filled with hope and happiness by sharing her journey and inspiring others with her spirituality.
Visit the Hope From Within Facebook page and follow the #BCWeCan hashtag for more updates, and visit www.hopefromwithin.org to view and download the Breast Cancer Patient Journey map to share with your loved ones and friends.