Survivor draws strength from ‘superhero squad’

Cancer survivor Jessica Melchior headed up a squad of superheroes at the Albany Making Strides Again
Jessica Melchior of Albany posed for this picture April 28, the day of her lumpectomy. She posted it on Facebook to announce the beginning of her fight against cancer.
Jessica Melchior of Albany posed for this picture April 28, the day of her lumpectomy. She posted it on Facebook to announce the beginning of her fight against cancer.

Cancer survivor Jessica Melchior headed up a squad of superheroes at the Albany Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event on Sunday.

She was the one in the Wonder Woman shirt and cape.

Walking with her were friends and family dressed as other fictional characters famous for their good deeds, strength and noble spirits.

Her fellow walkers were real-life superheroes, Melchior insisted, listing all they’ve done to help while she’s been battling breast cancer: They’ve prepared meals, given her rides to chemotherapy treatments, sent cards, checked in via text message and been there for her and her family every step of the way.

“I really do think of them as my superhero squad,” the 36-year-old Albany resident said.

The squad joined forces earlier this year when Melchior, a teacher at Jefferson Elementary School in Rotterdam, was told that what she had assumed was a cyst was actually breast cancer. Young and healthy, with no family history of the disease, she was shocked by the diagnosis.

“The first thing I did was ask the surgeon if he was free that afternoon to take it out. Apparently that’s not how things work,” she said.

After consulting with an oncologist from New York Oncology Hematology and seeking a second opinion at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, she opted to have a lumpectomy.

The day of her surgery, she announced the onset of her fight against cancer on Facebook. On her page, she posted a picture of herself in front of the hospital, wearing her Wonder Woman shirt — a gift from a friend.

“I said, ‘This is not the first day of my journey and it will not be my last. Today, I’m fighting against breast cancer. It’s Lump Day!’” she recounted, noting that the post appeared on a Wednesday, which is often jokingly referred to as “Hump Day.”

Once word was out, in flew the superheroes. They helped her through 20 weeks of chemotherapy and now intend to see her through an upcoming round of radiation.

Two of the smallest heroes are her kids — Joshua, 5 and Liam, 8.

“They’ve been really empathetic,” Melchior said.

She and her husband, Bill, were honest with the children and found ways to gently answer all of their questions about cancer.

“It’s hard because we know the danger. It doesn’t leave my thoughts. I’ve always wanted to be a mom and this is what I’m here for. So, it’s hard to think that that is at risk, and that’s a constant thought for us,” she said.

Chemotherapy wasn’t as bad as Melchior thought it would be, thanks in part to the compassionate nurses at the NYOH Albany Cancer Center at Patroon Creek.

“Those nurses, they’re taking such good care of you, you lose a lot of that anxiety,” she said.

Melchior’s journey has also been brightened by the American Cancer Society’s Young Survivors support group and its Look Good … Feel Better program, which provides makeup and instruction to help cancer survivors look their best during and after treatment.

She said she’s also benefited from healing touch treatments offered by nonprofit To Life! in Delmar and the organization’s support group for newly diagnosed cancer patients.

The Internet has also been an excellent tool. A friend set up a page for her through the Lotsa Helping Hands website, which connects people in need of help with a caring community.

“There’s a calendar where I can post doctor appointments and share news and ask for meals. What I found was people were really willing to help. I had 16 chemotherapy appointments over 20 weeks and I had almost a different person every time bringing me. People would come with me and would sit and talk and it wasn’t as scary or bad.”

Congregation Beth Emeth in Albany, where Melchior is a member, has also been a great source of support, she said.

Melchior’s battle with cancer has taught her the importance of appreciating every day with family and friends.

“The future, I guess I just never realized how fragile that is,” she said. “It was always an assumption. We just assume that we’ll walk our kids down the aisle. I want to be a stay-at-home grandma. These are the things that I assumed I’d be able to do. My husband and I would like to travel and do things once the kids are older, and I guess I just always assumed I’d be able to be the grandparent that my grandparents were to me and now there’s something that’s truly threatening that. So, I’ve learned to appreciate life now — even the silly routines — especially when you get to break the routines and do something unexpected.”

Sunday she celebrated the end of her chemotherapy treatments, proudly sporting her Wonder Woman wear, walking with her superhero squad in Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.

“I still have a long way to go with radiation, scans, hormone therapy and future surgeries, but with this team all around me, it’s made it all manageable and enabled us to appreciate each moment,” she said.

Making Strides organizers expected 15,000 participants at Sunday’s walk and hoped to raise $1 million to help fund services for local breast cancer patients, their families and caregivers.

“Of course we strive to reach our goal of $1 million dollars, but this walk is also about spreading awareness, celebrating our survivors (last year we had 650 there!) and remembering those that we have lost in their fight against breast cancer,” said Elizabeth Hunter, a specialist for the American Cancer Society’s Eastern Division, in an email.

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