Author, Advocate, Life Coach, Breast Cancer Survivor, Melanie Young
My guest today is author, business woman, and breast cancer survivor, Melanie Young. Welcome to OpEdNews, Melanie. A number of years ago, you started a blog which you called Getting Things Off My Chest. Why?
Getting Things Off My Chest started as a blog to open up about my breast cancer, share my experience to help others and find my voice doing something that brings me pleasure: writing.
I was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in August 2009 after discovering a lump in my left breast during a self-examination. At the time, I was on a business trip in Italy. The same month, my beloved father and business advisor, Mel Young, was admitted to hospice with metastasized prostate cancer that had crept into his brain. I'm an only child. I cannot imagine the pressure on my mother to care for a dying husband of 52 years in Chattanooga and a daughter facing a double mastectomy in New York City.
At the time of my diagnosis, I was running an eponymous public relations agency called M. Young Communications. I had an outstanding reputation, creating some of this nation's most prestigious culinary events including The James Beard Foundation Awards. But the economic downturn had taken its toll. I was a newlywed, deeply in debt and working like crazy to rebuild my business. I decided to keep my diagnosis close to my chest and not tell anyone in my professional life out of fear I would lose business, just when I had started to successfully rebuild. I just plowed through, working full time while undergoing four surgeries and five months of chemotherapy wearing great wigs, makeup and clothes.
We buried my father after my second breast surgery, just before I started chemo. My last image of him was in a coffin. At that point, my mother and I learned the extent of the financial obligations my father left us to handle, especially me. The lawyers descended on us like vultures. It was difficult to handle as I was experiencing a good amount of chemo brain.
I decided to write Getting Things Off My Chest, first the blog and then the book, to open up about having cancer and facing down a trifecta of setbacks (disease, death, debt). It was one part therapy for me to write my story and heal emotionally. And it was one part therapeutic to write for others to help them understand that that you have to face cancer as a life sentence and not a death sentence; that cancer does not make you contagious and there should be no shame in being diagnosed. My mission was to help women navigate their cancer journey with more information, more clarity and more confidence. Today, the blog is less about coping with cancer and more about coping with the challenges of everyday life and maintaining a healthy balance.
At my time of diagnosis, I was carrying a heavy weight on my chest. Breast cancer was only part of it. My heart was broken about my father's demise - he was my rock. I was deeply stressed and was no longer inspired by the the type of work I was doing and it manifested all over my body. Getting Things Off My Chest lightened my spirit and helped me recover my voice and purpose.
Wow. You certainly had a lot on your plate, Melanie, between your cancer and your father's illness and death. You've mentioned that there were many things that you were not prepared for, that were not discussed or even brought up by your doctors. Your books go a long way to rectifying that lack. Let's start there. For instance, you mentioned chemo brain. What the heck is that? Is it a real condition? What does it look like?
Chemo brain is a mental fog that occurs with many people undergo chemotherapy. Symptoms include inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, anxiety and headaches. Think, "This is your brain on drugs." Intensity varies by person. In my case, it was hard to focus later in the day when I felt tired from work. I would forget words. My brain was blurry; it felt split in two. Writing and word games like Scrabble helped me cope. Chemo brain can last long after treatment ends. I address ways to combat chemo brain in my book because I found no explanation and no answers on dealing with it when I was in treatment.