CALCUTTA- A wise man once said: "There are two types of people in this world: givers and takers. The takers may eat better but the givers sleep better."
In this dichotomy Melissa Lucas is most definitely a giver. As a mother to 5 and a prolific graphic artist who has done many jobs for area potteries, Lucas's life seems to center around giving the gift of joy to those around her. Now at the hardest time of her life, she continues to give, turning her own misfortune into a chance to help others.
In September 2012, Lucas was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer, yet she does not dwell on her diagnosis nor does she spend time feeling sorry for herself. Instead, Lucas, 44, has resolved to use her experience with Triple Negative Breast Cancer to educate the public and raise money and awareness.
Melissa Lucas stands beside one of her oil paintings at her home outside of Calcutta. Lucas is organizing a fund raiser to raise money for Triple Negative Breast Cancer research and awareness at the American Legion post 374 on March 9 from 5 - 11 p.m. Lucas was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer in September. (Photo by Devin Bezeredi)
"I know I can't raise millions of dollars but whatever I can do to help women in the future I feel I need to do that," said Lucas
To this end, Lucas has helped organize a local fundraiser for research and awareness of Triple Negative Breast Cancer. It's slated 5-11 p.m. March 9 at American Legion Post 374 in the East End in East Liverpool. The event will feature a Chinese auction, 50/50 raffles, and local band "Rumors," whose members have donated their time. The event will be in conjunction with the inaugural Triple Negative Breast Cancer Awareness Day on Sunday, and all proceeds will go to fund research and awareness of the disease. The American Legion has donated use of their facility for the event.
Triple Negative Breast Cancer is called 'triple negative' because it does not exhibit any of the three known receptors; estrogen, progesterone, and HER2-neu, according to the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation. Cancers are typically diagnosed based on the presence or absence of these receptors. Today, most cancer treatments target these three receptors and have been generally successful in doing so, reports the TNBC foundation.
Sadly, because Triple Negative Breast Cancer exhibits none of the receptors it is more aggressive, more likely to recur and difficult to treat.
"I've reached a point now where it's kind of like going to war without having a weapon. If there isn't something specific, a targeted treatment, to treat this, I feel like I need to help in any way I can," said Lucas.
According to the TNBC Foundation website every 30-minutes another woman in the US is diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer.
Lucas was first diagnosed with a different type of breast cancer in 2007. With targeted treatments, such as chemotherapy and surgery, she was able to beat it. In August 2012, Lucas discovered a lump above her collar bone. She took action quickly, seeing a specialist at the Allegheny Cancer Treatment Center where she received mammograms and ultrasounds to screen for cancer.
Lucas urges all women to inspect themselves for lumps regularly and to act quickly if they do find something. The lump above her collar bone was removed on Sept. 14. By Sept. 28, her pathology tests came back and Lucas was diagnosed with a cancer she had never heard of before: Triple Negative Breast Cancer.
When the cancer had been identified, it was stage 4. In the early stages of the cancer chemotherapy is more effective, even though it is not a targeted treatment for TNBC. At stage 4, the cancer was in her left breast, a large portion of her upper lymph nodes and the middle and lower lobe of her right lung. By October, doctors began Lucas on two different chemotherapy regimens. While the chemo was successful at shrinking the cancer in some areas, the cancer began to grow rapidly despite treatment, spreading to her liver and lower and upper lymph node.
Lucas explained there are many types of cancer and even several types of TNBC, each of which require different kinds of treatment. Unfortunately, Lucas was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive type of Triple Negative Breast Cancer. She continued chemo until Jan. 17. At this point, she was supposed to continue chemotherapy, but doctors found that her white cell count was too low. Since then, she has had a number of other medical problems, including a inch blood clot.
"It's been hard," said Lucas. "It's very scary because there is no targeted treatment."
Lucas said she has had the emotional ups and downs one would expect when given such a serious diagnosis, but she feels it's important for anyone coping with cancer to stay positive.
"It's normal to go through the whole gamete of emotions, but the best thing is to try to stay positive and accept support from your family and friends," she said.
For Lucas, staying positive is made a bit easier with the love and support of her family and with having art as an outlet for all of her emotions. A lifelong resident of the area, Lucas has been active as a graphic artist and graphic designer since 1989, doing work for several different well-known potteries and even illustrating books. She has also done work on an international level designing dinnerware for the Royal Family's reception in Canada. "My art is a tremendous outlet for me." said Lucas
Lucas draws strength from the support of her family and friends. She says her husband, Jeff, and five children - Hayley, Matt, Rachel, Brandon, and Chris - help her maintain a positive outlook when times get hard. However, the support doesn't end with her family.
"I have a large group of very supportive friends, and my church family has been exceptionally supportive," said Lucas, adding "I've never felt forgotten- people still send cards and letters and make phone calls and it really makes your day."
Lucas says that the most important thing people can do for someone dealing with cancer is to let that person know they are there for them.
Now, at this difficult time in her life, Lucas wants people everywhere with Triple Negative Breast Cancer to know she and many others are there for them.
"You've got to fight it anyway you can to survive and help others to survive," she said.