By Judy O’Gorman Alvarez
“I never in a million years thought it would happen to me,” says Melissa Trenton, 42, of Middletown about the breast cancer she beat last year.
Trenton says she gets mammograms, does self-exams, gets yearly checkups, goes to the dermatologist, works out at the gym, and eats healthy. “If there’s a doctor or test recommended to stay healthy, I do it,” she says.
Last year Trenton realized the importance of yearly mammograms as well as monthly self-examinations.
With no history of breast cancer in her family, Trenton had dutifully gone for her baseline mammography at age 35 and a second one when she turned 40. Even during her typical monthly self-examinations, she had missed the lump. “I’ve always been diligent about self examinations.”
It was while trying on a dress in late 2011 when she noticed a lump in an area of the breast she didn’t usually check. She immediately called her doctor who ordered another mammogram. When the results came back, Trenton learned she had Stage 1 invasive lobular carcinoma.
“Having breast cancer is awful but it really was not a horrible experience,” she says. “I am so grateful and thankful” for the excellent medical help and the support she got from family, friends and the community.
Trenton, a Latin teacher at Raritan High School in Hazlet who is also the 2013 Teacher of the Year, especially credits her parents, who live in Fair Haven where she grew up, her longtime boyfriend, Andre, and her devoted students for helping her get through her diagnosis and treatment.
“They were all extremely supportive,” she says. “And my students were phenomenal. They were kind and gracious and compassionate.”
She credits her medical team at Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, especially her surgeon who told her a double mastectomy was her best option “If you want to live until you’re 80, and still look good.”
A second doctor’s opinion confirmed the advice: Surgery was her best bet. “I had Stage 1, and the ability for it to spread was greater,” she says. “I was really confident with my doctors.”
Despite the fear, trepidation and grief often involved with a cancer diagnosis, Trenton says the support she got from others helped cushion the news, surgery and cancer treatments.
“My colleagues at work – some had had Stage 4 cancer and are fine now – and students’ parents” who told her of their own successful battles with cancer, all helped Trenton take on the challenges. “I didn’t seek out a support group,” she says, because she had so many supportive and compassionate people in her life. “The whole Hazlet community was supportive.”
With 1 out of 8 women diagnosed with breast cancer each year, Trenton realized that having no history of cancer in your family and eating well does not necessarily exclude you from the disease.
“When you get cancer you realize how many people around you have had it, too.”
She says telling people – her parents and friends especially – that she had cancer was a terrible experience. Telling her class was “heart-wrenching, “but her students handled the news with maturity and compassion.
During her chemotherapy sessions, they used their computers to share Google drive documents where they reviewed papers with her, did schoolwork over FaceTime and even played bingo from different locations, especially when her treatments coincided with their class time.
In addition, they wrote her notes and emails throughout the time. “It was fun and they kept me encouraged.”
Although she could have stayed out of work until the end of the school year last year, Trenton decided to go back to work early. “I wanted to come back to work because it made be feel better,” she says. “And the students were just so thankful.”
Trenton is thankful for the advice she had gotten years ago about breast self-exams and encourages women who have qualms or fears of mammograms to put them aside.
“The earlier you’re diagnosed, the better,” she says. “Having found the lump so early, and the immediacy of getting a mammogram, made all the difference of me being alive today.”