This is the first story in a series of by The Northern View on those who have been affected by cancer and those who are participating in the Relay for Life Walk on June 13. To add your story, email the email@example.com
Six years ago Melanie Basso’s life changed. The emergency-room nurse, the runner, the wife and the mother of two young men, knew she wasn’t feeling 100 per cent. As most mothers do, she put first and foremost her own family’s needs, putting aside her own and carried on with daily life. She even chaperoned 40 youths on an overseas adventure, so they could create a lifetime memory.
After deteriorating while out of the country, upon her return, a visit to her doctor confirmed it wasn’t ‘just a cough’ that she has been putting aside. It was cancer. Melanie’s body was being taken over by stage four metastatic lung cancer, with tumors in both lungs, her lower spine and brain.
The emergency room nurse said she was broken hearted to hear the words, and realize that she would have to give up her role as a caregiver, to be the one being given care.
“I’ve never gone back to work. There’s no way I could have done it, even if I had shorter shifts. It was devastating. I loved my job…It was very hard when I finally realized that I would never be going back to work again.”
The effects of cancer were ravaging her energy and leaving her constantly fatigued, dizzy, sore, and swollen. There were so many tumors invading her body that surgery was not an option.
“My diagnosis was terrible. I was going to die,” Basso told The Northern View in a 2016 interview.
After tests, chemotherapy and radiation, which were unsuccessful, came a fairly new cancer treatment. Literally, a pill for cancer – the medication cost thousands of dollars a month. She was told she would have to take the pill for the rest of her life to stop the cancer cells from mutating.
“I think the very beginning was really, really tough, until I found the pill. Then, I knew I was going to be better.”
After taking Crizotinib for just five days, Basso started to feel improvements.
“I started the pill in July of 2014. By January 2015, I was in remission. So I had very high hopes.”
As she became stronger, Basso started to volunteer with hospice to fill the void left from leaving nursing.
“I wanted to stay, somehow, in some type of giving capacity, so with the hospice society I am… So I’ve quite enjoyed doing that. It kind of fills the void being able to care for someone.”
Assigned a client, she visits and goes into their homes to keep them company. This also gives any family or caregivers a needed break. She remains a constant for that hospice client until they pass on.
Positivity is a quality that Basso believes in.
“I would say for cancer journeys, just try and stay as positive as you can. If people are wanting to help you out, let them do it.”
Even remaining positive and strong doesn’t ward off all evil.
In September 2018, a chest CT scan showed an infiltration re-occuring in her lungs. A different medication was started. Another CT scan was completed. Thankfully, what ever it was on the scan had retreated due to the medication, Basso said. Things were good for a few months.
In December 2019, an MRI of her brain displayed anomalies.
“I’d always had this tiny little thing that had been radiated back in the beginning. It had grown.”
The health professionals recommended brain surgery, which she undertook in January 2020. Not wanting to worry her husband and two sons ages 22 and 25, until she had a booked date for the operation, she carried this burden in solitude.
“This little thing that they took out was mostly radiation debris and possibly a few cancer cells. They got it all, so that was good.”
The cancer-roller-coaster continued with so many side effects of medications and treatments. On the day Basso spoke to the “The Northern View” she had just started another medication to assist her liver from the harsh effects of treatment.
Her family has remained positive and has seen her through some difficult days rallying around her. Basso’s sister accompanied her to Vancouver for treatment in the early days of her diagnosis, her sons learned to anticipate her needs so they could help her with tasks she couldn’t do, and her husband Rob relayed through life with daily care.
“(Rob) had to deal with the stress of it because he just had had open heart surgery six months before that. So he was just starting to get physically able to do stuff again. And here I am, laid out on the couch and not being able to do anything. So I think it was hard on him, but he certainly persevered and really rose to the occasion. He is a great husband.”
Admittedly, even being a nurse, Basso said she hadn’t had much to do with the Canadian Cancer Society and hadn’t heard of Relay for Life until her own diagnosis, when her son’s swim club entered a team under her name, when she was in treatment.
This June 13, will be Basso’s sixth year involved with Relay for Life. The first and second year, she was incapacitated and didn’t have enough strength to physically relay and complete the walk herself.
“That first one, I couldn’t have gotten there, and I had no idea that it was going on,” she said, “Then there was a team in my name – and (my sons’) swim club showed up and they walked for me. This was so sweet. This made me cry.”
Relay for Life is such an important part of the journey, said Basso, especially for fundraising and research. The CCS has assisted her with support and the cost of medications.
“It’s just such a great community thing to be a part of. You walk with all kinds of different people or your friends. You know, it’s a great event.”
“I think I relay, partly because I finally could… because cancer became part of my life and that was a way to acknowledge it and support other people.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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