Melodie Henderson: Much More Than a “Cancer Story”
— By Gina Rich
April 29, 2022
Faith, determination, and a fight-to-win mantra all helped Melodie Henderson get through more than a few bumps in the road during her cancer journey, which began in 2017. That November, Melodie had returned for a six-month follow up after doctors saw something suspicious on her previous mammogram.
Though Melodie had been through callbacks before, all with benign results, this time felt different. “I got a little anxious,” says Melodie, a wife, mother of three, and grandmother of four who lives in Virginia.
At the appointment, the technician and radiologist “were just kind of giving each other the look,” Melodie recalls. She asked what they were concerned about. The radiologist explained that the scans looked different than before, and recommended a biopsy.
A diagnosis, then complications
The biopsy revealed that Melodie had Stage 0 carcinoma in situ – abnormal cells that have not yet spread – in her left breast. She was scheduled for a lumpectomy. But then Melodie’s breast surgeon had a “middle of the night” gut feeling. She told Melodie she wanted to run one more test: an MRI.
“That is when they found a mass in my right breast that was not picked up through my mammography,” says Melodie. The MRI also identified a fast-growing tumor in her left breast that wasn’t detected in the original imaging.
Melodie remains grateful for her surgeon’s intuition. “Had I had the surgery in December – just the lumpectomy – cancer would have still been growing in both breasts.” Instead, she wound up having a double mastectomy followed by reconstruction months later. Her recovery was complicated by several “hiccups,” as she calls them, from a serious post-surgical infection to lymphedema.
Then, as Melodie healed from the surgery and began radiation, she went through two devastating losses: Both her brother-in-law and mother passed away within months of each other.
“I had survivor’s guilt,” says Melodie. She remembers lying on the radiation table in tears, thinking of her mom. “It was truly a rough time.”
Through these challenges, Melodie blogged about her cancer experience and shared it with friends and family. Those entries morphed into a series of reflections that Melodie is now working to publish as a book. She’s quick to explain that it’s not a cancer story. “It’s about a time when I had cancer, but it’s more of a faith story,” says Melodie, whose strong beliefs helped her keep moving forward amidst illness, loss, and grief.
Before long, people who read Melodie’s blog began contacting her for advice. Ultimately, Melodie helped more than 20 women through their own cancer journeys.
In 2021, Melodie happened to see information online about an upcoming ABCD Mentor training. “Hey, this is what I do already,” she thought.
The date she contacted ABCD to learn more happened to be the birthday of the organization’s founder, Melodie Wilson Oldenburg, with whom Melodie shares a name – right down to the same spelling.
For Melodie, that happy coincidence was confirmation she was on the right path. She completed the training and became a Mentor in November 2021.
“The New Mentor training was just incredible,” says Melodie, who has since been matched with six Participants. “It just helps you make sense of your own situation, your own journey.”
Melodie is impressed by how much she and her Participants have in common, a testament to ABCD’s careful matching process. “We’ve had some pretty awesome conversations via text,” she says. “I feel truly connected.”
While Melodie remains active with a weekly cancer support group near her home in Virginia, “it’s different when you’re getting that one-to-one emotional support,” she says. “I am truly inspired by that.”
Serving as a Mentor has been the perfect way for Melodie to channel her pragmatic optimism into helping others. And she remains realistic about the emotional impact of her own diagnosis.
“I’m not saying I didn’t have sad moments or disenchanted moments, or moments of anger and frustration,” Melodie says. “But I never saw it as ending my life. I just saw it as creating quite a few bumps in the road.”