Three weeks before Melissa Jacobus moved to Austin in 2019, she received her HR+ stage two breast cancer diagnosis.
“The timing with the move was not ideal – but there is never a good time to find out you have cancer.”
Being stage two, Jacobus had a high success rate. However, that doesn’t make the journey any less difficult. When she met with her oncologist, they told her “It’s not going to kill you – it’s just going to be a really shitty year.”
Jacobus said her oncologist’s description was the definition of her cancer experience.
“A lot of good came out of it, but I’d still give it a one-star Yelp review.”
Despite the challenges cancer brought, Jacobus found comfort and hope in her family and friends. She received gifts from loved ones and many traveled out to Austin to spend time with her, knowing Jacobus and her wife, Shelly, were new to the city.
“Some people you thought would be right by your side hardly put in a phone call,” Jacobus said. “People that you had brief interactions with are sending you cards every month, or a goody packet.”
The power of family
To loved ones, Jacobus presents herself as a positive person with excitement for life. However, Shelly knew the truth.
“She’d say I was mad,” Jacobus said. “The person I was prior to treatment wasn’t the person who came out of it. Physically, I was no longer confident. I was sad and mad at the process. I look at pictures from before treatment and it’s like I almost don’t recognize that person.”
Jacobus’s fight wasn’t easy, either. She went through four rounds of chemo and had five major surgeries, with the last surgery in December 2019 and the last chemo session in May 2019. Currently, Jacobus says she’s feeling great, but the journey has had its fair share of potholes.
“In no way do I resemble the person who went through this a year and a half ago and that part is going to take some time,” she said. “I can feel where they cut out stuff and my muscles are so tight.”
She found strength in Shelly, who served as her caregiver, as well as their daughter, Poppy. Nearly two years after Jacobus’s diagnosis, her partnership with Shelly has grown and she gets to fully enjoy motherhood with Poppy.
“[Shelly and I] both have an understanding that when the other person is doing more and taking on more, the only thing you can do is be empathetic and try to listen, offer any assistance as you can. Realize it’s a lot for both people – the caregiver and the patient.”
With Poppy being a year old during Jacobus’s treatment, Shelly had become a superhero caretaker.
“You don’t have enough strength or time to give your partners what they need and that’s really hard,” Jacobus said. “On the backside of that, we’re stronger than ever. We understand each other better.”
Now that Jacobus is months out from her last chemo session, she’s able to make up for lost time with Poppy.
“She’s a fun, rad kid and I enjoy her more than ever. Poppy and I go biking and hiking everywhere. We go crawfishing and finding all these cool little nooks and crannies.”
“This is like a therapy session!”
Toward the tail end of her cancer journey, Jacobus started getting involved in Twist Out Cancer. She was introduced to the organization by TOC board member Alana Dugandzic earlier this year and soon after, applied to be a Brushes with Cancer Inspiration.
“I’m fascinated at how someone could capture someone else’s story,” Jacobus said. “As I’ve gone through the steps, I’ve been blown away by how healing the process is. It has brought up emotions I haven’t talked about. Strong people sometimes don’t sit back and reflect.”
Jacobus was specifically impressed with how her artist, Robert Page, took the time to dig deep.
“He’s incredibly thoughtful about the questions he asks,” Jacobus said. “My first reply to his message was “This is like a therapy session!” Nobody had asked me these questions. There is empathy and realness in his questions. It intrigues me to think of the art that will come out of it.”
As Jacobus has seen other people open up and share their stories through the Brushes with Cancer process, she recognizes the power connection holds.
“It made me think that this isn’t just a pet project where we say we’re working with people touched by cancer. This is blending art, therapy and healing all in one.”