Star Gazing – Watching and Waiting

I consider myself a cultural tourist, a pop culture star gazer.  So many of us want to know what’s happening in the lives of celebrities.  I’m certain that that’s what’s contributed to the rise in popularity of so many reality shows that chronicle the day to day lives of stars; why we sometimes don’t mind waiting in line at the grocery store to get another peek at the cover story detailing what’s new in the lives of singers, actors, TV personalities, and sports figures.  I’m not so “devoted” anymore, but there was a time that with each new publication or each new episode, I’d be watching and waiting to see what’s next.

Today I got a chance to see some of my most admired superstars and did a different type of star gazing.  I was at the briefing for the release of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)’s Cancer Progress Report 2016.  I had the opportunity to hear from some superstars – researchers and doctors who are paving the way for more breakthroughs that can increase survival and quality of life.  I got to hear from superstars, the survivors and their families who have faced grim prognoses, but with determination and their own research, took newly approved cancer fighting therapies and participated in clinical trials.

The leadership of the AACR provided an overview of some key focus areas:

  • Precision medicine
  • Immunotherapy
  • Prevention

They provided an overview of recent FDA approved cancer fighting drugs.  There was also an overview of the Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel’s recent recommendations.

It was an information rich day and, as happens whenever I’m in the presence of other cancer survivors, I was so inspired.  I think researchers and survivors agreed that there is still much to be done.  But, equally, we are encouraged by the progress in the cancer fight.  In addition to my pop culture star gazing, I include these among the most admired celebrities.  The children, women and men who brave cancer, their caregivers and the researchers and doctors who develop and administer the cancer fighting and lifesaving therapies.  I’ve said that I hope to see an end to cancer in my lifetime.  I’m always encouraged by progress.  So for these celebrities, for the next breakthrough, I’ll be attentively watching and waiting.

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.

My Reasons to Stand Up to Cancer

Tonight I’ll watch Stand Up to Cancer The 2016 Show and it will certainly get me thinking about my reasons to stand up to cancer.  In July, my daughter looked at the ground and asked me “how is that plant growing through the concrete?”  We had seen a plant that was growing in seemingly the least optimal circumstance.  When we got to my computer, I did a quick search and learned that the plants aren’t actually growing through the concrete, but that they are growing through cracks in the concrete because they can grow anywhere there is water.  But, they appear as if they are growing through the concrete.  Like plants that grow straight up, looking like they are standing, I’ll continue to use the nourishment that I’ve received to push through the challenges brought by cancer and I’ll stand up.


I’ve enjoyed having these types of conversations with my children; moments of curiosity and wonder.  These are moments that I wasn’t sure I’d have since my daughter was barely talking when I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer on November 21, 2008.  I was a 38 year old married mother of a four year old son and a 19 month old daughter.  My first prayer was for God to please allow me to watch my children grow up.  As a fifth generation breast cancer patient and a carrier of the BRCA1 gene mutation, I was extremely unsure of my future.  It felt like concrete had been poured on me, stopping me right where I was.

Right where I was, mostly, was lying on my back.  When I lay in the hospital after my bilateral mastectomy, feeling weak and sick, I was still very unsure of my future.  When chemo brought me exhaustion unlike any I’d ever experienced, an easy walk down the street seemed a distant memory and everyday tasks that I had done without thought now required planning and preparation.  Curled in my bed trying to manage the effects of nausea and barely able to muster enough strength to get up, I was unsure.

But, with each passing day, with the care of my wonderful medical team, the care, love and support of my husband, family and small group of friends, I made progress moving toward my positive prognosis.  Days where I could barely get out of bed have been replaced with days where I run 5 miles.  Prayers to watch my children grow up continue and are accompanied by prayers of thanksgiving that I elatedly walked my soon-to-be 12 year old son into sixth grade and my nine year old daughter into fourth grade for the first day of school this week.



Surviving isn’t easy.  This has been a long and hard journey, but I’ve gone from lying on my back in a hospital bed too weak to do much of anything to getting out of bed each morning, putting both feet on the ground, standing up cancer free.  I stand up because I can!  I’m blessed and grateful.  I wish my mother, my role model, a woman who taught me what it means to survive and to live beautifully, could see me.

I stand up for my mother.  My beautiful, loving, supportive, phenomenal mother.  My personal and professional role model.  My friend.  My mother was the woman who nurtured me and showed me what it means to live her favorite mantra “bloom where you are planted”.  She didn’t write a someday bucket list; she lived life fully in the face of cancer.  She put in and got the most out of every day.  25 years ago, my 49 year old mother died of metastatic breast cancer after a 12 year battle with multiple recurrences.  She was a light and when she died, a part of my world went dark just like concrete had been poured over me.

The darkness was brightened by the birth of my children.  I stand up for my son and my daughter.  Without ever knowing my mother, they have so much of her in them.  They have her mannerisms and, most of all, a big, loving heart and a beautiful spirit.  I’m blessed with each day with them.  I’ll stand up to make sure that in their lifetime the toll, death rate and devastation from cancer is reduced, eliminated.

Without ever knowing my mother, my children had a surrogate maternal grandmother in my Auntie Zora, my mother’s baby sister.  I’ll stand up for her.  A strict disciplinarian during my youth, she provided a laid back and care free, nurturing environment for my babies.  Grand Nanny Z, as they called her, was truly grand and we all suffered when she died of metastatic ovarian cancer in 2013 after a 30+ year cancer battle and multiple recurrences of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.  She and my mother were some of the most respected cancer advocates and stood up for many.  They especially worked to reduce breast cancer disparities in African American women.

This has been the fight of my life.  My road from cancer has been painful and the losses provide the most excruciating pain that is with me every day.  But, the light that my mother provided, the roots that she planted in me by showing me how to live her favorite mantra “bloom where you are planted”, the advocacy that my mother and my aunt showed me drives me to keep advocating for myself and others.  I stand up for me.  I stand up for my children who bring so much light to my life.  I stand up for my late mother and my late aunt.  I stand up for those who are too weak, too incapacitated by cancer to stand up right now.

And, I know that I’m not alone.  My husband, Ray, who loved me back to life, is standing up with me.  My sister, Monica, my caregiver, first and closest friend, is standing up with me.  My sister-friends who are part of my family and helped push me through treatment and dark days are standing up with me.  I’ve got my friends at the American Association for Cancer Research (the scientific partner to Stand Up To Cancer); my friends at the National Cancer Institute; my friends at Young Survival Coalition; my friends at Black Women’s Health Imperative; my friends at Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered; my friends at Capital Breast Care Center; and my friends at the Thelma D. Jones Breast Cancer Fund; all of whom I’ve worked with to eradicate cancer.  These organizations have so many researchers and advocates who are fueled by moments of curiosity about the hows and whys of cancer that yield moments of wonder with each new breakthrough.  With Vice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Initiative “with the goal of making a decade’s worth of progress in cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment in just 5 years”, we’re continuing to make progress.

I’ll watch tonight as I do every time the program airs.  I’ll remember the year that my aunt attended the live broadcast.  I’ll laugh at some of the comedic sketches and I’ll cry at some of the vignettes, many that will stir emotions about my battle and those of my mother and my aunt.  But when the credits roll, I know I’ll be further energized and I’ll continue to stand up.  I’ll be fueled by the days when I spent most of the day lying on my back.  Like the plant that appears to grow through concrete, I’ll keep pushing through every obstacle, finding a crack, a place where there is water and light to sprout up.  I’ll continue to fight through imperfect conditions that cancer places before me and I’ll continue stand up to cancer.

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.

5 Important Lessons on Being Grounded

On Monday, I discussed a postponed beach trip, but why I’m keeping my bags packed anyway.  (I’m hopeful that this weekend I’ll get there).  But, it put traveling and road trips on my mind.  I’ve had a few instances where a flight was grounded and a trip turned, unexpectedly, into an extended or overnight trip.  When making alternate arrangements and thinking about the time I was losing, I was irked and irritated by being grounded.

I’ve hated being grounded.  I’m impatient.  As a reconstructionist™, having dealt with the physical, spiritual, emotional and financial devastation that comes with life-threatening illness and life devastating events, I am always eager for an uncomfortable or bad situation to quickly change.  I’m always looking for positive change.

I’ve been grounded a number of times, by flight cancellations, and by my late mother disciplining a young mischievous daughter (me).  I’ve also been grounded by a job layoff, business opportunities that failed and relationships that fell apart.  When I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, I was grounded by the physically, spiritually, emotionally and financially debilitating effects of treatment.  Each situation triggered anger, irritation and impatience.  A forced delay in my plans has never been good.  Or has it?


The irony is that while being grounded seems a waste of time, it can actually be a gift of time.   As I reflect now on life’s delays and plan changes, I realize that being grounded is sometimes the ultimate gift of more time to rest, plan, prepare, and perfect; to be fully ready to take advantage when my best opportunity arises.  It’s my choice how I use my time when I’m grounded.  I’ve started moving from bemoaning the situation to better managing the time to be fully prepared for an opportunity to fly.

A quick Google search provides the definitions of grounded:

  • a parent refusing to allow a child to go out socially as punishment
  • to prohibit or prevent (a pilot or aircraft) from flying
  • a person who understands what’s important in life

When a parent grounds a child it is the parent’s experience and wisdom guiding them to deter the child’s unwanted or bad behavior.  It is a push for more positive behavior and outcomes.  When a plane is grounded, it is the experience and wisdom of the pilots, air traffic controllers, mechanics, and aviation experts who make the decision to delay the flight.  When a person is described as grounded, it is their experience and wisdom that enables them to focus on what’s important in life.  A person who is grounded can prioritize those investments of time, energy and attention that will yield the most rewarding outcomes.

When I think back on the groundings of my youth with clarity and perspective, I realize that these distraction free periods actually enabled me to be a better student.  Without the distractions of the telephone (landline in my day), parties and other outings, my focus was more intense and there was a palpable difference between being a good student and dedicating time to being a great student.  It helped add a measure of discipline to my young life that I was lacking.


And, as someone who has had my share of hours watching an airport monitor change from a flight delay to a flight cancellation, I’ve got experience being grounded in airports.  Often viewed as a waste of my time, when I again reflect with my hindsight 20/20 vision and a more mature perspective, I realize that my time was better spent focusing on how to be productive and make great use of the time while I was grounded versus focusing on what I was missing.  Just like a mechanic who is called to fix the plane, it can be my opportunity to focus on and make my own repairs and improvements.  The mechanics use this grounded time to put the plane in a better position to have a safe flight at a great altitude.  Maybe being grounded is a sign that I’m not (yet) ready to fly.

For sure, being grounded is a time to think really hard about what’s led me to this place and where I’m trying to go.  At times, it’s definitely meant that I’m burnt out.  Maybe I’ve used too much time, attention and energy on things outside of myself.  Maybe I need some physical or mental rest.  I need to refuel.  Maybe I just need time to stop neglecting my needs and focus on me.  Life’s distractions can find a way of pushing us away from our needs.  We can stop nurturing ourselves in constant haste to get from here to there and back again.


Finally, by being grounded, I can become more grounded.  Without distractions, with a focus on making better use of my time, with a focus on me, I can prioritize and truly zero in on those things that are important in life, those things that will help me get off the ground when my time is right.

Sometimes, no maturity or perspective can change the fact that being grounded can suck, especially when there seems to be no rhyme or reason why.  We don’t deserve bad things to happen to us.  I’m just learning to change my approach to how I use the time.  When it appears that there are no introspective moments that provide clarity, this may be the clear sign that it is simply just time to rest and recharge.

I’m reconstructing life after breast cancer and these lessons are much clearer to me now.  Each time I’m grounded, I have to be more attune to the chance to make the best use of my time.   The 5 important lessons I’ve learned from being grounded are:

  1. Being grounded provides an opportunity to change a behavior
  2. Being grounded provides an opportunity to focus on making (personal) improvements and working toward excellence
  3. Being grounded provides an opportunity to rest and refuel
  4. Being grounded provides an opportunity to nurture myself
  5. My changes that come from being grounded allow me to live a life that is in step with what’s valuable and important to me

At the very least, I owe it to myself when I’m grounded to be reflective and introspective to determine how to best use and manage my downtime.  During chemo, I couldn’t walk a city block without extreme fatigue.  I needed rest to heal.  Now, post treatment, I’m a distance runner who has completed a half marathon and three 10 mile races.  I hated being laid off, but found it a beautiful time to spend more time at school with my small children.  I was able to attend daytime school events and presentations, sit at school performances without a laptop in tow and a cell phone in my ear, half listening to a work conference call.  And surely one of my prayers when I was diagnosed with breast cancer was having the opportunity to watch my children grow up.  With this gift of time, I was able to do so with far less interruption from the seemingly never ending call of the corporate world.  I was able to move away from the early morning, late afternoon meetings, the stressful deadlines and the unreasonable demands of my corporate grind.  I’ve transitioned to writing, speaking, and coaching; things that I love and that provide such fulfillment and joy that I wouldn’t have been able to do while sitting in my cubicle.

As adults, we are no longer under our parents’ watch and constant care.  But, God and life have a way of redirecting us, grounding us, when we would otherwise be going in the wrong direction.  I didn’t get to the beach last weekend, but got the opportunity to spend some wonderful days with my family and friends that truly fed my soul.  When a business opportunity doesn’t come to fruition (yet), when a financial investment doesn’t show great reward (yet), when a personal opportunity doesn’t yield positive results (yet) and I’m grounded, I have to remember that it may be a sign that I need to rest and then put in more work, more planning, more preparation in order for me to be ready to take flight and soar!


Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.

Keeping My Bags Packed

***NOTE:  I send my thoughts and a special prayer to all, including my father, who were near, in the path of and/or impacted by Hurricane Hermine.***

Last week, I counted down the days until our family’s annual pre-Labor Day beach trip which is a quick two hour drive from our home.  For our family, the beach is such a fun place.  We love riding the waves, making sand sculptures and, for me, meditating and being at a place of serenity.  Somehow the sun seems brighter reflecting off of the ocean and the rays of the sun seem warmer when my feet are in the sand.  The waves washing up on shore sounds like beautiful music to me.  I packed our bags and watched the weather forecasts, tracking Hurricane Hermine.

Last Friday, the day before departure, I was still optimistic that the weather would hold up.  Although the forecast for beach day was cloudy and in the mid-70s, rain and wind and the onset of the storm were forecasted to hold off until late afternoon.  By then, we’d have spent a few hours at the beach, walked the water’s edge, meditated by the waves and gotten some sweets from our favorite candy store.

Friday night, the forecast changed with rain and the strong winds expected much earlier in the day.  I still held out some, although fading, hope.  I had filled my gas tank and had already packed the car.  I was ready for an early morning departure with little to do except get in the car and go.

I went to sleep hoping and praying that the forecast might change, as forecasts tend to do even over short periods. I was hoping the storm would lose its strength by morning.  When I awoke, the forecast was much the same as the night before.  I tried to get accurate and up to the minute information and thought I might go to the beach later in the day; still hopeful.  As I got the detailed information, it was clear that the storm was too strong and meteorologists urged beachgoers to make alternate plans.

It was evident that the weather wouldn’t be conducive for the beach any day during the long weekend.  This marked the first time in some years that we would miss Labor Day by the water.  I unpacked the car, but I left my packed bags in the corner of my office and chose not to unpack them.  I want to be ready.  The forecast for this coming weekend calls for good beach weather.  Whatever routine we planned to return to this weekend, will be changed if the weekend weather forecast remains the same.  I’m not unpacking my bags because I want to be ready to jump right into the car and make the trip this weekend.  The storm may delay me, but it won’t stop me.

I’ve had many storms in my life; cancer has been the most consistent and biggest storm including my mother’s breast cancer diagnosis, her recurrences and death from metastatic breast cancer; my aunt’s breast cancer and ovarian cancer diagnoses, her recurrences and death from metastatic ovarian cancer; my own triple negative breast cancer diagnosis when my children were four years old and 19 months old.  Throughout my life, I’ve learned that you generally won’t know when a storm will come, when it will end, and the strength and intensity of the storm.  Because I’ll never know when storms will come and go, when they will begin or end and how many storms there will be in my life, I’m leaving my bags packed, always ready and prepared for the end of the storm and always chasing the sun!

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.

A Change in My Surroundings – Part 4 – Inspirational Books Around Me

A few blogs ago, we discussed how a change in your surroundings can replace negative reminders and provide instant gratification.  One of the items on the list was having a music player or iPod speaker to have uplifting music at your fingertips and we provided a list in A Change in My Surroundings – Part 2.  An item on the list was having Bible verses, poems, calming passages posted or framed in your surroundings and we provided a list in A Change in My Surroundings – Part 3.  Another item on the list was uplifting books of hope, faith, courage and peace.  I said that I would share some in a future blog.  Here are a few:

  1. The Bible
  2. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  3. The Prophet by Khalil Gibran
  4. Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss
  5. The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life by Dr. Bruce H. Wilkinson
  6. The Power of Hope The One Essential of Life and Love by Maurice Lamm
  7. Hope Happens! words of encouragement for times of change by Catherine DeVrye
  8. Be Happy 170 ways to transform your day by Patrick Lindsay
  9. Now Is the Time 170 Ways to Seize the Moment by Patrick Lindsay
  10. Inner Simplicity by Elaine St. James

This is not an exhaustive list, but a few to consider.  Please let me know which you like and others that should be added to the list.

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.